The Hill Notre-Dame du Haut is a Mecca of modern architecture and a place of Marian pilgrimage multiseculaire. The antique sanctuary, disappeared during the Second World War, was rebuilt by the Corbusier (1887-1965), between 1953 and 1955. This new chapel Notre-Dame du Haut is today considered one of the major milestones of the history of architecture of the twentieth century.
Fifty years after the inauguration of the Notre-Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp and on the occasion of its UNESCO World Heritage nomination, let us say that this rather mysterious and rather atypical project of the architect conceals a strategy undisclosed by him and we must find.
Let us also postulate that he deliberately wanted to “forget” his own theories: the modulor, the geometry of Greek architecture and its golden ratio, to speak of something else. To speak this time by metaphor. That is to say architecture no longer thought of as plastic, but as images, and, what is more, images from the text. Did Le Corbusier want here to oppose himself, to his everlasting remarks? Did the Corbusier “forget”?
About his work, the architect shows us a crab shell at the origin of his idea of the famous concrete shell, “a crab hull picked up on Long Island near New York in 1946 and placed on the table at drawing.”
Object quite similar to the roof of the project indeed but this skeleton brings us nothing. What is the relationship between a crab and a church? This path is, in our opinion, an impasse, a trap set by the architect himself.
He also speaks about the landscape and its relationship with the chapel, but this text also seems to have been edited “after the fact” for the communication of the project.
Finally, he also speaks of “visual acoustics” and we prefer to ruminate on this side. The first plan sketches show a vague report of the plan of the chapel with the cut of an ear.
If the plane is the cup of an ear, the shell is the outer ear itself (the flag) facing the sky and the whole chapel is built like a dish parabola.
Since then, she has not stopped when it comes to the good performance of the building. As such, many works are renovated and preserved in its workshops and its museum, so that the cathedral retains all its beauty.
The foundation, located in front of the cathedral, allows visitors to come and see many original sculptures removed from the monument to protect them from wear and pollution, such as the Tempter or the Broken Spear Synagogue .
Works of art such as the Head of Christ , the oldest figurative stained glass window in France (1060), the Lovers overtaken and the Bust of Man leaned are all reasons to linger in this museum with a thousand jewels . A parable but to listen to what? the sky ? God, since it’s a church. The Corbusier was able to imagine this amusing and perfectly solid image from a semantic point of view: a crowd of faithful flock to the immense ear-shaped chapel to amplify and receive the voice of God. Beautiful and powerful image, and perfectly new.
Let’s continue our research: On the main facade, a detail intrigues us: the shell tapers to a point with a mysterious crease unworthy of a purist as was the master.
Is this surprising uplift of the point a plastic effect for aesthetic purposes only, in a word decorative?
Difficult to say, in the absence of answer to this enigma, continue our walk around the building.
The workshops of the Cathedral are also visitable, only by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings.
Thanks to San Antonio Demolition for sponsoring this post!