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A R C H ITECTURE IN TE R RUPTUS Wexner Center for the Arts


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Eglise Saint-Pierre de Firminy-Vert


This publication accompanies the exhibition Architecture Interruptus Wexner Center for the Arts The Ohio State University January 26–April 15, 2007 Curator Megan Cavanaugh Novak Curatorial Assistant Rachel Choto Exhibition Designer Patrick Weber Graphic Designer Wendy Qi

Architecture Interruptus was organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Major support is provided by Capgemini, NBBJ, and the Greater Columbus Arts Council. The catalogue is made possible by a generous gift from Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown. Additional support for the exhibition comes from Linda and Jim Miller, auto·des·sys, The Columbus Chapter of The American Institute of Architects, Robert and Sally Wandel, Merilynn and Tom Kaplin, Myers Financial Services LLC, the Corporate Annual Fund of the Wexner Center Foundation, and Wexner Center members. Accommodations are provided by The Blackwell Inn. Published by Wexner Center for the Arts The

Ohio State University 1871 North High Street Columbus, Ohio 43210-1393 USA Tel: +(614) 292-0330 Fax: +(614) 292-3369 www.wexarts. org © 2006 Wexner Center for the Arts The Ohio State University Library of Congress Control Number: 2006939610 ISBN 10 Digits: 1-881390-42-X ISBN 13 Digits: 978-1-881390-42-8 Distributed by D.A.P. Distributed Art Publishers, Inc. 155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd Floor New York, New York 10013 USA Tel: +(212) 627-1999 / +(800) 338-2665 Fax: +(212) 627-9484 www.artbook.com


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contents

1 director’s foreword

45 drawings

construction

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introduction

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documentation grandeur is in the


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22

a time for freedom

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josĂŠ oubrerie contemporary

contemporary

photographs

62 intention historical

73

drawings

86 acknowledgments


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director’s forword sherri geldin

L e C orbu sie r and Jos é O ubre r ie

If, as one leading critic proclaims, the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Firminy-Vert is “almost a triumph for Le Corbusier,” it is in any case an unqualified triumph for José Oubrerie, the architect who, against all odds, brought the church to fruition some forty years after it was begun. As a young apprentice in Le Corbusier’s atelier, Oubrerie worked closely on the church, only to see the project founder upon the master’s death in the mid-1960s. With only its concrete foundation poured, the project remained for decades relegated to preemptive ruin—a poignant vestige of what had never been and what might never be. Meanwhile, Oubrerie established his own reputation as a professor and an architect with masterworks as the Miller House in Kentucky and the French Cultural

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Center in Damascus, Syria. But he never forgot the Firminy church; over time his relationship to the project would transform from an architectural to an existential commitment. As Oubrerie writes,

What does it take to defy architectural historians, experts, Corbusian zealots or detractors...if not something which was initiated in the 60s, born out of one of the constant dreams of one singular man who transferred the task to one of his then assistants to continuously diminish the part of the unknown, to bring to existence this thing which kept growing in the 70s to the point of being partially cast in concrete and became suddenly frozen awake? What is it even more to be called upon three years ago to bring out of this long coma such a project which did not want to die, having been strong enough by itself, by its own nature and its antecedents, to resist demolition....

And herein lays both crux and crucible: a rare convergence of supreme will, fortune, talent, and tenacity that conjures from abandoned dreams a concrete reality, despite improbable odds and rampant skepticism in the academy of peers. For what does it mean to posthumously complete the work of another, especially when the other in question is long since enshrined in the pantheon of architectural gods? Moreover, how dare something at once aspire to the historic and the contemporary? With what audacity and cheek does the one-time apprentice take up the pen and summon the redress of the master’s original design intent, now proven ill-conceived?


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This small church, situated in the town of Firminy about an hour outside of Lyon, was originally designed by Le Corbusier in the early 1960s. It was to be the fourth in a suite of projects by the famed architect in Firminy,

The design itself also reflects a sense of “newness.” Although the outward “style” of the building might seem rooted in retired modernist or brutalist ideals, the ideas embedded in the project are still remarkably current.

part of a visionary mayor’s civic plan to create a new, green city out of a shabby industrial town. After several iterations of the design, which initially sprang from the unbuilt Le Tremblay church project of 1929, Le Corbusier passed


