Sainte Marie de La Tourette – Le Corbusier – Discussion 20

“ To discover , To create a different other architecture , unique and original in its essential nudity”

-        were the master builder Ar. Le Corbusier’s famous words when asked to describe his objectives behind the construction of the La Tourette.

Sainte Marie La Tourette is a monastery of the Dominican order in Eveux , France near Lyons. Inspired by Le, Thoronet , a Cystercian monastery in Southern France , Corbusier raised his building around a central courtyard. Taking advantage of the varying contours , he placed the building on stilts letting the ground undulate- providing the main entrance on the third floor level.

The building contains a hundred cells , study rooms, halls for work and recreation , a library and a refractory in addition to a church. The church forms the single main focal point of the complex. The low ceiling with giant domes of light makes this space unique. The cells , each of which is acoustically insulated and measure approximately 8′x24′ illustrate corbusier’s extensive study into human proportions and their relationship to the environment , each cell different from another in terms of finishing and positioning. Light has been a principal element in the design and each cell is provided with a solitary window which gives it unique spiritual character.

The three exterior elevations are provided with panes of glass designed by Xenakis which is said to have been inspired by harmony of music. On the other hand, in the garden-court of the cloister, the fenestration is composed of large concrete elements reaching from floor to ceiling, perforated with glazed voids and separated from one another by “ventilators”: vertical slits covered by metal mosquito netting and furnished with a pivoting shutter.

The central courtyard is broken by geometric masses which creates a beautiful play of light and creates a volley of imposing shadows. At La Tourette many aspects of Corbusier’s developed architectural vocabulary are visible – the vertical brise-soleils used with effect in India, light-cannons piercing solid masonry walls, and window-openings separated by Modular-controlled vertical divisions.

The building , in its brutal honesty of materials and seeming harmony seems to empathize with the Spartan character of its inmates and  is an expression of their way of life .

Our discussion , after a viewing of the video was primarily focused on the modular. Rini pointed out that the harmony of the building has its roots in the system of proportions used and expressed her admiration for the degree of concord and the almost sacred proportions of the building.

Tony was of the opinion that the masterly play of light within the building was spectacular and the quality of spaces were unmatched. However , he added that the modular was just a system of proportions – not much unlike our Vastu Shasta. He went on to assert these proportioning systems , which are so often misinterpreted today often hold keys to good spatial design. He expressed the need for understanding of these proportioning systems.

Arun added that this was a dire need and that an understanding of these systems would only give us the power to transform them to fit into today’s context , for , history is a witness to the fact that all great architecture is novel , with its roots in history.

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