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William JR Curtis: Ronchamp is undermined by Renzo Piano's convent

Architecture critic William JR Curtis has slammed Renzo Piano’s visitor centre at Le Corbusier’s iconic Ronchamp chapel

Writing in AJ’s sister title The Architectural Review, Curtis slated Piano’s project to support tourism at the famous Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in eastern France.

Curtis said: ‘The impact of the two tiers of accommodation along the west flank of the hill and of the Gatehouse and parking upon the Chapel and its landscape is highly problematic and undermines Le Corbusier’s building and landscape ideas.’

Le Corbusier designed the Chapel in the early 1950s and Piano, the man behind London’s opinion-splitting Shard, was commissioned in 2006 to design a gatehouse with ticket office, bookshop and restaurant and to improve parking at the much-photographed landmark.

Curtis said: ‘None of this [was] a bad idea on first inspection.’

But he left no doubts about his views on the finished product.

‘The so-called Gatehouse containing the ticket office is hugely out of scale with the hillside and with the Chapel itself which seems to sit uncomfortably upon it like a disembodied object,’ he said.

‘The closely placed vertical mullions run counter to the horizontality required in this landscape situation. Inside, there is all the tourist bustle which Le Corbusier hoped to avoid: fast food, books, trinkets, the din of tourist groups.’

It is not just the building itself that has angered Curtis.

He added: ‘Not content with a modest stroll from car or bus to entrance, Piano and Corajoud have invented a zigzag of imposing angular concrete walls which slice up the slope and bully the visitor towards the ticket office and bookshop well to the left of the previous entrance to the site, before channelling them up a ramp which has nothing to do with Le Corbusier’s established circulation pattern.’

Curtis concluded: ‘Le Corbusier adhered to no official religion but succeeded in producing a sacred place in tune with the landscape and its memories. Now official religion has had its revenge and with its architects has undermined the aura of a world masterpiece while destroying the genius loci of a hill that had been sacred for centuries. Poor Le Corbusier and Père Marie-Alain Couturier must be turning in their graves.’

Read the full critique in The Architectural Review.

Photographs: Paul Raftery, Iwan Baan, Michel Denancé, William JR Curtis

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Readers' comments (2)

  • do not agree

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  • Looks more to me like this guy totally hates Renzo. Curtis is indeed making great use of freedom of speech. All I can see here is Curtis telling "You know what, I hate Renzo Piano more than I do myself". I don't understand how people verbally abuse other's work rather than trying to make some sense by practically proving their point i.e. Build something better and show Renzo how its supposed to be done. Gosh

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