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Monday, November 23, 2009

Notre Dame du Haut by Le Corbusier - Rochamp Chapel

One of Le Corbusier's most powerful pieces if only for the extraodinarly use of light. Almost the inverse of the vaulted ceilings and paper thin glass walls of Cathedrals, Ronchamp, is a fortress allowing in selective beams of light. This building celebrates the concept of the sacrifice bringing us all the way to prebiblical times - the altar is situated so that at certain times of day the light shines in like a searing lazer right onto the pulpit. The altar is then recreated on the exterior in another space for worship. The wall of windows has a certain omnipotent violence to the way each aperature is defined. This is no ordinary place of worship. This church is a homage to an austere and disciplined reverance of the almighty. One feels the weight and power of its minimalist simplicity allowing one to focus on the speaker. The only thing that detracts from the fact that this structure was built in Gods name was that it was built by a man who changed his name to Le Corbusier - a man who became the undoubted God father of modern architecture.

text via

The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, designed by Le Corbusier, is located in Ronchamp. Built as a shrine for the Catholic Church at Ronchamp was built for a reformist Church looking to continue its relevancy. Warning against decadence, reformers within the Church looked to renew its spirit by embracing modern art and architecture as representative concepts. Father Couturier, who would also sponsor Le Corbusier for the La Tourette commission, steered the unorthodox project to completion in 1954.

This work, like several others in Le Corbusier’s late oeuvre, departs from his principles of standardization and the machine aesthetic outlined in Vers une architecture. It is interesting to note though, that even in this project, the structural design of the roof was inspired by the engineering of airfoils.

The chapel is clearly a site-specific response. By Le Corbusier’s own admission, it was the site that provided an irresistible genius loci for the response, with the horizon visible on all four sides of the hill and its historical legacy for centuries as a place of worship.

This historical legacy weaved in different layers into the terrain — from the Romans and sun-worshippers before them, to a cult of the Virgin in the Middle Ages, right through to the modern church and the fight against the German occupation. Le Corbusier also sensed a sacral relationship of the hill with its surroundings, the Jura mountains in the distance and the hill itself, dominating the landscape.

The nature of the site would result in an architectural ensemble that has many similitudes with the Acropolis, starting from the ascent at the bottom of the hill to architectural and landscape events along the way, before finally terminating at the sanctum sanctorum itself, the chapel.

The building itself is a comparatively small structure enclosed by thick walls, with the upturned roof supported on columns embedded within the walls. In the interior, the spaces left between the wall and roof, as well as asymmetric light from the wall openings serve to further reinforce the sacral nature of the space and buttress the relationship of the building with its surroundings.