Built in 1951 by Jacques Beaufils, architect of the reconstruction of Caen, the convent Notre Dame de la Charité marks the southern entrance to the city, and stands out for the huge yet elegant presence of the reinforced concrete chapel. In order to develop a residential project of about 350 dwellings on the 2-hectare site, the promoter Investir Immobilier asked Champ Libre to increase the urban, architectural and landscape feasibility of the undertaking. From the urban feasibility study to the outdoor space management and design, our agency was involved in every step of the project.
Our main stake was to maintain the overall cohesion of the project, as we wanted to preserve the existing buildings, as well as the historical and religious spirit of the place. The new buildings spring up around the old convent, which is converted into unconventional housing, and mark an outline for two ornamental gardens surrounded by trimmed yews. The southern garden follows the same boundaries as the former cloister. The second mirrors the proportions and geometry of the first. It is arranged in a radius around a draining blanket which collects the rainwater of the entire site.
Our work also focused on the colours and materials used, in order to highlight the limestone conventual buildings. We chose to use stone imitation concrete road borders, a coordinated colour for the ironwork, and appropriate chippings for the concrete sidewalk and the permeable parking spaces.
Furthermore, as the local city plan called for 30% of the area to be kept as green spaces, we wanted to use as much of the existing vegetation as possible. Hence, the southern garden is in the form of a bowling green with rows of ornamental fruit trees that evoke Norman period orchards, evincing the spirit both of the site and of the region. The range of plants gives prominence to high trees, planted away from each other, or in tight groups to mimic a forest environment. The species of ash, birch or maple were selected for their spectacular autumnal colours which act as a beacon to the entrance to the city of Caen. The choice of plants creates the impression that natural vegetation has grown all around the buildings.
A specific feature of this project was the cohesion work that was needed to preserve the spirit of the site, and its biodiversity. The program especially stands out from current real estate projects through its unique blend of luxury and affordable housing. It is an ambitious landscape and urban design, which demonstrates how a site can be preserved at a moderate cost if the planning phase occurs before the project.
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: TECAM : co-contractor – Roads and utilities
Project location: Caen, Calvados, France
Design year: 2012
Year Built: 2016