Changing Perceptions- Realization through ‘The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut’ in Ronchamp

Beginning with the ‘purpose unknown’ for this building by Le Corbusier and trying to decipher meanings for the same, one understands the vision conceived by the creator.

The location in context becomes serene rather than the site itself. The placement of the chapel seemed just ‘perfect’, sitting on top of the cliff above a town; it creates an anticipation in the eye of a viewer. The chapel builds up a curiosity to reach where a white spot is set in the forefront of a lush green backdrop. As one walks further up, the white spot tends to grow larger and starts achieving clarity. This clarity takes a form into the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut.

The view is two way here. The hilltop gives a 3600 view to the town below in addition to the tranquil and green atmosphere around.  On reaching the chapel, two welcoming concaved walls stand tall. The concave surfaces used here could be questioned. The possibilities could be various one such could be psychological, where a concave surface seems more inviting and greeting as known for its convergence of perspective. On the other hand a convex surface appears to push or force back the seeker, also divergent in nature. Emphasis on minute details played an important part, ‘actions’ triggered ‘reactions’ and more.

The official leaflet speaks “From an inspired first rough sketch, uniting inner lyricism with mathematical exactitude, Le Corbusier set up the chapel allowing the four horizons to remain open and visible, thereby inscribing it in its sacred space”. The implicit meaning could be far deeper and beyond but explicitly attempting to componentize the entire chapel, only three primary walls are deduced. Three walls taking different forms as they rise up and this variation can be seen through the thickness, the geometry, the abstraction, the openings, the contribution i.e. part to whole importance etc. The definition changes on all the four sides. The south wall, bulky ‘yet’ hollow, has a triangular section that allows opening of varied sizes. Even though the thickness of the wall makes it massive, the combinations of openings make the appearance lighter. The north wall contains two chapel towers which hold the secondary entrance to the sanctuary. The east wall dictates the exterior congregation space and on contrary the western wall is a blind facade where the roof seems to take a dip to the lowest point. A spout allows the rainwater to collect in a pool which contains three pyramids and a cylinder, all in béton brut—a sculptural composition. Even though independent in nature all the walls come together to add meaning to the interior space and make the experience richer.

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The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut appears to be a white spot in the midst of the lush greenery.

The circulation happens through central spine which also divides the chapel into two congregation spaces of varying sizes. This chapel contradicted the stereo type axial Christian churches or the multi directional Basilicas and was considered abstract as well as cubist. Some pioneers saw this as a beginning of the post-modernist movement as it overcame the simplistic nature of modern building and justified that ‘less is not more’.

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“Light and things belong together. When the sun strikes a thing, the light becomes aware of itself, and the thing gains its presence. Thus day and night, earth and sky come into being, and we comprehend the meaning of the first words, “Let there be light.”1

One needs to understand the ‘perception’ of the form through visualization and this visualization is achieved through ‘light’. The interplay of light that comes through the openings of the walls and through the chapel and the gap left between the roof and the wall, all comes together to give it a definition.  The manifestation of light may be intentional yet the changing perception with time which gives in an inner meaning to the interior. When light streams through small apertures, the wall becomes dark at corners and edges; whereas the light reaching through the chapel is still soft and subdued. The purpose here is to bring out importance of specific elements while keeping the rest in gloom.

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Interplay of light in Plan

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Chapel behaving like ‘Periscopes’

In 1950’s-60’s Le Corbusier was known to be inspired by surrealism. The dictionary defines ‘surrealism’ as a movement that laid emphasis on imaginative powers of the subconscious. And the interpretations of which were seen in the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut. The Roof that seemed like a solid and bulky mass from the outside appeared to float in the air on the inside due to a deliberate 6 inches gap. The duality in meaning realized here is also mentioned by Robert Venturi in his book ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’.

  

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The master quotes ‘Light and illumination are inseparable components of form, space and light. These are the things that create ambiance and feel of a place, as well as the expression of a structure that houses the functions within it and around it. Light renders texture, illuminates surface, and provides sparkle and life.’ This chapel, more than most, may be referred to as a lens from which to observe the path of sun throughout the day. Utmost detail has been given to the façade as a tool by which to sculpt the given light of day in effort to heighten our awareness of our existence as related to the daily life of the light. Words might fall short or less justifying nonetheless science and poetry are amalgamated in right enormities to bring out an ‘everlasting impact’.

