The two main religious works of Le Corbusier's career are the chapel of Notre Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp and the Sainte Marie de la Tourette monastery near Lyon, France renowned for Corbusier's thoughtful play on light and materiality. These two post-war architectural masterpieces convey techniques in form and material achieving spiritual architecture, connecting man to God. This essay will detail the particular techniques utilised by Corbusier to achieve this.
La Notre Dame-du-Haut chapel built from 1950 to 1954 sits on a panoramic site rising above the village of Ronchamp, France. The chapel in its remote location is placed atop a hill setting on a figurative pedestal giving Ronchamp added importance and locating it closer to God. In 1950, when Corbusier was commissioned to design Ronchamp he had reservations as this was the first religious project he worked on. This changed when he visited the site and forged an immediate bond with the landscape.
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Unlike most of Corbusier's early building prototypes with free-standing pillars and rigid floors consisting of boxy, functional, and sterile volumes, Ronchamp is more of an irregular sculptural form where the walls, the roof, and the floor slope. His post-war buildings rejected his earlier industrial forms and Corbusier began to experiment with articulated sculptural forms. Corbusier developed a more sculptural style expressed in the visually unalluring medium of concrete, its rough finish giving a brutal character to his most striking works.
The layout of the chapel is simple with two entrances, an altar and three chapels. The chapel, devoid of ornamental decadence, embraces modern art and architecture. Corbusier's main focus was on spatial purity, making sure he was not over complicating the building. Instead, Corbusier created spaces for reflective and meditative purposes. An ethereal atmosphere is created by stark walls, these white walls are stucco, cement and brick with ambient white washes. This building is the most sculptural building in Corbusier's lifetime. The sculptural walls of Ronchamp give the building character. Stairwells and secret rooms are hidden behind cavity walls by the appearance of a thick walls. Two mass convex and concave elevations are features of the design. They are thick and curve gently supporting the concrete and masonry construction as well as the curvilinear roof acting as both structural and sculptural elements as well as acoustic buffers. The effect of light that enters the chapel evokes emotional qualities that create heightened sensations in tune with the religious activities. There is a dramatic play between concrete and stucco wash, this materiality is reinforced by the manner in which the light enters and complements the interior.
The chapel was built obliquely and this increases the length light must travel. Le Corbusier shows great attention on his dramatic play on light in his buildings. An interesting aspect of the design is the sporadic window placement on the walls. Corbusier punctured the sculptural mass of the nave walls amplifying the light within the chapel by tapering the window well in the wall cavity and slanting them at various degrees, letting in light at different angles. From the exterior these piercings seem to be small windows, but inside they open up into large openings. The room becomes illuminated by intense direct light. The windows provide constantly changing light to the interior. Some change luminosity solely from the cast of the sky, while others gain their full light with the rising and the setting of the sun, the light as Gods presence shining down on the building and the people within. On the wall behind the altar in the chapel, the lighting effects create a speckled pattern of sparse openings that are complimented by a larger opening that emits a flood of light, creating a powerful religious image as well as a transformative experience.  Furthermore, the glass is set at alternating depths, this glass clear and some windows decorated with small pieces of stained glass in red, green and yellow. This creates a dramatic play of light with the contrasts of the dark roof, deep windows with coloured glass and the white curved walls of rough masonry. This is a spiritual effect which is produced by the strategic placement of windows and is a technique used by Corbusier.
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The curvaceous form of the building is completed with a concrete roof which cantilevers its heavy mass form outwards and hovers over the white walls. This is a striking element of the design. The roof has a strong articulation over the whole building, its curves resembling an aeroplane wing in section, even with its heavy qualities it still appears weightless. The curving roof appears to float above the building as it is supported by embedded columns in the walls, which creates a small gap between the roof and the walls, exposing the texture of the concrete ceiling and allowing for a shaft of clerestory light.  This clever use of space and light is used to create a supernatural type object hovering over the chapel walls. This implied hovering is a supernatural effect, and contrives superhuman powers to make it happen. This superhuman quality that Corbusier has intended has been derived from a higher power or source, God. Le Corbusier sought to evoke spiritual emotions through this play of form, space and light in construction and the effect of typology in the architecture.
