The Couvent de la Tourette in Eveux, France designed by Le Corbusier and completed in 1960
The monastery is situated on 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. Still, Le Corbusier took some license, introducing innovative variations on an old type. Following 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. Still, in a departure from traditional layouts, the architect assembled all of these spaces around the same open courtyard. Also, he rearranged the four sides of the arcade, which traditionally surrounded the enclosed court, into a cruciform composition of volumes, placed instead at its center. These volumes function as connecting conduits and become the main arteries for circulation, much like the long corridors in traditional monastic plans joined the private spaces surrounding the court with the communal areas outside of it. Le Corbusier designed the entrance to the church at the terminus of the principal, longer artery. The layout of the church reflects the architect’s adherence to traditional monastic models. It features a single nave plan with a centrally positioned raised altar, which separates the choir alcove at the west end from the public congregational space at the other. However, Le Corbusier’s suggestive use of natural light brings new life to this traditional format. In the church, light filters into the dark and austere interior, penetrating the liturgical space through a high vertical opening in the wall at the east end and a horizontal slit at the top of the choir west wall. 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 side chapels from the main liturgical space, bending traditional requirements that demanded more privacy in the altar area. The side altars are illuminated by “light cannons” 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.