d·M A S returns to the Couvent de la Tourette in Eveux, France designed by Le Corbusier and completed in 1960.
The building projects off the side of a steep hill surrounded by open fields and pastures. It extends parallel to the horizon line and hovers over the ground supported by pillars, slender pilotis, and openwork concrete shells. As a self-contained monastic retreat, the building was designed to respond to a unique program shaped by long-standing traditions and ideals first established in the Middle Ages, but Le Corbusier took some license, introducing innovative variations on an old type. In accordance with monastic traditions, he separated communal and private spaces by placing the monks’ cells along the top tier of the building, and the communal areas such as the refectory, the library, the classrooms, and the church on the lower level, but in departure from traditional layouts, the architect assembled all of these spaces around the same open courtyard. In addition, he rearranged the four sides of the arcade, which traditionally surrounded the cloister, into a cruciform composition of volumes, placed instead at the center of the court. These volumes function as connecting conduits, and become the main arteries for circulation much the same way that long corridors in traditional monastic plans connected the private spaces surrounding the cloister with the communal areas outside of it. Le Corbusier designed the entrance to the church at the terminus of the main, longer artery. The church and its adjacent crypt are the most extraordinary and dramatic spaces in the complex. The layout of the church also reflects the architect’s adherence to traditional monastic models, featuring a single nave with unadorned walls, and sparse furnishing and decorations. However, Le Corbusier’s suggestive use of natural light brings new life to this medieval format. In the church, light filters into the dark and austere interior, penetrating the liturgical space through a high vertical opening in the wall behind the altar, and a horizontal slit at the top of the wall of the choir area. The stark formal austerity of the church is further modulated by colored light that enters the space through lateral, horizontal vents painted in bright colors, and placed just above the choir stalls. A low partition visually separates the crypt from the church, bending traditional requirements that demanded more privacy in the altar area. The crypt contains side altars illuminated by canon a lumiere that channel light through plastered tunnels painted in a variety of warm hues. The effect of changing light and the impact of color transform the church’s austere forms, infusing them with new emotional force and mystical charge; an architectural accomplishment that would have impressed even the most ascetic medieval critic.