Piano to build at Ronchamp – WHAT?!!?!?!!


[Image: Interior of Le Corbusier’s master work, Notre Dame du Haut]

That’s right folks. Hallowed ground [both spiritual AND architectural] is about to get a bit of an overhaul…maybe. But before you take to your modern day ninja-mob weapons [throwing stars, nunchaku, bo staffs, etc.] and incite riots all over some asses, take some time to read both sides of the coin. Apparently, this isn’t far off Le Corbusier‘s original ideas for the site after the initial chapel was completed in 1955.


[Image: The chapel Notre Dame du Haut]

As reported in The Architect’s Newspaper, there are plans for New Amsterdam architect Renzo Piano to add multiple buildings to the Ronchamp Site, with possible construction beginning within a couple months. That is barring any major lawsuits that may be brought against the Association CEuvre Notre-Dame du Haut [which owns the site only] by the Foundation Le Corbusier [in Paris which protects the chapel].


[Image: The Modulor]

Michel Richard, director of the foundation sees the positives of including the new structures, but believes that some years down the line may show Piano’s proposed addition contributing to an already over-tourist ridden site [numbers hover around 100,000 people a year – remember this IS an active chapel for worship and prayer]:

We are trying to make sure the site is preserved for eternity…We are afraid that in 10 years, the sisters will go away and they will be replaced by a B&B.

He continues:

We feared that with so much traffic, the spiritual quality of the chapel—not the architecture itself—would little by little disappear…


[Image: New master plan of Ronchamp]

The site plan above shows Piano’s proposed site additions of a new visitors center with views toward Notre Dame du Haut [south], resident clusters and a meditation space the nunnery [west], and a whole mess of trees [about 800 of ’em or so]. The new visitors center will be located where the existing vistitors center is now. With its location adjacent to the parking lot, visitors are able to get a first glimpse of Notre Dame before their own personal pilgrimages begin to the chapel at the top high point of the site.


[Image: Renzo Piano’s initial concept sketch]


[Image: Rendered site section of habitats amongst trees]


[Image: Relationship of Piano’s structures to Corbu’s Chapel]

Piano sited the nunnery habitats and meditation space in a position where they would not be viewed from the top of the hill [thus keeping a singular, spiritual quality of the chapel somewhat intact]. Siting the modest-sized structures within the cover of dense foliage required Piano to include light shafts to capture natural light above the trees and funnel it to the interior spaces [the red-marks on his concept sketch].

Article originally circulated in The Architect’s Newspaper, 02.20.2008 by Julie V. Iovine – who provides a lot more information than we gave y’all here [project image credits from the Renzo Piano Building Workshop]. Corbu painting [below] found here.


[note: We here at arch.MNP want you to sound off on this topic – we’re interested in what the masses think. Are you for it, against it, see merit in both sides, have a better solution? Whatever the case may be, this is a pretty interesting event going on in the architectural community at large. We are talking about the life work [and probably most famous structure] of a person who transformed how we all think about architecture possibly being altered forever. Even atheists give up some praise for Ronchamp, so surely that warrants at least a yea or nay. So recheck our briefing, check out Julie’s article over at The Architect’s Newspaper and then come back and hit the boards.]
[[Post by DUBS]]

Posted: March 6th, 2008
at 11:55pm by Dubs

Categories: architecture,my ninja, please,urban/master planning,featured ninjas,events

Comments: 7 comments


7 Responses to 'Piano to build at Ronchamp – WHAT?!!?!?!!'

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  1. I say yay. As the director himself stated, there is a need for new space. Piano is building in a respectful way, as to minimize views of his structures etc. It’s not as if he’s building an addition directly onto the original structure.

    The chapel site as it stands right now, can’t perform its original function due to the huge influx of people, and that needs to be addressed. While I can see the merit of maintaining a “pristine” historical structure, I always value function over history (although in some sense, history can certainly work as a functional element).

    The site worked fine in 1954…. but it’s not 1954 anymore.


    7 Mar 08 at 8:01 am


  2. Andrew – that is well stated [and thank you for being the first to comment]. Things have changed dramatically since the 1950’s [which was in the back of my mind as i read Julie’s article] – and i assume that there weren’t nearly as many people going to see Corbu structures before his death than afterwards.

    As some strange catch-22 to emerge, more importantly now than ever before, Corbu was a known Atheist [which i did not know; if you get The Architect’s Newspaper read a brief statement on pg. 3? by Anne Guiney] creating this place of solitude, worship, and reflection for a religious group. Would the architect himself mind the renovations? I find it hard to believe he would but one can never be sure.

    Thanks again for your view point.


    7 Mar 08 at 10:13 am


  3. I respect Piano as an architect. I’m sure he’s well aware of the magnitude of this sort of move. Pushing his buildings into hill and planting trees on top of them is a really modest move. But hell, why not go entirely under ground with just a front facade and carve out some sky lights?

    I’d be curious to know if Corbu’s site plan included the other buildings and how close they match up with Piano’s.

    With that being said, what kind of sense does adding a nunnery and visitor center make? Adding to the function of the site while recognizing its overwhlemed by tourism seems to counter itself. I’d be interested to see something more like monastery plans done during the Carolingian period. The visitor center should be sort of like a temp. dorm for people to stay and experience the site rather than catching it at a glance. This would diminish the tourism and only people who were really interested in the building would go. The modern visitor center would diminish ronchamp in my eyes: little plastic model ronchamps, some tacky toys that break 30 seconds after you’ve bought them, and those little glass animals are not “of” ronchamp…

    Mark Anthony

    7 Mar 08 at 11:12 am


  4. “The visitor center should be sort of like a temp. dorm for people to stay and experience the site rather than catching it at a glance.”

    It’s a lovely idea, but clearly a majority of people want to see Ronchamp without having this sort of experience, and as a result, someone is going to help make it happen because the market for doing so exists. Tourism may not be ideal, but it is guaranteed, so I’m all in favour of it being facilitated by people who understand the importance and integrity of the site. You can’t outlaw people dropping by, and if there’s no officially sanctioned way for them to do so, some locals will sniff out an opportunity to make a quick buck, and I very much doubt they’ll hire someone of Piano’s calibre to help them do it.

    (You could take this reasoning a step further, actually – as Andrew says, it’s not 1954 anymore. The meaning of the building as a church is undoubtedly compromised by rampant tourism and plastic knicknacks, but is that really the extent of the building’s meaning at this stage? I’d argue that it isn’t; it’s become an icon, with cultural significance beyond its intended use. Does that make tourist facilities more appropriate? Even if it does, is it a convincing argument?)

    It would definitely be fascinating to see Corb’s original site plan.


    7 Mar 08 at 11:41 am


  5. I would say leave the Chapel alone and do not compromise the site.

    Amy Chen

    30 Aug 08 at 7:16 pm


  6. What???????


    8 Jul 09 at 8:53 am


  7. […] According to the crowd theory of Paul Torrens, these value packages can only be evaluated within the boundaries of understanding the nuances of exception as well the opponents of […]



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