Exploring the place
Discover the works on the Hill of Notre-Dame du Haut
Discover the works on the Hill of Notre-Dame du Haut
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The pyramid of peace
It was commissioned by Ronchamp veterans who wish to commemorate their brothers in arms fallen on the hill in 1944. The stones of the old chapel were used for its construction. This pyramid, reminder of ancient architecture, serves also as a platform from which the faithful can follow the pilgrimage mass. Symbol of peace, the dove upon the small steel pillar was designed by André Maisonnier, Le Corbusier’s assistant responsible for the construction of the chapel.
Chapel Notre-Dame du Haut
The Gatehouse Notre-Dame du Haut
The Gatehouse is the visitors’ reception of the Colline Notre-Dame du Haut. This building is both a truly multipurpose place and a stopover before entering the site. It includes a ticket office and shop area, but also a resting area and a room for cultural activities (exhibitions, conferences, workshops).
The oratory is the chapel where the sisters gather each day to pray. As in Notre-Dame du Haut, a vault which seems to be floating raises towards the choir to meet zenithal light.
The pilgrim's shelter
The Chaplain's house
Le Corbusier didn’t want any bells for the chapel, but he imagined an electro-acoustic system which never saw the light of day. In 1975, after Le Corbusier’s death, Jean Prouvé created a steel arch carrying three bells.
Saint Clare’s Monastery is half-buried in the hillside, invisible from Notre-Dame du Haut. It extends along two levels: the bedrooms downstairs, and the areas of community life upstairs (reception, library, workshops, kitchen, oratory). Large bay windows connect the nuns to nature and the outside world. Reinforced concrete is the material of choice to support the weight of the earth, but also to create a link with the work of Le Corbusier.
View Michel Corajoud gatehouse
View Michel Corajoud Saint Clare’s Monastery
LE CORBUSIER BUILDINGS
THE CHAPEL NOTRE-DAME DU HAUT
THE PILGRIM'S SHELTER
THE CHAPLAIN'S HOUSE
THE PYRAMID OF PEACE
THE CHAPEL NOTRE-DAME DU HAUT
The Neo-Gothic pilgrimage chapel, sitting on top of the Bourlémont hill in Ronchamp, was destroyed in September 1944. Its owners soon took steps to rebuild it. Le Corbusier eventually accepted the project, which was carried out between 1953 and 1955.
Notre-Dame du Haut has been designed as a genuine ode to nature and to Holy Mary. Entirely white, it stands as a beacon that can be seen from far away. The curved façades allude to the mountains in the distance as well as to motherly tenderness and gentleness. The inside is meant to be a place of « silence, prayer, peace and interior joy” according to Le Corbusier. The diffused and mysterious light places the believers and visitors in direct contact with the beyond.
This building manages the paradox of being both traditional and of a modernity never seen before. It is traditional in so far as the liturgical celebration respects the fundamentals of tradition- the importance of light and the yearning for the believers to look up to the skies- and modern because it is designed in particularly new shapes. The chapel’s walls were mostly built using stones from the ruins, but its reinforced concrete shell, supported by columns, fully respects the architectural principles Le Corbusier had been developing for over thirty years.
For all these reasons, as early as the 1950’s, the chapel became a world architectural reference. Up to our days, architects are still inspired by its construction and visitors come from all around the world to admire it. Together with 16 other works by Le Corbusier, the Chapel has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
THE PILGRIM’S SHELTER
Prior to the construction of the Chapel, Le Corbusier took care of a shelter meant to accommodate the workers. It was made of reinforced concrete and stones, not out of perishable materials like wood or rammed earth, as the architect had initially planned. Thus, once the Chapel had been inaugurated, the pilgrims and visiting groups could stop there and stay for some time.
The long and narrow house facing south-east is brilliantly designed. Space is divided into two large dormitories with bunk beds, toilets and a large canteen with a kitchen. A small flat, on the west side, was the home of the innkeeper welcoming the visitors. Nowadays, this building can be visited but it is no longer possible to stay overnight for mere reasons of new safety standards.
The inside has not changed much since the time of the construction. The furniture was designed by Le Corbusier. Their being so heavy was surely meant to protect them from being stolen, they are made of solid wood planks and the steel legs are filled with concrete! The bright, joyful colours were chosen by the architect for the inside and the outside of the building. Le Corbusier also set up large photographic reproductions of medieval frescoes. The original ones have recently been removed and replaced by new printings thanks to the help of the University of Tokyo.
THE CHAPLAIN’S HOUSE
In order to clear the surroundings of the Chapel, Le Corbusier planned, as early as 1952, to have the old buildings, demolished as they were clogging the hill. As a compensation, the following year he built two houses below the Chapel. One of them was quite small and was meant for M. Chippaux’s family, the sacristan, and the caretaker of the hill. But the Chippaux shunned the house and were reluctant to abandon their own – set where the present campanile by Jean Prouvé stands. In the end, it was Father Bolle-Reddat, the Chaplain and emblematic figure of the site and a fervent supporter of Le Corbusier, who decided to make it his home in 1958. Ever since, the successive Chaplains have lived there.
The Chaplain’s house is the perfect example of the modern house according to Le Corbusier. Facing south-west and designed with large windows both in the walls and the roof, the house is constantly bathed in warm light. The crawl space, on which it sits, offers a perfect insulation and it is reminiscent of the columns advocated by the architect in his 5 Points of Modern Architecture (1927). A green roof tops the house, it insulates and blends it in the greenery. Thus, from the Chapel, the Chaplain’s house fades away into the landscapes surrounding the hill. Inside the house, the bright colours on the walls make the perfect match for the raw concrete embedded with some stones from the old chapel to create a welcoming and congenial atmosphere.
