Sainte Marie de La Tourette is a Dominican Order priory in a valley near Lyon, France designed by the architect Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis and constructed between 1956 and 1960. La Tourette is considered one of the more important buildings of the late Modernist style.
It was under the instigation of Reverend Father Couturier that the Dominicans of Lyon charged Le Corbusier with the task of bringing into being at Éveux, near Lyon, the Convent of La Tourette, in the midst of nature, located in a small vale that opens out onto the forest. The buildings contain a hundred sleeping rooms for teachers and students, study halls, a hall for work and one for recreation, a library and a refectory. Next comes the church where the monks carry on alone (on occasion in the presence of several of the faithful). Finally, the circulation connects all the parts in particular those which appear in a new form (the achievement of the traditional cloister form is rendered impossible here by the slope of terrain). On two levels, the loggias crowning the building (one for each acoustically-isolated monk's cell) form brises-soleil. The study halls, work and recreation halls, as well as the library occupy the upper-level. Below are the refectory and the cloister in the form of a cross leading to the church. And then come the piles carrying the four convent buildings rising from the slope of the terrain left in its original condition, without terracing.
The structural frame is of rough reinforced concrete. The panes of glass located on the three exterior faces, the so-called "pans de verre ondulatoire" ("undulating glass surfaces"), were designed by Xenakis, and are similar to those of the Secretariat at Chandigarh on which Xenakis also worked. On the other hand, in the garden-court of the cloister, the fenestration is composed of large concrete elements reaching from floor to ceiling, perforated with glazed voids and separated from one another by "ventilators": vertical slits covered by metal mosquito netting and furnished with a pivoting shutter. The corridors leading to the dwelling cells are lit by a horizontal opening located under the ceiling.
Though still functioning for a greatly-reduced population of monks, La Tourette has become something of a pilgrimage site for students of architecture. Overnight stays can be arranged in the unused cells.
At the Couvent de la Tourette (1960), Le Corbusier found an echo, in an architectural project, of the personal principles of self-denial and monastic simplicity that he himself adhered to. Built as a Chapel, residence and place of learning for Dominican friars, the monastery groups around a central courtyard a U-shaped mass, and the court is closed off by the chapel at the end.
At La Tourette many aspects of Corbusier's developed architectural vocabulary are visible – the vertical brise-soleils used with effect in India, light-cannons piercing solid masonry walls, and window-openings separated by Modulor-controlled vertical divisions. In contrast with Ronchamp, the building does not crown and complement the site, but instead dominates the landscape composition.
If there is harmony, it is in the finishes that in their roughness and near-brutality betray some empathy with the life of a monk. La Tourette makes no claim to the effete bourgeois lifestyle embodied at the Villa Savoye; its antecedents, if anything, are the Greek monasteries of Mount Athos and an almost mythological history.
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