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away in 1965 before the Firminy church had even reached its final design stage, much less been built. José Oubrerie, the young apprentice working on the church with Le Corbusier, picked up where his teacher left off, and continued the evolution of the project’s design. There were many fits and starts through the design and the eventual construction of the building, but today, the Firminy church stands tall, a monument to Corbusier’s legacy and practice, and to Oubrerie’s tenacity and persistence. As you can probably imagine, the task of writing about Le Corbusier and this “last” of his buildings is fairly daunting. Luckily for me, neither this

exhibition nor the Firminy church is just about Le Corbusier, or even just about him and José Oubrerie. In fact, both are undeniably more about the iterative process of design, the compromises that are created by people working together, the changes that happen as new information arises during the design process. These effects are magnified by the incredible talent of the two architects and the immense stretch of time that has extended from the first breath of the project until its eventual, emphatic completion more than forty years later. Although the Firminy church poses many questions with no real answers, it is safe to say that José Oubrerie was the driving force behind the pages reserved for completed projects, comes from him. As Anthony Eardley details in his essay, first published in 1981 and reprinted here, Oubrerie became intimately involved in the design of the church as soon as Le Corbusier received the initial commission in 1960. Aside from some of the earliest sketches, many of the drawings from Le Corbusier’s studio were actually penned by Oubrerie while he worked there on the rue


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introduction

megan cavanaugh novak

In November 2006, the Eglise SaintPierre de Firminy-Vert was finally unveiled to the public... This small church, situated in the town of Firminy about an hour outside of Lyon, was originally designed by Le Corbusier in the early 1960s. It was to be the fourth in a suite of projects by the famed architect


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in Firminy, part of a visionary mayor’s civic plan to create a new, green city out of a shabby industrial town. After several from the unbuilt Le Tremblay church project of 1929, Le Corbusier passed away in 1965

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iterations of the design, which initially sprang

before the Firminy church had even reached its final design stage, much less been built. on the church with Le Corbusier, picked up where his teacher left off, and continued the

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José Oubrerie, the young apprentice working

evolution of the project’s design. There were many fits and starts through the design and but today, the Firminy church stands tall, a monument to Corbusier’s legacy and practice, and to Oubrerie’s tenacity and persistence. As you can probably imagine, the task of writing about Le Corbusier and this “last” of his buildings is fairly daunting. Luckily for me, neither this exhibition nor the Firminy church is just about Le Corbusier, or even just about him and José Oubrerie. In fact,

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the eventual construction of the building,

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14 of another, especially when the other in question is long since enshrined in the pantheon of architectural gods? Moreover, how dare something at once aspire to the historic and the contemporary? With what audacity and cheek does the one-time apprentice take up the pen and summon the redress of the master’s original design intent, now proven ill-conceived?

And how does one reconcile the ambiguity of authorship in a project that looms so large on the landscape of architectural history? These are the questions we seek to probe in presenting Architecture Interruptus at the Wexner Center for the Arts. In doing so, we also honor the unlikely accomplishment of JosÊ Oubrerie, a colleague who for the last fifteen years has contributed to the intellectual and creative energy of Ohio State’s Knowlton School of Architecture as professor, agitator, and mentor, even as he has lent his talents to the Wexner Center as exhi- bition designer and, more importantly, as devilish advocate and interlocu- tor. That a former student, Megan Cavanaugh Novak, eagerly assumed the role of exhibition curator, and a long-time friend and


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Knowlton School colleague, Jeffrey Kipnis, agreed to contribute a critical essay to this catalogue is testament to their keen regard for Oubrerie and his talents. But make no mistake: this exhibition and catalogue stand completely on their own merits, as rigorously conceived and vetted as any the center would undertake. In that regard, the Firminy church uniquely and simultaneously embodies dual but rarely convergent Wexner Center mandates: to focus on newly created work in all disciplines and to illuminate the historical context from which such work emerges. Here, in one project, we can at once illustrate that which is quintessentially Corbusian and that which bears the distinctive hand of Oubrerie circa 2006. Moreover, we are able to discern where the one-time assistant has acted primarily as preservationist, and where he has deliberately reinterpreted and even wholly reconceived crucial elements of the design. As such, the church becomes a true dialogue across the decades, not between teacher and student, but between peers. And one has to surmise that Le Corbusier would deem his legacy well served. This was by no means an easy project on which to cut one’s curato- rial teeth, and I would like to recognize the fine work done by Megan Cavanaugh Novak to orchestrate every aspect of this exhibition

