Monastery of La Tourette, outside of Lyon, France

A pair of photos of La Tourette, looking at the distant mountains across the roof and chapel.

The Monastery of La Tourette was designed by LeCorbusier from 1957-1960.  Whereas LeCorbusier’s early work exhibited a sort of restlessness, looking more like they are about to stalk off across the landscape, this building and his later work are intensely rooted to their sites.  In the case of this building, the immediate site connection is a bit brutal, with awkward spaces below parts of the building, but in the context of the larger site, a hillside above a small village, the building sits alone, a sentinel, like the medieval cloister that it wants to be.  It is not a Cistercian-type abbey, removed from society, like a desert pillar-sitting ascetic.  Rather it sits somewhat self-consciously awkward on the edge of society, on the edge of the forest.

These photos exclude the immediate surrounding landscape and express that tension of both removal and connectedness.  A lucky, maybe intuitive set of snaps by me as an architecture student in France in 1988.  I spent a few days there, left to wander around in silence, with camera and sketchbook, a welcome reprise from months of traveling, trains and transience.

LeCorbusier’s work has taken a lot of criticism and scorn of late, especially his urban planning efforts.  My undergraduate studies were dominated by his work and writings and in a rare and joyous exception, the experience of the work itself far exceeded my studied knowledge and appreciation learned through books and photos.  His best work is like this building, sitting slightly outside of society but part of it, sometimes beckoning on to a bright future and I think often like this one, holding back the rush of history in fear of a progressivist onslaught.  His writings tell another story, but I can’t help but think that this building among a few others by him, express a different view.

Photograph by Mark Gerwing

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