Architecture Monday

December 21, 2015

There is something quite special about Notre Dame de Haut, more commonly known simply as Ronchamp. Perhaps more accurately put, there are many things that come together to create something special in this little chapel in a relatively quiet part of the French countryside – some of it rather playful, which may not be expected in a house of worship.

The exterior is quite sculptural, including a natural rain fountain off the back wherein the water from the roof is funneled out a spout and onto forms as it tumbles to the ground below. But it is the space within that’s exciting.

Starting with an unorthagonal and curvilinear layout, the room envelops as you enter. The roof too is curving, and also floating, never touching the walls, separated by open glazing as it arcs towards both the front of the room and the right wall… and that right wall is where some magic happens.

As it curves it grows in thickness, a depth that is perceived through the many angled subtractions, positioned as though at random (but not really), that all end at a small section of geometric stained glass.

It is not a super-lit space, but rather that controlled entry of light, piercing into the space in coloured shafts, illuminating the carefully sculpted volumes within, with the solid roof floating above the massive walls, directing attention down the nave to the altar, creates a dynamic yet wholistic experience.

On the whole I am very much not a fan at all of Le Corbusier’s work. I find most of it rather unappealing and the philosophies behind them have not stood well the test of time. But here, in this small scale, in this sacred grove, he has worked wonder.

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