THE PYRAMID OF PEACE
The pyramid of Peace is the most recent of the four constructions by Le Corbusier in Ronchamp. He had initially intended to set up a large concrete esplanade at the edge of the hill, east of his Chapel, as a sort of amphitheatre to welcome the pilgrims. Financial troubles put an end to this project. A pyramid, an archetype of architecture, is to be found there to respond to the commission of veterans for a monument in memory of the harsh fighting of September and October 1944. This pyramid was built in 1955 with the stones of the destroyed Notre-Dame du Haut chapel and now offers a sort of riser where pilgrims can sit dominating the exterior choir. Whether for the sake of saving on the construction site or as a tribute to previous constructions, the reasons for reusing former material were numerous.
Believers and visitors now truly appreciate the pyramid on which they sit to attend pilgrimage Masses or observe the Chapel, although it initially was the request of Ronchamp’s veterans. The hill, which had been occupied by the Germans during WWII, became the theatre of deadly battles to conquer the place in September 1944. After several days of fighting, Ronchamp was finally freed on the 30th of September.
Le Corbusier’s monument evokes the ancient pyramid, a place of death and sacrifice, to pay a tribute to the soldiers killed on the battlefield. However, the universal pyramid shape is also the symbol of unity and peace. To highlight this message, André Maisonnier, Le Corbusier’s assistant and supervisor of the Chapel construction site, sculpted a dove. Perched on its steel pole, it looks after the hill and its visitors.
BUILDING BY JEAN PROUVÉ
The Chapel being very modern, Le Corbusier wished to provide it with the appropriate music: he neither wanted bells nor an organ but a set of electro-acoustic devices, which finally did not meet the approval of the diocese and of the owner of the land.
Under the insistance of Chaplain René Bolle-Reddat, Le Corbusier accepted to draw a campanile-a small, detached bell tower- in the summer of 1965. Yet he died a few weeks later, while swimming in the Mediterranean. It was only ten years later, in 1975, that Jean Prouvé drew the campanile. This steel structure, almost 30 meters away from the Chapel, tries to remain as discrete as possible in order not to outshine the Chapel.
The two biggest bells come from the former chapel. They survived the war, contrary to the third smaller one which had to be cast again. It comes from the Paccard foundry in Annecy and is named after both the mother and the wife of the architect: Charlotte-Amélie-Yvonne-Marie.
The campanile rings the Angelus every day at 9 am, noon and 7 pm. The bells are automatically activated by an electric system linked to the sacristy of the Chapel. It is only on holy days that the three bells let their 3 notes be heard: E for the biggest, F-sharp for the middle-sized one and A for the small one.
BUILDINGS BY RENZO PIANO
THE GATEHOUSE (PORTERIE)
The building of a monastery was contemplated as early as 2003 to provide the hill with a permanent religious presence after the death of the Chaplain in 2000. A Poor Clare nuns’ community from Besançon settled down near the Chapel in 2009. Their role is to pray in the Chapel but also to offer a welcoming presence to the believers and pilgrims who wish to stay on the hill for a few days.
The monastery was built by Renzo Piano Building Workshop between 2009 and 2011. It is made up of two half-buried storeys for which reinforced concrete came as an obvious solution, the nuns being under tons of earth! But the pale concrete reflects the light and is partly painted in warm colours, thus making the walls and ceilings look more joyful. Large bay windows give access to the exterior, but the buildings have been designed to remain invisible from the Chapel by Le Corbusier, which had been conceived by the architect to enter into a dialogue with the horizon. Landscaping has been carefully designed by Renzo Piano and Michel Corajoud.
The monastery’s interior space is quite small but sufficient for the needs of the community, it comprises bedrooms, a library, a large sewing workshop -their work-, a kitchen, a dining hall and a small chapel, the oratory. The latter, which the nuns desired to be as a small cave, is the only place of the convent accessible to the visitors. Its vault, like suspended over the walls, invites the visitors to look up to the Skies, whose light suffuses the wall behind the altar.
THE GATEHOUSE (PORTERIE) OF NOTRE-DAME DU HAUT
When Renzo Piano was asked to build Saint-Clare’s monastery in Ronchamp, he was also given the task of replacing the old reception desk, which had become ill-adapted to welcoming the numerous visitors and not truly blending in with the rest of the site. This is how the Porterie (gatehouse) was added between 2009 and 2011.
Traditionally speaking, gatehouses are to be found at the entrances of monasteries and castles, they are merely the places where the doormen live, next to the entrance door. The gatehouse marks the separation between the exterior and the sanctuary area. The pavilion created by Renzo Piano thus signals the entrance to the site. The ticket counter, the gift shop as well as an exhibition and documentation space can be found there.
The Porterie (gatehouse) is congenial and full of light all year round thanks to its large bay windows and its impressive fireplace. It welcomes the visitors and offers an introduction for the visit to come. Not many remain untouched by this subtle harmony between nature, light and architecture. Being delicately integrated into the hill’s slope, the Porterie is totally invisible from Notre-Dame du Haut Chapel, which allows to keep that open view on the surrounding landscapes. Far from hiding Le Corbusier’s masterpiece, Renzo Piano’s architecture goes along with it and protects it. The entirely green roof of the building seems to echo the houses built on this hill by the French and Swiss architect in the 1950’s.