Le Corbusier’s iconic church in footage and questions


Within the Firminy-vert district, a church within the form of a truncated pyramid marks the doorway to the final architectural complicated designed by Le Corbusier.

The Saint-Pierre church in Firminy, France, is the third main spiritual constructing designed by Le Corbusier, after La Chapelle de Ronchamp and the Tourette convent church.

Its formal purity makes it one among Le Corbusier’s final nice inspirations, even when the finished model differs partly from the unique challenge accepted by the architect a 12 months earlier than his loss of life in 1965.

To be truthful, it’s value bringing José Oubrerie, Le Corbusier’s assistant architect, out of the shadows. He needed to reinterpret the grasp’s creation and adapt it to technical and monetary constraints, overseeing its building for over 30 years, till its completion in 2006.

The structure of Firminy’s Saint-Pierre church, in pathways

The trail of shapes

José Oubrerie's sketch for the Firminy church
Sketch by José Oubrerie, simplifying the unique idea with an origami form.

Between Le Corbusier’s authentic thought of remodeling a rounded form right into a sq., and José Oubrerie’s realization, the form of the church could seem to have retained a reasonably related look, however its nature has modified essentially.

The transformation of a spherical right into a sq. implies a steady ovoid curve, which is extraordinarily complicated to attain in structure, particularly on the time it was conceived, within the Sixties.

Oubrerie has redesigned the hull with flat sections joined by curves, making a pyramidal quite than ovoid form.

Oubrerie bevelling

For this “lifetime challenge” as chief architect, José Oubrerie needed to make selections in relation to the challenge outlined by Le Corbusier.
This meant, for instance, growing the dimensions of the sq. base, decreasing the peak of the church, and redefining the angle of the roof’s mitre from 46° to 34°!

With the abandonment of the principle idea of the ovoid form, the Firminy “pyramid” just isn’t fairly Le Corbusier’s creation.

Tracé du biseau église Le Corbusier vs Oubrerie
Comparative axisonometry of the Le Corbusier vs. Oubrerie hull. Credit: Luca Sampò

Pyramid-shaped Saint-Pierre church, Firminy

The church is characterised by its truncated cone, shaped by 4 sections of trapezoidal concrete partitions, reaching a top of 33 metres with a sq. base measuring 25 metres on all sides.
Sharp on the base, the perimeters turn out to be more and more rounded because the “pyramid” rises.

This quite distinctive concrete shell concerned the creation of over 100 formworks, which have been solely used as soon as!
85 nook formworks have been created in wooden, with the assistance of 3D software program within the early 2000s, resolving the complexity of the curved sections. The formwork for the flat sections was manufactured from metallic.

Le Corbusier church in Firminy photographed by Thierry Allard

Water paths

Extremely seen and emphasised by concrete frames, the water paths type the ornamental grid that enlivens the facades and helps make the constructing distinctive.

The bevelled prime of the Saint-Pierre church in Firminy signifies that solely a big vertical gutter is seen on the south facade to evacuate rainwater from the roof.

On the edges of the church, two different horizontal concrete-framed gutters are positioned at totally different heights to gather all of the water flowing from the cone, which is split into two basins on the south and north sides.

On the east facade, a curved cover distributes a few of the rainwater, which is collected on both aspect by the decrease gutter.

Paths of sunshine

The cannons

Light cannons on the roof of Saint-Pierre church in Firminy, France

The 2 spherical and sq. mild cannons on the roof, in addition to the bell tower, have been forged within the floor, then hoisted and held in place earlier than being built-in right into a 36 cm thick concrete slab that acts because the keystone.

Rectangular light cannon on Le Corbusier's church.

On the west aspect, a 3rd, rectangular-shaped mild cannon is mounted in an nearly horizontal place, accompanied by tinted glass fenestrons on the backside and enormous home windows extending on three sides of the bottom.

The “glass holes”

Glass perforations on the east facade of Saint-Pierre church

On the east facade, a mess of small glass perforations enable morning mild to go by way of the cone.

Invisible loopholes

Hidden on the façade behind the concrete bands of the water drainage channels, a string of small downward-bevelled “skylights” encircle your complete church.

The Males’s Path

Architectural promenade outside Le Corbusier church in Firminy

As is usually the case, Le Corbusier takes us on an architectural promenade, with an exterior entry ramp operating across the south façade, permitting us to admire your complete church with its decrease part, after which to enter the nave straight by way of a principal entrance on the west façade.
One other entrance, topped by a cover on the east aspect of the plinth, supplies entry to the exhibition areas.

The spiritual path

Though the church was initially designed for a bishopric, this quickly withdrew for monetary causes, earlier than building started.
With funding offered primarily by the Saint-Etienne native authority, the church has turn out to be extra of a vacationer attraction in honor of Le Corbusier, even when it nonetheless holds occasional plenty.

