Sainte Marie de La Tourette by Le Corbusier bird view

© Le Corbusier Archives

Le Corbusier designed Sainte Marie de La Tourette Monastery in 1960 for a Dominican Order priory in a valley near Lyon, France. The Dominican Order convent sinks into the edge of a forest in a small valley and it is one of the greatest works of Modernism produced. Rough concrete stained by time gives an exterior unfamiliar to religious structures.

Sainte Marie de La Tourette Technical Information

Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.

– Le Corbusier

Sainte Marie de La Tourette Convent Photographs
Facade of Sainte Marie de La Tourette by Le Corbusier

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Sainte Marie de La Tourette Archives by Le Corbusier

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Interior space of Sainte Marie de La Tourette / Le Corbusier

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Sainte Marie de La Tourette / Le Corbusier

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Sainte Marie de La Tourette / Le Corbusier

© Le Corbusier Archives

Sainte Marie de La Tourette Description

Sainte-Marie de La Tourette is a monastery of the Dominican order in Eveux France, near Lyons. It is located in the country because it was an addition to the already existing part of the monastery to the North. The countryside location is out of the ordinary for monasteries, as they are typically located within a city’s boundaries; the site was originally intended as a school. Le Corbusier’s began in May, 1953 to design the building with sketches drawn at Arbresle, outlining the basic shape of the building and terrain of the site. La Tourette is considered one of the more important buildings of the late Modernist style.

Le Corbusier was inspired by Le Thoronet, a Cystercian monastery in the South of France. The irregularly sloped site allowed the architect to explore a unique concept the upside down city. In that sense, the spaces are arranged in a non-traditional way. By raising the structure on pilotis that lets the terrain undulate at will, circulation was provided at the top of the structure. One enters and circulates downward through the building to reach the atrium and church, and the interior courtyard is reminiscent of monaslaries of the past. The green roof is broken up at the interior courtyard, with scattered planes of glass looking onto what appears to be the ruins of civilization. The design allows for maximum views as well as provided a secure, enclosed environment.

The main entrance is located towards the top of the scheme, and it leads to the U-shaped residence and study units, which are on the top two floors. There are one hundred modest sleeping rooms, and the study halls and lecture rooms are located on the entrance floor. There is also a hall for work and a hall for recreation, and circulation connects all parts. One can circulate down into the atrium. and proceed to the spiritual and service rooms on the ground floor. The spaces include the refectory, main church, sacristy, high altar, and side chapel.

With La Tourette, Le Corbusier departed from his previous style of flowing indoor and outdoor spaces, and manipulated light through modest openings in the thick concrete. His goal was:

To discover, to create a different, other architecture, unique and original in its essential nudity.

– Le Corbusier, The Monastery of La Tourette, pp.143.

This is an efficient, machine of a building with its exposed painted ducts, yet is not overpowering in its overall design (for example, with the delicate screens exposed to the exterior of the building).

Sunlight is sculpted to majestically render the spaces. Hues of stark red, yellow, and blue give a feeling of primacy in the most sacred spaces. 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.

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. Today, the monastery serves as a study and research center – the Centre Thomas More, much like Le Corbusier originally intended it to be.

Sainte Marie de La Tourette Plans
Floor Plans of Le Corbusier St Marie de La Tourette

Floor Plans | © Le Corbusier Archives

Section La Tourette by Le Corbusier

Section | © Le Corbusier Archives

Sainte Marie de La Tourette Image Gallery

Works from Le Corbusier