and its accompanying catalogue. She joins me in expressing our abiding appreciation to the Fondation Le Corbusier for its generous cooperation in lending precious historical material to the show. We also thank the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole, and the Centre Canadien d’Architecture Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, for their kind assistance in lending works. Similarly, we both convey our thanks to Romain Chazalon, who has worked closely with Oubrerie over the last several years to bring the church to completion, and also assisted in planning the exhibition. We are grateful to Jeffrey Kipnis for his keen insights and suggestions along the way, in addition to his sweeping yet meticulously honed essay for this catalogue. I thank Helen Molesworth for her project oversight and the entire Wexner Center exhibitions team for their significant contributions to the realization of the project, particularly Patrick Weber, the lead ex- hibition designer for the show. I would also like to express my thanks to Wendy Qi, our guest graphic designer, for his superb visualization of this publication and several related materials, and to Editor Ann Bremner for her always graceful and sensitive ministrations to text. We


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are delighted that Luis Burriel Bielza was able to

Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, whose splendid

visit the church upon its completion and provide

gift made this publication possible. I am also

entirely new photographs for this catalogue.

pleased to acknowledge additional exhibition

For their dedicated efforts to raise both awareness

support from Linda and Jim Miller, auto•des•sys,

and funding for the exhibition, I’m proud to

The Columbus Chapter of The American Institute

recognize the center’s marketing and commu-

of Architects, Robert and Sally Wandel, Merilynn

nications department under the leadership of Jerry

and Tom Kaplin, Myers Financial Services LLC, the

Dannemiller and its development department, led

Blackwell Inn, the Corporate Annual Fund of the

by Jeffrey Byars. Under the strategic guidance of

Wexner Center Foundation, and Wexner Center

Deputy Director Jack Jackson, they (and so much

members.

else at the center) flourish. I am blessed with a supremely creative and dedicated staff, as well as a

Finally, I express my utmost esteem, affection and

cadre of devoted volunteers, and while they more

appreciation to José Oubrerie, whose conviction

than deserve individual recognition, this collective

and tenacity have kept the Eglise Saint- Pierre

expression of thanks will have to suffice for the

a vital (if dormant) force for so many years.

moment. Similarly, I am exceedingly fortunate to

“Today,” he notes, “as a new phoenix, the ugly

have a Board of Trustees that is unparalleled in the

lost object has transformed itself...into a powerful

country for its stead- fast commitment to the not-

sculpture whose outside convexity reorganizes its

always-easy mission of being a laboratory for the

surroundings and inside concavity reorganizes our

contemporary arts. For their unwavering support

feelings and thoughts.” No small feat indeed, and

and encourage- ment, I salute them.

inconceivable without Oubrerie’s respectful yet radical intervention.

The center’s trustees join me in recognizing those

José Oubrerie’s comments appear in “Folio: 500 Words for 45

generous individual and corporate donors who

Years,” Cornell Architecture, Art, Planning NEWS01 (Fall 2006),

have made Architecture Interruptus pos- sible.

p. 21.

We are enormously grateful to Capgemini, NBBJ, and the Greater Columbus Arts Council for their significant commitments of support to this endeavor. In addition, I express my profound appreciation to national architecture patrons Elise


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Eglise Saint-Pierre d de Firminy-Vert


contemp or ar y photo g raphs


e x te r i or,

detail of gutter system


e x te r i or,

detail of gutter system


inter ior,

detail of pulpit stairs in sanctuary


contemp or ar y draw ings


e ast f aรง ade


mass pl an


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grandeur is the intention anthony eardley


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Firminy is a mining, steel, and textiles town of

Le Corbusier’s buildings to be realized, the parish church of Saint-Pierre de Firminy-Vert.2

some 25,000 people in the southern Auvergne. It lies in an undulating landscape at the head

This last work was actually commissioned in the

of a narrow region sprawling from the Rhone

spring of 1960. Le Corbusier undertook it with

through St. Etienne, blackened with smoke

reluctance, and serious misgivings, which were

and soot, and containing some half a million

overcome only through his deep friendship for the

people. In the nineteenth century it was

mayor of Firminy, Eugène Claudius-Petit. Indeed,

the scene of feverish industrial activity.

