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Kelton Berrett [32]

“Create a silent dwelling for one hundred bodies and one hundred hearts.� -Father Marie-Alain Couturier Le Corbusier began designing The Convent of La Tourette in 1953 for a Dominican Order priori near Lyon, France. Completed in 1960, it would be his last project to be built in Europe.[32] [17]



When Le Corbusier began designing the Convent of La Tourette, World War II and the new world order it created were still recent memories. The Modern movement took an unwilling hiatus during the war years, and didn't quite regain it's footing until the 60's, when American Mid-Century Modernism reached the mainstream. This split between pre-war modernism and post-war modernism is what I have focused on for this chronology, especially as it relates to Architecture.






End of WWII - Bombing of Heroshima and Nagasaki, Japan

Politics [26]



Creation of the French 4th republic

Beginning of Cold WAr De-colonization of India by the UK



Pablo Picasso - "The Charnel House" [4]



Manhattan Project - Creation of First Atomic Weapon

ENIAC - First Electric general purpose computer [1]








Beginning of Marshal Plan US foreign Aid to Europe [20]

Evangelii Praecones - Papal address of Cultural Respect for all people

Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi [3]


Barnett Newman - "Onement 1"



Mark Rothko "No. 3/No. 13"

Jackson Pollock "Autumn Rhythm" [13]

Double Helix DNA Model published [9]

Introduction of color Television [14]

THE ASCENDENCY OF MODERNISM Konstantin Melnikov Rusakov Workers Club 1927-1929 [31] [15]

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Pavilion [8] [19]






Walter Gropius Bauhaus Building - Dessau [6] [2]

Le Corbusier {Pre-War}

Villa Savoye [11] [16]

Le Corbusier Unite d'Habitation [22] [28]

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House [24] [12]






Philip Johnson The Glass House [30] [25]



Communal Life - Spiritual Solitude - Ethereal Light - Circulation - Cloistered Life - Views - Silence & Peace - Separation from Ground Plane

COMMUNAL LIFE vs. SPIRITUAL SOLITUDE Le Corbusier sought to create a place that would support the life of the monastery, and the monks who made it up. This lifestyle is a dichotomy of communal lifestyle, stemming from the fact that monasteries are communal living spaces, but the emphasis is on silence, and individual workshop of God. [17]

Private Living Cells

Public Spaces Chapel for individual worship


COMMUNAL LIFE vs. SPIRITUAL SOLITUDE The communal/solitude dichotomy is epitomized in Le Corbusier's selection of structural systems.

The 3rd floor, containing the private cells for the members of the monastery, is a single loaded corridor of small rooms formed by numerous load bearing walls. [17]

By contrast, the 2nd floor contains larger spaces, supported by columns instead of load bearing walls, better for supporting communal functions of the monastery.[17]

ETHEREAL LIGHT QUALITY The best example of Corbusier's ability to create ethereal light is seen in the chapel, where he designed three light wells designed to channel diffused light into the space, colored by painted interior. The diagram below shows a cut-away view of the light wells, and how their shapes capture unique angles of light, and diffuse it into the space.


CIRCULATION Le Corbusier's previous work had already established a focus for circulation, which he continued in this project. Highlighted in red is a system of circulation that bisects the courtyard forming a system of cloisters as well as connecting the various programmatic elements of the monastery, for more efficient circulation.[17]

Chapel Church

Living quarters Circulation passages

ClOISTERED LIFE Like traditional monasteries, La Tourette was designed to be fortress like. Le Corbusier chose the courtyard, like many historical monastic buildings have, as it emphasized the internal community and their individual connection to god, while massive concrete walls protect their solitude.[17]

Internal confines

Massive concrete encircling walls

VIEWS The Convent is sited at the top of an agricultural hill with wooded areas at the base. The convent is also nestled in another wooded area. This means that the main public areas (with the majority of curtain wall glazing) face down the hill towards the wooded areas and the nearby town, providing vistas for the communal areas. The private areas face mostly into wooded areas, the western facing cells being the exception. [Google Earth]



West facing facade - Provides the main communal South facing facade - View down the hill vistas

SILENCE & PEACE One of Le Corbusier's stated goals for this project was to create a place of "silence and Peace." In terms of this goal manifesting through program, I would say the separation of worship spaces and living spaces helps to achieve this goal, by keeping the noise of life away from the spaces of contemplation and worship. 17]

Living quarters



SEPARATION FROM GROUND PLANE Much of the work of Le Corbusier rests on his "five points of architecture." One of these five points is to free the structure of the ground plane by letting it to rest on "pilotis." This is attributed to reasons such as health (access to fresh air, and unclean associations with the ground). The majority of the structure rests on pilotis, while the chapel and church rest on the ground. Furthermore, the eastern half of the project begins to engage the hill it's built into. But it is obvious from studying the monastery that Corbusier's intentions remained to isolate the project from the ground plane.

Living quarters suspended by pilotis

Pilotis in green

Worship spaces bearing on ground plane


IN HIS OWN WORDS "...To discover, to create a differnt, other architecture, unique and original in its essential nudity." [17] I would not consider the monastery to be a large departure from Corbusier's own concepts, so I would disagree that it is "different, unique, and original." Just previous to this project, Corbusier had just built the Unite d'Habitation; which, in many regards, is very similar. Both are raised on pilotis, both are brutalist concrete structures, both seek to solve dense living situations similarly. In all, this project isn't new, but it certainly is honest and perhaps beautiful in its "nudity."

"To give the monks what men today need most: silence and peace This Monastery does not show off; it is on the inside that it lives." [32] I would primarily agree with Le Corbusier. The building, though hulking on the site, is not flamboyant. It is only on the inside that the wonderful mullion treatment can be seen, it is in the church and chapel that one can experience the ethereal treatments of light that Corbusier played with. This building was clearly designed to be an inwardly focusing building, and I think that is appropriate for a monastery.

"In choosing the site I committed a criminal, or a worthwhile act... I said 'Don't sit it on the ground because of the slope, sit it high up, on the horizontal line of the building at the top, then it will blend in with the horizon'" [33] I tend to think that this constitutes a crime. I think setting it up so high made Corbusier rely on too high of pilotis, creating awful and unusable outdoor space, and creating a building that dominates the landscape, rather than harmonizes with it. I tend to like the F.L. Wright idea of building on the "brow" of a hill, and keeping things discrete.


"Undulating glass surfaces" [32]


For the most part, Le Corbusier's aspirations matched the built form of The Convent of La Tourette, unfortunately, that isn't always enough to make for a successful project. The number of Dominicans living in the convent has shrunk to 20, and the building has had to adapt to being a convention center and tourist attraction. I believe the essence of The Convent of La Tourette is designing for the monastic life, a life that seems at odds with itself. Monasteries demand both a sense of spiritual solitude, while living in a communal world of shared responsibility and cooperation. In terms of program, I think Le Corbusier was fairly successful in mediating this dichotomy, and he expressed it through many ways such as massing, and structural systems.


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Building Dissection  

A building dissection assignment for Architectural Programming. Le Corbusier's Convent of La Tourette

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