The inside of Saint-Pierre church, highlighted

The primary two ranges underneath the church are huge open to the sunshine. These embrace the reception space, a number of exhibition rooms belonging to the Musée d’Artwork Moderne de Saint-Etienne, and a convention room.

Aside from live shows and lots more and plenty, entry to the church (for a price) is normally by way of an inside staircase (which was to have been a ramp in Le Corbusier’s authentic design).

View of the vaulted ceiling of the Le Corbusier church in Firminy

For those who search for, you’ll get a primary, purely architectural view of the area, with out the spiritual indicators, and a glimpse of a few of the lighting designed by the architect.

Two mild cannons on the south-facing ovoidal roof slab present zenithal mild for a lot of the day.

The interaction of sunshine and probability

At sure occasions of the day, a mess of beams of sunshine, whose supply is indistinguishable, draw a tangle of curves on the partitions that one would possibly consider to be of divine origin.

Curves of light inside Saint-Pierre church

The reason for the phenomenon is extra prosaic, and doesn’t originate within the mind of the good architect. It is vitally merely defined by the location supervisor:
“Usually, the plan was to make use of clean polymethacrylate mild cannons, however we selected cannons with small notches to enhance adhesion. We made this alternative as a precaution. It’s these little notches that draw giant circles of sunshine contained in the church. It’s spectacular.

Inside, dawn aspect

Within the morning, dozens of tiny lights above the altar pierce the wall by way of the perforations seen on the jap facade.

Orion constellation above the altar

Though Le Corbusier had envisaged these small luminous holes in his challenge (quite with coloured glass), he didn’t have the chance to resolve on their precise format throughout his lifetime. So it was architect José Oubrerie, in settlement together with his shopper, the metropolis of Saint-Étienne, who determined to signify the constellation of Orion, a constellation that has no spiritual reference and is seen in each hemispheres of the earth.

The encirclement of skylights

Hidden openings within the façade reveal their colored bands across the perimeter of the room. They illuminate most entrances, even at evening, due to inside lighting.

Rectangular light cannon in the Le Corbusier church

Intérieur, côté soleil couchant

The green-blue mild cannon on the west aspect is positioned nearly horizontally to light up the excessive altar on the finish of the day.

church pews designed by José Oubrerie
José Oubrerie’s benches are impressed by these designed by Le Corbusier for La Chapelle de Ronchamp.


Puits de lumières colorés dans l'église Saint-Pierre de Firminy-vert

The Firminy church options a number of variations of skylights, which Le Corbusier favored for locations of worship in addition to in his homes, such because the inside of the Villa Savoye and the Maison La Roche.

The cannons, which protrude imposingly from each the inside and exterior of the facades, improve the sunshine supply and focus the sunshine beam on the identical time, relying on their depth.

In some buildings, they’re positioned horizontally, and may even be explored on foot, as in Bernard Zehrfuss’s Lugdunum underground museum in Lyon, France.

You might be all in favour of different stories on Le Corbusier architect:

Acoustics at fault

The church’s acoustics produce a resonance of the order of 11 seconds, making classical music live shows unattainable. Solely modern creations created expressly for this venue could be carried out right here.

40 years of twists and turns

The challenge introduced by Le Corbusier in 1964, a 12 months earlier than his loss of life, would take nearly 10 years to get off the bottom underneath the course of his assistant José Oubrerie, because of the withdrawal of the bishopric, the unique sponsor.

The primary challenge for Saint-Pierre church was undertaken by a neighborhood affiliation and started in 1973.
This was adopted by 5 eventful years, with the challenge being halted and resumed a number of occasions till 1978.
In 1996, the walled and largely unfinished constructing, with solely its base, was listed as a historic monument in an effort to shield it and its environment.
Building lastly resumed 7 years later, in 2003, financed by the Saint-Étienne metropolitan authority and underneath the supervision of the Le Corbusier Basis, earlier than supply in 2006.
The church was inaugurated on November 29, 2006, and can stay the one Le Corbusier constructing to be erected within the twenty first century.

Le Corbusier’s architectural ensemble at Firminy-vert, of which the church is a component, has been a Unesco World Heritage Web site since 2016.

Final church plans approved by Le Corbusier
Plans for the Saint-Pierre church, primarily based on the final sequence of drawings by the Le Corbusier workshop, December 1963. Credit: Cl. L. Sampò.

All it is advisable to know in regards to the authentic?

A vertical face, a bigger measurement, a form composed of hyperboloid surfaces, an inside entry ramp, … all of Le Corbusier’s concepts that have been deserted.

As for the main points, architect José Oubrerie additionally declared in an interview that the hundredths-scale plans left by the studio gave him an excessive amount of room for manoeuvre.

To be taught all in regards to the variations between Le Corbusier’s authentic challenge and José Oubrerie’s closing realization, I like to recommend this text: forty years of historical past between thought and realization.

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For those who discover any errors or inaccuracies on this article, please let me know!


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