A Silent DwellingLa Tourette
Chaste, spare, and uncluttered, Le Corbusier’s proto-brutalist style lends itself to the quiet setting of a priory.
‘Space and light and order,’ Le Corbusier once remarked, ‘those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.’ The Swiss architect’s words ring particularly true when whispered within the concrete halls of the Sainte-Marie de la Tourette, a monastery he designed and built for a Dominican order of silent monks between 1953 and 1961. The building is a veritable fortress of late Modernist simplicity, and one of Corbusier’s last completed buildings in Europe.
Burrowed in the hills of Éveux, a French town just west of Lyon, La Tourette makes gentle but scrupulous use of its sloping landscape. Undulating glass panes wash the reinforced concrete in natural light, while the architect’s signature piloti columns accommodate the unwieldy hypotenuse of the hillside. The structure is composed of three floors and a flat rooftop cloister engulfed by grass. At the lowest level, there is a refectory and chapter house, with a ramp that serves as a sequestered passageway to the attached church. Cavernous communal spaces populate the second floor, including a library, a porter’s lodge, and a series of study rooms with striking reds, greens and yellows to mark their doors. These colours provide a stark but somewhat complementary contrast to the béton brut: like the varying sizes of Corbusier’s gridded windows, they are welcome aberrations from the overall formality. The convent’s third level is reserved for accommodation. Every cell hosts a balcony that faces outwards onto the serene, self-contained landscape, while the monastery itself curves in a U-shape around a similarly secluded courtyard.
At La Tourette, Corbusier’s proto-brutalist style lends itself sublimely to the quiet setting of a priory. Chaste, spare, and uncluttered, it is a stunning blend of meticulous form and charming eccentricity. While commissioning the monastery, Father Marie-Alain Couturier’s single architectural request was to ‘create a silent dwelling for one hundred bodies and one hundred hearts’, and in this respect, Corbusier has certainly delivered. Today, La Tourette exists as both a research centre and meeting place. It is a monument that continues to bridge philosophical study and austere beauty; intellectual passion, and quiet contemplation.