The Foundation Publications
Story - Ronchamp Gatehouse and Monastery
Ronchamp, France, 2006/2011
In 1950, Le Corbusier was called to Ronchamp (in north-eastern France, between Saône and Vosges) to rebuild a shrine that had been partially destroyed during the Second World War. In 1955, the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut was completed, which went on to become an icon of the twentieth century, as well as one of the world's most popular architectural tourist destinations, receiving up to 100,000 visitors a year. Over time, a number of smaller service structures sprung up around the sanctuary of Le Corbusier: a paved area for parking, a porter's lodge with a souvenir shop, a reception building, as well as restrooms and emergency services. In 2006, in agreement with the order of the Poor Clares of Besançon, Oeuvre Notre Dame du Haut (the association in charge of the sanctuary's management) commissioned the Renzo Piano Building Workshop to propose an architectural project. The aim was to redevelop the site and restore it to its original religious and spiritual purpose, including through the establishment of a small community of Poor Clares.
First and foremost, the project required the existing reception building to be demolished, as it had been positioned incorrectly with respect to the pedestrian pathway leading up to the chapel of Le Corbusier. A new 450 m² building would be built in its place, which would be better integrated within the surrounding landscape and would contain the ticket counters, the cafeteria and the bookshop. The plan also included the construction of a nunnery for the Poor Clares, with 12 cells, common work areas and living areas, and even an oratory with 38 seats. The nunnery includes the guest quarters: a confessional and multi-purpose area for accommodating visitors, comprised of 9 rooms and various common areas. The Nunnery boasts a total surface area of 1800 m². In keeping with the epithet for Le Corbusier, the client's intention was to create a place "of silence, prayer, peace and inner joy", thus establishing the project's main objective. The designers had to come up with an architectural solution that would fully respect the nearby chapel of Le Corbusier: in fact, all the project's elements were positioned at a distance of 120 meters from the sanctuary itself. The buildings, which are perfectly integrated within the surrounding landscape, slope downward towards the bottom of the hill and cannot be seen from the churchyard. The main building is comprised of two elements semi-interred within the hillside, which rigorously respect the topography of the site itself and open up onto the greenery of the forest thanks to their large windows with aluminium uprights. The lower level houses the living quarters for the nuns and visitors, while the upper level, which is closer to the chapel, hosts the other functions associated with life at the nunnery. The widespread use of a single material, a radiant light grey cement, provides for a sense of continuity amongst the project's various elements. The surface of the roof is mainly comprised of organic material, with only slender canopies of zinc protruding in order to protect the glass walls of the cells. The landscaping project, which was carried out by Michel Corajeud, called for the reforestation of the entire hillside. A great deal of attention was also placed upon the design of the outdoor spaces and pedestrian paths, including those leading to the chapel and the parking lot.
The nuns' cells measure 2.70 m on each side. Likewise, the living units for the visitors in the guest quarters were designed according to the same model. All are energy-efficient: each unit receives highly advanced dual-flow mechanical ventilation via a Canadian well, which is buried at a depth of 3 m. This solution allows the air to be distributed to all the rooms at an average temperature of 12°C, thus ensuring conditions of maximum comfort during both the summer and winter months. The cells are protected by a double-glazed window, with a small winter garden inside and with the underground parts illuminated by skylights. In addition to the Canadian wells, the oratory area also houses a heat pump, which is connected to the structure's radiators and floor heating system. The buildings were inaugurated on September 9th 2011.