The Grace Farms building, designed by SANAA nestles itself nicely into its context, offering various programmes for the community- all playfully placed under a long sinous roof.
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La Tourette. In Search Of The Ineffable
20 January 2018
words: Natalie Donat-Cattin
photos: Jian Yong Khoo
“La Tourette is in-situ cast concrete, and it reads as a singular structure in spite of its volumetric and formal complexities and apparently tectonic language. The monastery is suspended between earth and sky; it echoes the dark depths and gravity of the earth while reaching towards the sky, hovering weightlessly on its dense system of piloti. This building merges the opposing human dreams of flying and being buried in the earth. Le Corbusier’s floating man-made cliff feeds light into its very bowels, evoking an animistic sense of breathing. As Constantin Brancusi, the master sculptor, exclaims: art must give suddenly, all at once, the shock of life, the sensation of breathing” – Juhani Pallasmaa
The reading of the building originates from this antithesis: man’s primitive will of flying versus his fear and, at same instant, urge of contact with the earth. It is a journey towards the mystic, tied to the personal growth of Le Corbusier as an architect and even more as an artist. He is an acrobat poised on the wire of his time, in search of what he defines the “ineffable space” – an architectural fourth dimension, synonymous to relativity according to Einstein’s space-time theory. This historical fact, together with the discovery of speed – a consequence of the invention of the automobile – morphs man’s perception of the world: no longer two-dimensional, but total in its asymmetry.
La Tourette must be experienced within this dynamic vision. It is a voyage towards the underworld, imagined as a concrete prison set in the bowels of the earth. Light assists us down the whole way, to whose end a mystical darkness awaits us. It is not only a promenade architectural but also an ambivalent, introspective journey. We reflect on ourselves and on the religious choice: the suffering path of life’s learning goes hand in hand with the renunciation’s vow of the monks.
The end of the descent culminates with the church: a heavy, single, parallelepiped block resting on the ground. Here, the only window is hidden. The light is intangible, distant, unreachable, experienced only in its projection on the wall. In this ineffable space we feel bare, brute like the walls of the church.
“I wish to conserve […] the extremely rough aspect of the church’s walls. There is here a success in the spiritual domaine, […] that must not be destroyed for any reason. […] Keep intact what is worthy by the circumstance, meaning the absence of pomp and the presence of something primordial”, says Le Corbusier, with regards to the concrete treatment in this space.
In this modern “gothic” cathedral, we are like ants begging to the superhuman; thighs of our faults and exposed in all of our humanity. Ready to be sacrificed on the altar.
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Walk up the steps, cross the pronaos, rush through the first room, enter the main courtyard and look up: you will be rendered speechless. The modern roof designed by Fosters and Partners hovers above you. 3312 glazing panels frame 3312 triangular slices of sky. This is the heart of the British Museum.
The Barbican Centre – A place of connection, a place of transition between two different worlds: the street and the courtyard. The former, a reflection of everyday life. The latter, an image of the pleasure of stopping, sitting, observing and thinking. Two universes governed by opposing laws: that of motion and that of stillness.
The Convent de la Tourette hovers weightlessly on a hill overlooking the nearby town, uncannily reminiscent of a temple atop the Athenian Acropolis. Visitors willing to make the pilgrimage are initially met with a visual field of low intrinsic interest – but the beauty of the architecture slowly reveals itself the more one looks.
Architecture is the embodiment of the arts and sciences, a complex combination which results in an ambiguous whole. What once was just a means of shelter, has evolved into a means of which to communicate and express the ever evolving necessities of contemporary society. The demands of the people coupled with the zeitgeist of the period, more often than not, precipitate a prevailing architectural style, one with which the architects of the period rally to. Two centuries apart, Étienne-Louis Boullée and Louis Kahn, through their tireless re-examination of the discipline, have established profound ideologies on the nature of architecture, which remarkably allude to common principles.