Vandalism at Corbu’s Ronchamp

Chapel at Ronchamp (1962). (coloradorotarygoestofrance.wordpress.com)

Chapel at Ronchamp (1954). (coloradorotarygoestofrance.wordpress.com)

How could they tell? Seriously, the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, with its rough texture and swoopy lines, may be the least objectionable of Le Corbusier’s buildings. Although William J.R. Curtis has more respect for the chapel than I do, his piece in Architectural Review, Vandalism and Neglect at Ronchamp, is filled with admirable sensibility to what has happened – beyond its appalling vandalism and its cheesy disrepair –  to the chapel and especially to its environment, augmented in 2011 by the celebrity architect Renzo Piano.

The entire article is good but here are some quotes:

Cracked chapel. (Photo by William J.R. Curtis)

Cracked chapel. (Photo by William J.R. Curtis)

Ronchamp has once again been vandalised, not by Renzo Piano this time, but by thieves who forced entry by breaking a pane of glass painted by Le Corbusier. …

For 60 years the Chapel at Ronchamp existed in relative peace and quiet on its remote site surveying the horizons, easily accessible through a gate up a meandering pilgrim’s path. But now the site has been transformed and commercialised as a tourist destination, even with a sliding electric gate barring the route to the Chapel. In effect it has become a sort of gated community with outward signs of prosperity. …

Then there is the implicit ‘vandalism’ of the Piano project itself which was ‘sold’ behind a smokescreen of sanctimonious incense as enhancing the religiosity of the place. In fact it has done the opposite by treating this universal masterpiece as merchandise, de-sacralising the landscape and destroying the aura. When you visit Ronchamp today you have the impression of a mass tourist site and a ‘machine à sous’, a money-making machine. The Chapel itself has quite literally been undercut and trivialised by a host of surrounding mediocre architectural gestures. Far from becoming more ‘spiritual’ the place has become more materialistic.

Curtis follows that last passage with this line: “Somehow all of this is typical of our time.” But of course like everyone who has the least bit of patience with modern architecture, he fails to pick up on the extraordinary depth of his own remark. Modern architecture sanitizes whatever it does not vandalize, and it vandalizes and indeed oppresses everything at scales both smaller than and larger than its commodified self. Neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, the world, all places suffer from modernism. This is obvious to most people without skin in the game.

As for those with skin in the game, they internalize their will to brutality, or at least their connivance in it, as “hip,” “chic,” “cool” and “edge.”

Off with their heads!

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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One Response to Vandalism at Corbu’s Ronchamp

  1. Paul Randall says:

    A disrespectful piece that says more about the author than the building.

    Like

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