La Tourette

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago we made an architectural pilgrimage to La Tourette  - the extraordinary Dominican priory designed by Le Corbusier with fellow architect and avant-garde musician Iannis Xenakis. The building - designed in the 1950's and completed in 1960 - stands as one of the most important icons of late Modernism. 

The site is on a steep hillside at Eveux, overlooking panoramic views across the valley below. The building really embraces the site, with the front facade elevated on concrete pilotis allowing the hillside to run underneath the structure. The natural slope and vegetation of the site feel almost uninterrupted and the turf roofs in the courtyard give a feeling that there is no real boundary between the interior worlds of the priory and the natural environment that surrounds it.

 

 

In the image centre left above, you can see the individual monastic cells. For most of the year it is possible to book and stay in one of these, but sadly the 'hotel' is closed in August. I would love to return another time and experience a night there.

The far left and far right images above are both views into the central courtyard, and the one centre right above is the eastern facade of the church with its steeple and bell tower.

 

Corbusier famously said that he built with 'concrete and light'. He had an extraordinary understanding and mastery of natural light and used this to dramatic effect in the monolithic church space illuminated wit the slimmest slits of light (above left). In the Oratory (centre) he again used thin slots either side of the altar, painted in pillar box red and canary yellow. The effect of light pouring through these coloured slits has something almost of the quality of stained glass.

In the image top left you see the circular coloured light wells which illuminate the crypt below, giving a sense of celestial light to the space. You can see in the image below (bottom left) the three light wells rising above the crypt roof - each angled differently to catch the light. A second set of light wells (on the right in the images centre and right below) similarly illuminate the sacristy.

 

 

The materials are everyday utilitarian ones - concrete, glass, metal and painted timber. The typically Corbusian use of touches of primary colour add a playfullness and a lightness to the spaces. In the centre left image below you see the little crosses moulded into the huge slab altar in the main church. I loved the functional details - the bakelite sockets and switches and the beautiful low metal radiators. Every detail seems considered, with equal attention paid to the sacred and the prosaic.

 

 

For me though, the most wonderful details were the windows. The 'Mondrian windows' as you first enter the priory and the beautiful regulated vertical windows designed by avant-garde musician Iannis Xenakis as you descent into the church. The relationship between the deep concrete mullions and the changing intervals of glass is really magical. 

 

 
Eleanor Pritchard