even the Parish Association commissioned the

In 1914 Baedeker’s guide to Southern

work with some apprehension, for despite the

France afforded Firminy’s urban and

encouraging impetus of the radical transformations

architectural heritage just two lines of

suddenly taking place about them in a town which

text; the remaining two lines advised the

had been “practically abandoned by municipal

visitor as to the means of transportation

officials of every political color for half a century,”3

to somewhere else.1 However, it is not

they found themselves ill-equipped to assume the

this jerry-built and unsanitary old fabric, shaken by mining subsidence and reduced to rubble in the frenzy of European postwar urban renewal, but rather the adjacent “green” Firminy which contains the last of

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22

LeCorbusier,Aircraft;L’avionaccuse... (London: The Studio, Ltd. 1935), p. 95. 23 Ibid., p. 96. 24 Mise au point, op. cit., pp. 59–61. 25 Paul Turner, in his invaluable study of The Education of Le Corbusier observes that in his reading of Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jesus during the period 1908–1909, the young Charles-Edouard Jeanneret marked passages which “reveal the rather startling fact that Jeanneret actually identified himself with the figure of Jesus, and was seeking parallels between Jesus’ career and that which he himself was embarking upon...Indeed, Jeanneret seems to have read Nietzsche (Zarathustra) and Renan together, seeking out in both books the traits of the archetypal revolutionary prophet and reformer—and then relating these traits to his image of his own similar destiny.” Paul Venable Turner, The Education of Le Corbusier (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1977), pp. 62, 64. 27 LeCorbusier,Oeuvrecomplète1946– 1952, op. cit., p. 25. 28 Le Corbusier lui-même, Jean Petit, editor (Geneva: Editions Rousseau, 1970), p. 100. Apart from the secular aspects of this proposal it is clear that Le Corbusier’s ciconsotganratprheyc,oausrsies

etovipdaegnat,nfor enxaatmurpale, in Ronchamp, was a constant source of distress to the ecclesiastical authorities. While it is impossible to identify the full panoply of references and stimuli, it is pcroasbs-isbhleltloacnldaiamircthrafttiwn iandgdwitihoinchtoshthaeped the roof, other memories permeated the form of Firminy-Vert. Among these one may select the old Greek colony in Archachon, danradwAnmwéidthéepOrozteon-Pfaunritsitnstuhbetlseutymbmyehrimofself 1918 (Le Corbusier, Une maison—un palais: A la recherche d’une unité architecturale, Paris: Cres, 1928, p. 47); the Serapeum at the Villa Adriana, Tivoli, already evoked 71 in connection with the light shafts for La Sainte-Baume (Le Corbusier, Oeuvre complète 1946–1952, p. 31); the megalithic Ggantija (Giant’s Tower) on the Maltese island of Gozo (Une maison—un palais, p. 39); elements of the Arab cities of Ghardaia and the Mizab (Le Corbusier, Radiant City, New York, 1967, pp. 230–233), and African cer-


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emonial masks which he had studied in the Trocadero in his youth (L’Esprit Nouveau nos. 21, 22, see “Nègres” by Julian Sant- Quetin). 29 “Le Corbusier and the Theological Program,” op. cit., p. 291. 30 Some indications as the reasons for his refusal are contained in his response to Karel Teige’s criticism of the Mundaneum project of that period when he replied, “You say ‘needs pose programs: factories, railway stations, and not churches or palaces; at the present time, nothing can become architecture which is not dictated by social and economic needs.’ I have never believed, nor written anything else; and to show you the subtlety which can animate this belief, let me tell you that last year I refused, very politely, to build a very big church, even though I was authorized to apply the most modern methods to the project. I felt

that reinforced concrete simply couldn’t become a true expression of a Catholic cult, which is formed by the dense stratification of secular usages which derive their vitality as much from the form that has been conferred vupon them as from the principle, and which our memory has retained.” See Kerel Tiege, “Mundaneum,” originally published in Stavba no.7 (Prague, 1928–1929), pp. 145–155. Translated in full by Ladislav and Elizabeth Holovsky and Lubamir Dolezel in Oppositions 4 (New York: October 1974), pp. 83–91. See also Le Corbusier, “In Defense of Architecture.” This article was written in 1929 in response to the Teige attack cited above, and was intended for publication in Stavba. It first appeared in French in L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui (Paris, 1933), and is published in full in Oppositions 4, pp. 92–108, translated by Nancy Bray, André Lessard, Alan Levitt, and George Baird. My version of this passage differs slightly from theirs. 31 Stanislaus von Moos, Le Corbusier; Elements of a Synthesis (Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1979), p. 258. 32 “Le Corbusier et son atelier rue de Sèvres 35,” Oeuvre complète 1952–1957, p. 94. 33 NormaEvenson,Chandigarh(Berke ley: University of California Press, 1966), p. 82. 34 Le Corbusier, introduction to The development by Le