St Marie de la Tourette is Le Corbusier's last building completed in Europe. Built from 1956 to 1960 the monastery is located in Eveux-sur-Arbresle, near Lyon, France, the site specifically chosen by Corbusier as he was drawn to the steeply sloping valley with its powerful views. The monastery was built to be a self-contained world for a community of monks, and to accommodate their unique lifestyle. It contains one hundred individual accommodation cells, classrooms, a recreation hall, a communal library, a cafeteria, a rooftop cloister and a church.
Corbusier's readopted the 'pilotis,' load bearing columns, a non-load bearing façade, horizontal windows, a roof garden and planned architectural promenade of his celebrated five points of architecture in this design.  The concrete structure is designed around an internal courtyard in the manner of a traditional monastery. Within its walls is a series of interconnected spaces, providing its inhabitants with the opportunity for personal, community and spiritual life. Overall, Corbusier envisioned the austerity and spirituality of the monks and tried to design a monastery which would provide them with silence and peace.
The exterior of La Tourette resembles a fortress, the rough reinforced concrete structural form is undecorated and there is a strong linear system evident. Glass surfaces are located on three of the four exterior faces. The main body of the building is suspended high above the valley on concrete piers, while the public spaces including the classrooms and library are contained underneath. Beneath this concrete mass sweeps the rolling landscape, swelling about the reinforced concrete piles upon which the building is suspended. This elevated position locates the occupants of the building closer to God. One would also say that it meant God could hear your prayers. The monks' cells and chapel enclose the building and are suspended high above the valley on concrete platforms, lifting them up to God. The high walled section of the roof garden is where the monks could stroll and meditate undisturbed beneath the sky. The three sided cloister of cells are elevated above the communal facilities, these are served by raised paths which enclose the volume of the chapel at the western side. The flat roof of the monastery is grassed over and overlooks the picturesque view beyond. It is a garden unexpectedly close to God.
The way in which one circulates the internal spaces has been planned carefully by Corbusier. The hallways circulating the living space have been designed to accommodate reflection and wandering. Small blocks of strategically placed concrete obscure the windows at the end of the passages and enable light to enter but block external views; this allows one to walk without having their thoughts interrupted by the view. The end windows are positioned off-centre to draw walkers to orient themselves closer to the internal courtyard and away from the living cells, thus assisting with noise and privacy. This placement is not symmetrical but is balanced. Each of the hundred cells are small and basic and are defined by unique light sources. The rooms offer space to rest, reflect and maintain privacy whilst in contact with the outdoors. Corbusier achieved minimalism through his design by respecting the monastic way of life and adhering to strict spatial order, and balance between communal and private life.
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A feature of the interior is the floor-to-ceiling glazing used in many of the public areas particularly on the western façade with views over the valley. The unevenly-spaced vertical concrete mullions and the equally uneven horizontal divisions between them boldly frame views of nature, and were designed by applying principles of harmony and rhythm. The western façade â€¦â€¦â€¦.. transparency. Holy spirit is always around you, not alone, always with god. God can see you. The main monastery is approached by a sloping concrete corridor. This architectural promenade leads to a metal wall which rotates until its metal spine forms a cross with the bright horizontal window beyond. This delivers a transcendent moment. The chapel itself is a dark, simple concrete box given spiritual life through selective and careful use of natural light, illuminated by the glow of the coloured openings. To reinforce divine light, daylight is admitted solely from above through three distinctive cylindrical skylights, painted red, yellow and blue on their interior surfaces. These sculpted 'light cannons' pierce through the solid masonry walls.
Overall, inside and out, both buildings celebrate the ascent and descent of the sun through unique light sources planned by Corbusier to create architecturally sacred spaces. Both share an elevated location and both are of spiritual and intellectual reflection. There is a simplicity through Corbusier's designs and he achieves minimalism with his use of rough concrete. In contrast with Ronchamp, La Tourette does not crown and complement the site, but instead dominates the landscape and is altogether harsher than that of Ronchamp. In saying that, both achieve the purpose of connection with God. In these two buildings we are able to experience Corbusier's architectural theories in a spiritual context. In Ronchamp, the curving walls and roof work together with light which is what truly defines and gives meaning to the chapel experientially. The entire building curves and swells into an extraordinary composition, it has a complex form. Both Ronchamp and La Tourette were radical changes from Corbusier's previous works, but through analysis it is shown that the buildings maintain several of the same principles of purity, openness, and communal sense of coming together. Corbusier has created architecture of truth, tranquillity and strength.