Le Corbusier
Ronchamp, France, 1955

Chapel of St. Ignatius


Church of the Light

All Saints Margaret Street

Tokyo Church of Christ

Despite the fact it is almost 50 years old, Le Corbusierís Notre-Dame-du-Haut cannot be ignored in a survey of modern church architecture.  While my program differs from it in many ways, the non-traditional configuration of the church is nevertheless worth learning from, as it is a masterpiece.

Located near Ronchamp, France, Notre-Dame-du- Haut sits atop a hill that has been a pilgrimage site since the thirteenth century.  Drawn by stories of miracles, thousands of visitors come every year on important feast days, though the parish population is small.  The previous structure had been destroyed by German army bombs in the fall of 1944.  The commission for the new building was in the spirit of rebuilding after the Second World War and a renaissance in religious art in France.  Le Corbusier started on the project in 1950.
The program had some difficult requirements: a church to serve a parish of 200, but capable of dealing with crowds of pilgrims on important feast days (like August 15th and September 8th); two small chapels to hold services separately from the main Mass; a sacristy; a small office; a housing for a 17th century polychrome wood sculpture of the Virgin and Child; and a means to collect rainwater as water resources are scarce on the hilltop. 

Underlying Ideas
Le Corbusier, raised Protestant, sought to learn as much as possible about the Catholic faith when he worked on Ronchamp.  He was particularly interested in the veneration of the Virgin Mary and saw the relationship of the Church to parishioner (or pilgrim) as that of mother and child.  The entrance elevation thus curves to the south, to embrace the visitor as family and welcome him to the church.  The east elevation curves similarly, housing the outdoor chapel which deals with the extra capacity required on feast days.  The mother-child relationship is also expressed through the placement of the polychrome wood sculpture of the Virgin.  Le Corbusier placed the statue in a niche high above the altar, so that the mother figure would overlook everybody in the church. The niche is built so that the statue can bee seen from both the inside and the outside; the Virgin Mary thus presides over services in both chapels. 

Page by: Michelle Chan, M.Arch.I (M1), McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Last modified: February 14, 2000