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Corbusier of the Design for L’Eglise de Firminy, a church in France, Keller Smith Jr. and Reyhan Tansal, editors (University of North Carolina at Raleigh: Student Publications, vol.14, 1964), p. 5. 35 LeCorbusierhadanacutedistastefor the clutter of extensive church seating: “They can get down on their knees, the Good Lord is quite entitled to that! Because all these types sit in the churches, including Notre Dame, (and) I don’t agree at all!” Le Corbusier lui-même, p. 184. In the end, of course, he was to lose this battle at Firminy as a result of the necessity to warp the church floor up and over the day chapel in order to accommodate the congregation in a reduced floor area, thus making safety barriers, and hard seating essential. 36 Several significantly conflicting dates are recorded for the site visit, but I believe we can rely on the date Le Corbusier indicated on his sketches. 37 “Notesurl’implantation,”op.cit.,p.3. 38 “Le Corbusier and the Theological Program,” op. cit., p. 309. 39 Le Corbusier, “The Mosques” in Le Voyage d’Orient (Paris:

Forces Vives, 1966). 40LeCorbusie r,“Quandlescathédrales étaient blanches,” Plan (Paris, 1937), pp. 33–35. Levitt, and George Baird. My version of this passage differs slightly from theirs. 31 Stanislaus von Moos, Le Corbusier; Elements of a Synthesis (Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1979), p. 258. 32 “Le Corbusier et son atelier rue de Sèvres 35,” Oeuvre complète 1952– 1957, p. 94. 33 NormaEvenson,Chandigarh(Berkeley : University of California Press, 1966), p. 82. 34 Le Corbusier, introduction to The development by Le Corbusier of the Design for L’Eglise de Firminy, a church in France, Keller Smith Jr. and Reyhan Tansal, editors (University of North Carolina at Raleigh: Student Publications, vol.14, 1964), p. 5.


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30 Some indications as the reasons for his refusal are contained in his response to Karel Teige’s criticism of the Mundaneum project of that period when he replied, “You say ‘needs pose programs: factories, railway stations, and not churches or palaces; at the present time, nothing can become architecture which is not dictated by social and economic needs.’ I have never believed, nor written anything else; and to show you the subtlety which can animate this belief, let me tell you that last year I refused, very politely, to build a very big church, even though I was authorized to apply the most modern methods to the project. I felt that reinforced concrete simply couldn’t become a true expression of a Catholic cult, which is formed by the dense stratification of secular usages which derive their vitality as much from the form that has been conferred upon them as from the prin-

ciple, and which our memory has retained.” See Kerel Tiege, “Mundaneum,” originally published in Stavba no.7 (Prague, 1928–1929), pp. 145–155. Translated in full by Ladislav and Elizabeth Holovsky and Lubamir Dolezel in Oppositions 4 (New York: October 1974), pp. 83–91. See also Le Corbusier, “In Defense of Architecture.” This article was written in 1929 in response to the Teige attack cited above, and was intended for publication in Stavba. It first appeared in French in L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui (Paris, 1933), and is published in full in Oppositions 4, pp. 92–108, translated by Nancy Bray, André Lessard, Alan Levitt, and George Baird. My version of this passage differs slightly from theirs. 31 Stanislaus von Moos, Le Corbusier; Elements of a Synthesis (Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1979), p. 258. 32 “Le Corbusier et son atelier rue de Sèvres 35,” Oeuvre complète 1952–1957, p. 94. 33 NormaEvenson,Chandigarh(Berke ley: University of California Press, 1966), p. 82. 34 Le Corbusier, introduction to The development by Le Corbusier of the Design for L’Eglise de Firminy, a church in France, Keller Smith Jr. and Reyhan Tansal, editors (University of North Carolina at Raleigh: Student Publications, vol.14, 1964), p. 5.


histor i c a l d r aw i ng s


inter ior,

detail of pulpit stairs in sanctuary


i nte r ior,

detail of pulpit stairs in sanctuary


A RCH I TECTU RE I N T E R R UP T US

Wexner Center for the Arts The Ohio State University

Architecture Interruptus Cataloge Part 2  

Title: Architecture Interruptus Exhibition Created at: The Ohio State University Department of Design Professor: David Wolfgang Bull The wo...