Chemin des Gardettes

Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France

Chemin des Gardettes is situated on the French Cote d’Azur, to the northwest of the medieval hill town of St Paul de Vence. The site is a steeply sloping hillside facing St Paul de Vence and currently contains a three-storey stone dwelling. This building dates from the 1920s with each of the floors arranged as a self-contained apartment.

The project has three distinct parts. The existing house will be refurbished to create a single family dwelling. An independent new house is also proposed, and the existing landscape will be reconfigured to incorporate a combination of hard and soft landscape designed to relate to the terrain of the site.

As the existing house has always been inhabited as separate units the insertion of a new main entrance and staircase become important unifying elements. As part of the renovation works several of the original features of the house are exposed including: the vaulted brick ceilings, the inside of the main roof slope as well as the rich textural qualities of the house’s stone construction. The design intention is to allow the material and spatial quality of the existing building to become evident and contribute to the atmosphere of the refurbished house.

The location of the new house on the site has been derived from a careful study of the existing house and landscape. It is set in the northwest corner of the site, in a secluded position that offers expansive views to St Paul de Vence and across the valley. The new house is set on the same axis as the main house and acts as a terminus to a long driveway that links the two dwellings. The driveway widens into the space between the two dwellings to create a terrace. The terrace is formed from walls of stone that rise up from the slopes below to create a plateau of stone within the landscape. In places, these stone walls continue to form the lower storey of the new house.

Though they share the same walls of stone, the form of the new house contrasts with that of the existing house, in that it is designed to be more open to the landscape that surrounds it. The new dwelling is set back into the slope in a similar manner to the existing house, with two wings of accommodation, positioned on either side of a central circulation space. The upper storey is formed from two folded planes of white concrete, which sit on the stone walls below and cantilever away from the hillside in a dramatic composition. Sliding walls of glass are set within these concrete spaces. The slabs continue past these glass walls to create balconies, provide shade and capture magnificent views out across the sloping landscape to St Paul de Vence and the valley beyond.

The landscape is arranged as a series of terraces that descend from the driveway to the bottom edge of the site. As the slope descends the character of the planting subtly shifts through a series of terraces: a lavender garden, olive grove and eventually naturally wild planting at the lowest level.