Construction plans for the site of Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut (1954) in Ronchamp (France) commissioned by the Association Oeuvre Notre Dame du Haut (the same organization that commissioned the chapel by Le Corbusier), has ignited a serious debate and disagreement between organizations seeking to preserve Le Corbusier’s legacy.
The New Plan. The new plan calls for the replacement of an existing visitor’s center and asphalt parking lot with a new visitor center dug into the hillside and a landscaped parking lot. It also features a new facility to host 12 Poor Clare nuns and their visitors. The convent—to be located primarily underground, about 300 feet west of the chapel—would contain small, independent residential units and an oratory open to pilgrims. According to the association, the overall goal of the project is to rehabilitate the site and ensure it remains a place of worship.
The plan has come under harsh criticism by the Fondation Le Corbusier. “The problem is not Renzo Piano’s design; it’s the location of the building for the convent, which is too close to the chapel,” says Michel Richard, the foundation’s director.
What does Piano have to say?
“I quite agree that the architecture must be defended, especially when you talk about the architecture of Le Corbusier and such beautiful and great places. The problem is that, in this case, the petition didn’t tell the truth,” he says, noting that it didn’t mention who was responsible for the project, nor provide details of the design. “I don’t understand the reason of all this resistance—except maybe some religious intolerance.”
The debate. The online war has brought some of the big names from the world of architecture to intervene. Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier and Rafael Moneo are among the signatories of a petition launched by the Le Corbusier Foundation to block Renzo Piano’s £6.4 million “barbaric” scheme for the Notre Dame du Haut chapel. Massimiliano Fuksas, Eva Jiricna and Peter Cook as well as Tony Fretton, David Adjaye, Julia Barfield and former RIBA president Frank Duffy have signed the counter petition launched by Renzo Piano Building Workshop together with the client, the Association Oeuvre Notre Dame du haut.
The sentiment. This is not the first time Corbu’s project has been subjected to a debate and counter sentiments like the ones seen here. I strongly believe and support the preservation of old buildings especially which are an important link in our social and cultural lives, and Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp is one of such buildings.
However, I also believe that buildings should be organically allowed to grow and adapt to the present day requirements. An attempt to preserve the Ronchamp Chapel as a museum piece will lead to its quick deterioration and eventually dilapidation. Let it grow and adapt to the present still preserving its historic and cultural character and what it stands for. In design and implementation, it should not be difficult to demarcate old from new, or rather what is Corbusier’s from what will be Piano’s.
It is a unique opportunity to dedicate the site to works of two great architects of their times- Corbusier and Piano. It is indeed a unique opportunity to compliment the old with the new.