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 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 Corbusier2

Sainte Marie de La Tourette Convent Photographs

Facade of Sainte Marie de La Tourette by Le Corbusier
© Flickr User elyullo
Sainte Marie de La Tourette Archives by Le Corbusier
© Le Corbusier Archives
Interior space of Sainte Marie de La Tourette / Le Corbusier
© Flickr user electricputty
Sainte Marie de La Tourette / Le Corbusier
© Le Corbusier Archives
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 initially intended as a school. Le Corbusier began in May 1953 to design the building with sketches drawn at Arbresle, outlining the basic shape of the building and the terrain of the site. La Tourette is considered one of the more important buildings of the late Modernist style.

Le Thoronet, a Cistercian monastery in the South of France, inspired Le Corbusier. 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. Circulation was provided at the top of the structure by raising the structure on pilotis that let the terrain undulate at will. One enters and circulates down through the building to reach the atrium and church, and the interior courtyard is reminiscent of past monasteries. The green roof is broken up in 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 provides 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 Corbusier2

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

Sunlight is sculpted to render the spaces majestically. Hues of stark red, yellow, and blue give a feeling of importance in the most sacred spaces. The buildings contain a hundred sleeping rooms for teachers and students, study halls, a hall for work, and 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, 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 does not claim the effete bourgeois lifestyle embodied at The Villa Savoye; its antecedents, if anything, are the Greek monasteries of Mount Athos and almost mythological history. Today, the sanctuary serves as a study and research center – the Centre Thomas More, much like Le Corbusier originally intended.

Sainte Marie de La Tourette Plans

Floor Plans of Le Corbusier St Marie de La Tourette
Floor Plans La Tourette | © Le Corbusier Archives
Section La Tourette by Le Corbusier
Section La Tourette | © Le Corbusier Archives

About Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier, or Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887 -1965), was an internationally influential Swiss architect and city planner whose designs combined the functionalism of the modern movement with bold, sculptural expressionism. He belonged to the first generation of the International School of Architecture.

In his architecture, he joined the functionalist aspirations of his generation with a strong sense of expressionism. He was the first architect to make a studied use of rough-cast concrete, satisfying his taste for asceticism and sculptural forms. In 2016, 17 of his architectural works were named World Heritage sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

Le Corbusier’s most celebrated buildings include the Villa Savoye outside Paris, Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, and the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille. He is also known for his work in urban planning, which included the design of Chandigarh, India, in the 1950s.

Full Bio of Le Corbusier | Other works from Le Corbusier 

  1. The Monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette. Le Corbusier Guides  (English and French Edition) by Philippe Potie
  2. La Tourette the Le Corbusier Monastery by Anton Henze. January 1, 1966,