The Santi Francesco e Chiara convent located in Lecce, Salento, Italy, was a truly special project for Rubner Haus.
A unique Baroque style can be found at Lecce. All buildings are made with a special white, brittle stone known as “pietra leccese”, which hardens when exposed to air and changes its colour to a warm, intense, golden brown over the course of time. Walking through the old part of Lecce, the beautiful buildings with their striking colours, brimming with ornaments and fancy decorations, make you feel like you entered a whole new world.
The idea to build a convent all from timber right in the middle of this place and in spite of tradition was both innovative and daring.
“We decided to buck the trend and got criticised quite a bit. But we were convinced that we were following Pope Francis’ encyclical, which calls for ecological awareness, and were doing the right thing, so we stuck with our idea.”
The architect helped the nuns design a modern timber construction project. The convent is situated a short distance outside the city and was inspired by the rural construction style of the surrounding farms. They designed a plain little village-like convent with the church forming the centre, just like the towers of the old farms used to form the centre of the estate. The façades are all kept in white to match the typical colour of the houses in Salento.
“We lead very simple lives, and we wanted this fact to be reflected in the architecture of our convent. Our daily routine is defined by the rhythm of nature, by sunrise and sunset. Leaving the hustle and bustle, the productivity and the efficiency that modern life is defined by behind, one might think that what we do is not useful at all, but the many people that knock on the door of our convent every day, looking for a moment of peace and quiet, away from superabundance, show that it’s actually quite the contrary.”
The nuns of the Santi Francesco e Chiara convent aim at living an ecological lifestyle, and not just by building a wooden convent equipped with PV and solar panels. Their daily lives are characterised by moderation and mindfulness in the way they use things, share them with other people knocking on their doors, growing organic products in their own garden, and being grateful for whatever God gives them. The products they grow and manufacture not only feed the nuns themselves, but also help them earn money to cover the costs. They make nativity figures from papier-mâché and terracotta, make jam from fruits, prepare liqueur, and bake cookies.
The next thing the nuns would like to achieve is turn the 9 hectares of land surrounding the convent itself into a green zone for the people who live in the area as well as for themselves – some beauty on earth, a little retreat to recollect and give thanks.