La Tourette Monastery
BP 105 Eveux
69591 L'Arbresle cedex
Le Corbusier 1953-1957
The Dominican Monastery of La
Tourette is Le Corbusier's last major work in Europe. Its program is
unusual - a complete, self-contained world for a community of studying,
silent monks, living a life so austere they are sometimes known as the
'begging brothers'. To support this community, the Monastery comprises 100
individual 'cells', communal library, classrooms and refectory, a rooftop
cloister and church.
Many of Le Corbusier's
long-established practices are here: the pilotis (load-bearing columns)
inside the walls freeing the facade of the walls for long strip windows,
the grassed rooftops and the carefully planned 'architectural promenade'
with ramp, all go back to the Villa
Savoye thirty years earlier; but the austerity and spirituality of the
monks' life gives a very different outcome. Above all, Le Corbusier was
trying here "to give the monks what men today need most: silence and
peace... This Monastery does not show off; it is on the inside that it
Judging from the monks'
reactions, he succeeded well - despite many practical reservations about
the size of some of the cells, the soundproofing and acoustics, and many
maintenance issues that are very visible today. Despite all this one
student monk among those first occupying the Convent compared his entry
into the Corbusier building to a second entry into religion.
Much of the atmosphere of the
building, inside even more than out, comes from the carefully proportioned
floor-to-ceiling glazing used in many of the public areas - the Chapter
room and refectory with their commanding west-facing views over the
valley, the library, and approach to the church. The unevenly-spaced ondulatoires
(the vertical concrete mullions) and the similarly uneven horizontal
divisions between them were designed according to Le Corbusier's Modulor
system of proportions by Yannis Xenakis, a musician as well as an
architect, applying musical principles of harmony and rhythm.
The climax of the architectural
promenade is the ramp down to the entrance to the church: an austere,
concrete corridor but for its unevenly-rhythmic glazing, leading to a
stern metal wall, which rotates to give access to the dark, colored glow
of the church beyond.
In the church itself, a tall,
plain, concrete box is given spiritual life through selective and careful
use of natural light and subtly strong color. Daylight is admitted through
five different types of opening around the church, several of them
sculpted outside, creating distinctive "light cannons." Strong
but deep colors within some of the openings give the church a warm and
The whole Monastery is set on a
steeply sloping bank within its grounds, on a spot chosen by Le Corbusier.
Each of the hundred cells has an outward-facing balcony, with the communal
areas beneath, and the cloister, unconventionally, running around the
Simon Glynn 2004
Additional photography Sam Glynn 2004
How to visit
The Monastery is about 25
kilometers northwest of Lyon.
To get there by car, take the A6
motorway north from Lyon, until the "Limonest" exit (33) Take
the N6, then shortly turn left onto the D73 to cut across to the N7.
Follow the N7 to L'Arbresle, then follow signposts to Eveux and to the
Couvent de La Tourette.
To get there by train, take the
Roanne train from Lyon to L'Arbresle station, then use a taxi. You can
call a taxi on +33 4 74 26 90 19.
The Monastery offers frequent,
friendly and informal tours in both English and French. It is also
possible to stay in the Monastery, in the austere and studious spirit in
which it was designed.