In Paris, a former orphanage transformed into a laboratory for social diversity

In this quiet enclave of the 15th arrondissement of Paris, a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the Convention district, the key word is the mix of uses. For nearly two centuries, this estate belonging to the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin has in fact combined spiritual vocation and a place of hospitality. In particular, it hosted a large orphanage. But the site, known as Maison Saint Charles, had become dilapidated and only housed about twenty sisters, most of them very old. This is how an ambitious real estate project was born.

“The congregation had been wondering about the future of this place for 20 years, explains Sister Véronique Margron, provincial prioress of the congregation. We had to carry out a project as long as we had the strength to do so and extend the vocation of hospitality of the place while maintaining a spiritual, discreet but very real presence. But we quickly understood that we would not be able to do it alone and that we would have to surround ourselves with new skills. This is how the project was able to be set up with the promoter Vinci immobilier, the lessor Seqens Solidarité to manage social housing and the association Habitat et Humanisme founded by the priest Bernard Devert which perfectly embodies the spiritual concerns and social diversity of the Dominican sisters.

Intergenerational roommate

To ensure the economic balance of the operation, it includes a series of 35 top-of-the-range housing units (whose prices ranged from 14,000 to 19,000 €/m²) for a program called Hors du temps, alongside the Nouvelle maison Saint-Charles combining 47 social housing units (including 20 for the sisters), 2 shared intergenerational shared apartments, 15 guest rooms, as well as 3 meeting rooms and a coworking space. As for the centerpieces of the place, the chapel and the green spaces, they would be magnified. Launched 10 years ago, the idea only began to materialize on the ground in 2018 and the Covid having been there, we had to wait until the end of 2021 to receive the first occupants. As for the inauguration of the premises, it was held at the end of September.

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A veritable laboratory of social diversity, the place brings together audiences of very different ages and conditions, people passing through (for the guest rooms), people who work (for the rental of meeting rooms or co-working), etc. “This place is not an aggregation of housing but indeed a house, explains Christelle Parneix, general manager of Habitat et Humanisme Île-de-France. A place that allows the evolution of having (housing) towards being (integrated into society). An element that is all the stronger since you are in one of the most sought-after areas of the capital. “The act of believing finds resonance here in the fact that these dwellings are also the expression of a faith in man”summarizes the founder of Habitat and Humanism, Bernard Devert.

The renovated chapel perfectly illustrates this effort of diversity. In order to optimize space, the place of prayer was reduced to three bays and a floor was created to install meeting rooms on the ground floor. The space is no less elegant and perfectly adapted. The same care has been taken in the creation of stained glass windows: traditional methods from the 16th century have been used and the motif retained, mimosa flowers, allows a contemporary but figurative treatment which speaks as much to the laity by its floral motif as to Christians as the first flower of winter announcing the resurrection. And these stained glass windows, so as not to harm the energy performance of the place, succeed in the feat of being made of double glazing.

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