The poetic architecture looks at a moment where architecture surpasses itself as a concrete form and instead becomes much more than physical space. Le Corbusier’s church at Notre-Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, designed between 1950-55, was one of Le Corbusier’s poetic architecture till present. This building was one of his dramatic sculptural creations similar to his earlier works. While his earlier buildings were very rational in nature, Le Corbusier was never a materialist, rather he was a poet. He is recognized today as one of the most influential and valued architects of the twentieth century.

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Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet1
©Sadia Quddus. “Material Masters: Le Corbusier’s Love for Concrete” Flickr User roryrory

The chapel owes its form to its interaction with the landscape. Every facade responds to various attitudes: reception, celebration, service, symbolism. The sculptural character of the roof dramatizes the strength and the mutability of the concrete to create organic volumes. Both of these elements work together to create a magical and intense interior space in which light is the character.

The lack of ornamental detail helps the building to truly exist as a sacred space without any interference from the tourists and worshippers. Suffering from a lack of mass-produced materials, the structure is pure and basic, demonstrating the way of life sought by those who came to the chapel.

Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet2
©inhabitat.com/Kristine Lofgren

The creativity of Le Corbusier consists in presenting the viewer with a different perception of the building from whatever viewpoint he/she sees it while retaining harmony, dynamism, and cohesiveness. This function forces visitors to walk around the chapel in order to truly appreciate it, introducing a fourth physical dimension to the architectural composition: movement.

Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet3
©Greatbuildings.com

Le Corbusier used forms and shapes that influenced the user’s highest sense of degree, which provoked their emotions as a response. It was noted that he devoted his entire life to the exploration of poetry by architecture and sought to bring it to life. Le Corbusier has always been interested in the way people have interpreted his space through their senses, and because of this, his expertise has helped him to configure around this notion of how sound, light, and texture can affect one ‘s spiritual perception. 

Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet4
©Greatbuildings.com

Le Corbusier used smooth surfaces of reinforced concrete to generate a shape that is expressive and organic. Since its completion, the structure has evoked poetic notions in the imagination of the visitor witnessing the play of shadow and light on various surfaces, both on the interior and the exterior.

He created a sequence of spatial dramas in which lighting interacted with form and material to generate different moods at multiple intervals of day or season. The influence of light-evoked dramatic and emotional qualities that trigger heightened experiences in accordance with the religious practices taking place there.

Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet5
©Andrew Kroll. “AD Classics: Ronchamp / Le Corbusier”

“The roof shell has been placed on the walls that are absurdly but practically thick. Inside them however, are reinforced concrete columns. The shell will rest in these columns but it will not touch the wall. A horizontal  crack of light 10 cm wide will amaze.”  -Le Corbusier.

Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet6
©Andrew Kroll. “AD Classics: Ronchamp / Le Corbusier”

The most striking aspect of Ronchamp is the rounded roof that peels up to the sky. The concave roof seems to rise over the building as it is supported by built-in columns in the walls, forming a 10 cm distance between the roof and the walls, enabling priestly light to slip. In fact, the roof is the only indication of the mechanized influence in Ronchamp’s overall design; the curvature of the roof mimics the forms of the airplane wing.

Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet7
©Andrew Kroll. “AD Classics: Ronchamp / Le Corbusier”

Le Corbusier kept natural things around him to trigger his creativity all his life. From the outside of the façade, the windows look small, but inside they extend into a wide white opening that throws light into the darkened room. Some of the tiny windows are colored and they add some colors of light to the church. Le Corbusier’s intention, however, was to highlight the drama of light and to enhance the sacred space. Every wall is illuminated by these specific window frames, which, in combination with the steep whitewashed walls, offer the walls luminous qualities accompanied by more strong direct light. On the walls behind the altar in the chapel, the lighting creates a speckled design, much like a starry sky, with scattered openings, complemented by a wider opening above the cross that produces a stream with light, producing a compelling sacred image as well as a transformative experience.

Notre Dame du Haut, France by Le Corbusier: The first Post-Modern building - Sheet8
©Andrew Kroll. “AD Classics: Ronchamp / Le Corbusier”

Le Corbusier’s chapel at Notre-du-Haut was committed to discussing the context of the site, both the importance of its position in the Ronchamp landscape and the historical history before Le Corbusier approved the commission of the chapel. However, the building represents some of the ideals of modern architecture, such as its austerity, its openness to society, and its conception as a contrasting feature in the landscape. Ronchamp is a context-oriented architecture based on modern concepts that makes Ronchamp among the most iconic landmarks of the 20th century and the career of Le Corbusier.

Author

Amirthavarshini Pugalendhi is an architecture student by Academia, Ambiverted and an Unconventional bibliophile. She believes architecture is the manifestation of an idea, it encodes messages and emotes experiences. Loves controversial theories and being overcritical as much as surrealism and metaphors. She dreams about portraying a response to the happenings in the world through architecture.

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