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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Le Corbusiers Sainte Marie de La Tourette

It is important to note that La Tourette, by Le Corbusier built in the mid 50's, has become a pilgrimage for nearly every architecture student since the 70's. Few other buildings express the ideas of modernism so distinctly. Seemingly average to most, this structure was radical when it was first built in 1056. Up until then a monastery was an ancient structure attached to a traditional church. Corbusier wrote that a house is a machine for living. In the case of La Tourette, a machine for monastic living, this is a Dominican Monastery that embodies a rigorous minimalism that the original Order would probably be very proud of. One can see by the way the structure has been organized in a fortress like configuration that it is very much about discipline, devotion, and hierarchy. Only a decade after the second World War the concrete bunker still seems to have influenced his style. However, rather than keeping attackers out, these small window aperatures are a way of keeping the mind focussed on the task at hand in a mode of peace and harmony. It is a fortress of the mind and heart - allowing the inner focus to develop to the point where the monk reaches his goal - becoming one with himself and giving back to the world by teaching what he has learned. It is a destination worth seeing if only to realize the kind of architecture that a religious conviction can inspire. A collaboration of an energetic mind and a disciplined faith. - Ecomanta

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Sainte Marie de La Tourette is a Dominican Order priory in a valley near Lyon, France designed by the architect Le Corbusier and constructed between 1956 and 1960. La Tourette is considered one of the more important buildings of the late Modernist style.

It was under the instigation of Reverend Father Couturier that the Dominicans of Lyon charged Le Corbusier with the task of bringing into being at Éveux, near Lyon, the Convent of La Tourette, in the midst of nature, located in a small vale that opens out onto the forest. The buildings contain a hundred sleeping rooms for teachers and students, study halls, a hall for work and one for recreation, a library and a refectory. Next comes the church where the monks carry on alone (on occasion in the presence of several of the faithful). Finally, the circulation connects all the parts in particular those which appear in a new form (the achievement of the traditional cloister form is rendered impossible here by the slope of terrain). On two levels, the loggias crowning the building (one for each acoustically-isolated monk's cell) form brises-soleil. The study halls, work and recreation halls, as well as the library occupy the upper-level. Below are the refectory and the cloister in the form of a cross leading to the church. And then come the piles carrying the four convent buildings rising from the slope of the terrain left in its original condition, without terracing.

The structural frame is of rough reinforced concrete. The panes of glass located on the three exterior faces achieve, for the first time, the system called "the undulatory glass surface", which is also applied to the Secretariat at Chandigarh. On the other hand, in the garden-court of the cloister, the fenestration is composed of large concrete elements reaching from floor to ceiling, perforated with glazed voids and separated from one another by "ventilators": vertical slits covered by metal mosquito netting and furnished with a pivoting shutter. The corridors leading to the dwelling cells are lit by a horizontal opening located under the ceiling.

Though still functioning for a greatly-reduced population of monks, La Tourette has become something of a pilgrimage site for students of architecture. Overnight stays can be arranged in the unused cells.

At the Couvent de la Tourette (1960), Le Corbusier found an echo, in an architectural project, of the personal principles of self-denial and monastic simplicity that he himself adhered to. Built as a Chapel, residence and place of learning for Dominican friars, the monastery groups around a central courtyard a U-shaped mass, and the court is closed off by the chapel at the end.

At La Tourette many aspects of Corbusier's developed architectural vocabulary are visible – the vertical brise-soleils used with effect in India, light-cannons piercing solid masonry walls, and window-openings separated by Modulor-controlled vertical divisions. In contrast with Ronchamp, the building does not crown and complement the site, but instead dominates the landscape composition.

If there is harmony, it is in the finishes that in their roughness and near-brutality betray some empathy with the life of a monk. La Tourette makes no claim to the effete bourgeois lifestyle embodied at the Villa Savoye; its antecedents, if anything, are the Greek monasteries of Mount Athos and an almost mythological history.