L’Artothèque is a new centre for the archives and conservation for the Mons heritage. Located in the historical Ursulines chapel, the new Artothèque architecture maneuvers between restoration and reinterpretation of the place. Extending between steel structure and cracked stones, the Artothèque is rather to be defined as an explorative journey than an object.
The Chapel of the former Ursuline Convent, a remarkable example of classical architecture dating from the early 18th century and a listed heritage building, was converted after the Second World War, resulting in the loss of its original interior. The presence of concrete floor slabs, usually admitted to have destroyed the monument, is turned into an advantage. Using the idea of these horizontal partitions, the chapel has been transformed from a war-affected and abandoned building to the centre of artwork conservation, prominent for its envelope of high patrimonial value.
The main decisions that determined the interior layout lie in the creation of a vertical “fault”, overlooking the height and length of the former nave, and liberating the views towards the ground floor. These openings made it possible to grasp the three-dimensional aspect of the chapel’s original interior, into which the mass of the precious archive rooms was to be slotted.
Following these two architectural intentions(keeping the horizontal divisions of the interior space and offsetting the newly introduced volume), the plans are structured and subdivided into four entities. One of them is accessible to the public: the space on the ground floor and the library on the first floor, the other three sections are dedicated to technical staff, including areas for restoration, administration, logistics and archiving (over six levels).
After entering the chapel, the visitors are being welcomed in a lobby offering digital displays, allowing virtual consultation about the exhibits, together with the actual cases containing the real works.
The light brought in through the architectural “fault” invites the visitor, from the moment they arrive, to experience the magnificent presence of the lateral nave of the church. This “fault” exposes as much the history of the building as its new function, revealing both the original space of the church and the series of six recently installed floors. They contain thousands of objects, some of which selectively are being displayed on the ground floor.