References:

  1. Henry Plummer, Poetics of Light, Architecture and Urbanism Publishing Co., LTD., Tokyo, Japan, 1987, 1987, p. 9.

via Daily Prompt: Anticipation

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The architecture of memoir

Some events in past stay and some are forgotten, the ones making an impact or a change comprise of history. Like my professor at architecture school would say ‘history’ is nothing but HIS-story. It is the past that is documented and written down. History is more than just the cradles of civilizations, development, culture, art or architecture. History is People. People who made a significant difference sometimes progressive and sometimes bad. But a change notable.

Today, we acknowledge their contributions in shaping the world by building in their name. Museums, memorials, victory towers and exhibitions ensure we remember our people. The architecture for the dead keeps the story of victory, sacrifice or love alive. The work of architecture isn’t primary but the emotion it emphasizes, becomes the hero. Every historic event elicits an emotions and this is expressed through the built.

Daniel Libeskind tried to elicit the pain of the Jews to the visitors at the Jewish Museum, Berlin. Every space had a story to tell. A story of separation, pain, agony, displacement, loss, misery and the unidentifiable of all ‘I?’. Every visitor experienced the unstable metal being of the Jews after war with the most simplest triggers light and dark, balance and sound. A straight flight of stairs reaches to a large blank wall exiting to the various display galleries. Displays with toys of little babies who live no more, letters that a father wrote to his daughter, a sweater knit by a mother filled ones heart with grief. Thousands of metal faces screeching out in pain in a spread on the floor of a 5 floor high tower loud enough to appal. It’s not a museum that displays evidences from the genocide but the impressions of horrifying situations of wrench.

Architecture should be sensitive to people and to life, everything else becomes secondary.

via Daily Prompt: Elicit

I found Him, he lives up the mountain

Paro, Bhutan, 24 JULY 2016.

A trek to the Tiger’s Nest.

For the first time I saw God up close. At every moment of need he made his presence felt.

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We trekked in constant showers to a place we could hardly see, deeply covered in blankets of fog, yet something kept us going. At halfway mark, the fog cleared and gave me and my fellow trekkers a glimpse of the much-anticipated Takstsang.

The path was steep and crooked with swampy soil and puddles all the way. I fell, I slipped and got hurt a few times but I kept going and why? Curiosity does that to you. All the while I kept wondering how the monks did it every day for years and for centuries. They knew the path too well and probably made friends with it.

The lush green forest, the bubbly chirpy birds, the enormous mountains, the gushing streams and the milky clouds had a game of their own. The played hide and seek through the day and rested away at night. The air I was breathing was pristine as it smelt of the wet earth, the dried leaves and everything around that harmonized with nature. Each smell and sound so distinct that made its place in the forest so important.

He was a part of everything, the people, the animals, the Buddha who sat in heart of the nest, every stone that the mountain composed of, every leaf adding to the tree cover in the forest, every single droplet of water that showered from the sky. He was magic! I knew he was there assuring and protecting us. All my life I doubted the presence of a holy spirit but with this trek I know God and nature are the same words spelt differently. Needless to say, I felt safe because nature embraced me. I felt secure in the arms of the almighty. However, his majesty made me question ‘my identity’. I felt small and insignificant when compared to his awe. For the first time in 26 years I reckoned, “Who am I?”.

Today, I sit here reminiscing that Day with him. It appears that I left a part of me there in the mountains to soak his serenity.

 

The smell of a city

Every city has a distinctive smell or aroma per say which a native familiarizes on his/her return to the city after a while. The smell of the streets identifies with the activities or the character of the street. A temple or a market would have very specific aromas.

Takes me back to my memories of Manek chowk in Ahmedabad. A place filled with culture, activities, people, animals and architecture in a mutual coexistence that intrigued many architects, designers and anthropologists. To me this chowk (a square) is a multivalent space that brings back memories of delicious street food in the historic old city of Ahmedabad. Gujaratis (people belonging to the state of Gujarat) recognize themselves with the food they eat and the food they serve. The market opens at dusk until almost early morning. You feel welcomed by the smell of melting butter, the caramelised onions, the traditional mix of Indian spices and the sweet fragrance of the flavored kulfi. No passerby can go without a quick bite set aside the other thousands of excited tourists who drive themselves there based on reviews, reads and must dos. The aromas rise up and surround the entire square making it distinct to Manek Chowk. Tourists or locals, both experience the beauty of this place with the floating flavors.


The smell of a city energizes and our senses and associates it to where it belongs. We forget to experience beyond what we see sometimes or maybe most of the times. Every space, building, junction, street, locality or a city has an aroma of its own.

Aromatic