The Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, designed by architect Le Corbusier in 1950-55, has drawn the attention of many historians and critics. Each one sees in it, influences of the past and its power to influence future buildings.
Geoffrey H. Baker, architect and professor, says that the design of the chapel draws a life times research, reminding versus of Le Corbusier’s process of absorption and assimilation. Anyone who has experienced the mysterious spaces of the taut curvilinear forms of Ronchamp has immediate associations. Although the concrete roof construction of the Notre Dame du Haut chapel is heavy it presents itself to the landscapes so that it is “swept by its breezes”. The roof of the Notre Dame du Haut is inspired by the strength of resilience of the shell of the crab. Inside, the darkness is punctured by a soaring cylindrical top-lit chapels influenced by the Serapeumat the villa Adriana at Tivoli, using an effect similar to periscope .
Also see: Efforts by Le Corbusier in Renovation of Sagrada Familia Architecture, Spain
The south wall of the Notre Dame du Haut resonates with a glowing colour again transformed, instead of frescoes or stained glass we have hand painted windows of charming simplicity at the Notre Dame du Haut , this resembles openings in Mozabite Architecture. The stone enameled the main door of the chapel, being based on a fresco (medieval era) in the Louvre.
Notre Dame du Haut Plan and Sketch
With a plan and section, clearly articulated in the powerful unity of its language. The powerful impact of Ronchamp is appreciated by pilgrim’s path up the hill, surely the laws of visual perception were learnt from Acropolis at the church of mount Ethos. The sacred atmosphere within the chapel is similar that of Romanesque churches.
The south wall with its coloured windows adding to the vitality that celebrates the admission of light. Thus by light does Le Corbusier engage the path of the sun, just as his tower rise towards the sky, described by the philosopher Martin Heidegger as “the vaulting path of the sun”.
Curtis describes Ronchamp as a white thumb tower against the sky. As the plan shows, the three hooded towers blended with the sinuous wall surfaces that curve inside up out to form top-lit chapel or else define slots into which sacristy of confessionals are set. The south wall of apertures of various sizes set into the wall, recall gun slots up seem to be random, but are actually placed according to Modular proportions, so as to reinforce it planarity. Moving clockwise towards west wall, the roof of the Notre Dame du Haut is lost from view but a gargoyle pokes through the parapet spewing rain water through its nostrils towards a tank filled with prisms of rough concrete.
The wall then curves up and roundup to become another tower, which meets back to back with its twin. The eastern end of the building where concavity again dominates, creating a covered place for an outdoor chapel. The transition into an interior of Ronchamp is dramatic like a cave, a catacomb. The architect called it ‘a vessel of intense contemplation and mediation’. The inside conveys the feeling of an early Christian gathering in a landscape.
Another critic of modern architecture Charles Jencks, argues that by 1950’s Le Corbusier’s ‘secondary sensation’ had come to the surface to contrast ironically with the primary forms. By 1928 when Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, who had split by that time, introduced biomorphic forms into their paintings. In Notre Dame du Haut, the Ronchamp chapel, the secondary amoeboid curves finally break through and dominate the primary orthogonal geometry.
Besides their plastic interrelationship , they are all variants on the straight line up right angle. That is to say, he had taken a rectangular grid, proportional by the modular. and distorted it in various directions, as if it were a piece of Indian – rubber. One could enter side by side between the towers through the north door, which in their most reverent light, were two children, looking at morning and evening sun while the parent watches over them from the south, and which most carnally a forc
eful penetration between two muscular curves.
Once inside the Notre Dame du Haut , the dialectic continues with south wall, a piece of sensuous Swiss cheese blasted away up at the same time a religious device to dramatise the sun up aphorisms painted by Le Corbusier on the glass.
Perhaps a reason that so many modernists found Notre Dame du Haut evoking is its elusive metaphorical quality. All sorts of images seem to be suggested – a nun’s cowl, a monk’s hood, a ship’s prow, praying hands – and denied at the same time Yet with his powers of imaginative integrity, Le Corbusier has constructed an alternative world that is tantalisingly rich up believable as the real one.
He may call this fiction ‘Ineffable space’ or ‘visual acoustics‘, as he does in describing Ronchamp, but it is as much ‘plastic integrity* or imagining new forms up then resolving their interrelationship until they seem necessary up inevitable.
Ronchamp’s importance to the history of architecture form can hardly be over-estimated If one examines it, it may reveal much more than said till now. I feel that architecture Le Corbusier looked for inspiration from everywhere – nature, buildings in past, contemporary painters and sculptors of his time.
To him, judicious stealing was the central part of a creative process, and spent a great time trying out new ideas and forms in his paintings, sculptures, and later extended this into his buildings and designs.
Ronchamp being his mature work, bucked by his research till date reflects a sorts of references and notion – like a white block with a black cap, the roof pitched up by the south and north wall – the roof sure gives a feeling of canvas stretched, the south wall (outside) resembles one of the paintings (compositions)of Piet Mondrian, the inside like a projector room wall in a cinema hall – all these may be denied at the same time. Le Corbusier was interested to create a place of silence, prayer, and inner joy. In the process balanced the juxtaposition between form, function and technique to transform the building in space and time.
Le Corbusier always had this question – Why does architecture look the way it looks?How it might become another? At Ronchamp he ceased the opportunity to blast the entire architectural scene open, what courage, what ignorance ?
1. Baker, Geoffrey H – Le Corbusier: The creator search
2. Curtis , William J R Le Corbusier: Ideas and forms