Le Corbusier has listed a few churches or chapels as part of the heritage of French architecture, of which one of the most famous is probably the Chapelle Notre-Dame du Haut in France.
To date, I have not yet had the chance to visit it, but a few years ago I was able to discover the church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy in France and then, more recently, the Convent of Tourette near Lyon in France which has a church reserved for Dominican student friars as well as a small chapel.

With this excerpt from a photographic report of interior architecture, religiously carried out, I am going to unveil to you in detail a part of this place of prayers and studies that the Convent of Sainte-Marie de la Tourette represents.

A forthcoming photo report will deal with the architecture of the other parts of the buildings.

Interior of the church of the Tourette convent

With the Tourette convent and its concrete church, the architect Le Corbusier was able to marry the conceptual and brutalist side of his architecture with the austerity that prevails in the practice of religious worship.

A door at the end of a corridor

The church, originally reserved for the Dominican friars, at its main entrance inside the convent.

Entrance door of the Sainte-Marie church at the Tourette convent

The main metal door is sober and rather massive. It is accessed through a long corridor with concrete pillars, bathed in natural light on one side and radiating through bay windows with horizontal and vertical partitions.

Corridor leading to the inner door of St. Mary's Church

This metal door, which by its style is more reminiscent of a safe door than a normal church door, pivots entirely (and with difficulty) on a vertical axis.
When fully opened, it reveals one of the first skylights at the back of the church, a horizontal red slit allowing some of the outside light to enter the church.

Small door on the inside of the front door of the church

The narrow little door inside the larger one is certainly much more practical for a Dominican friar coming to do his daily prayer.

The dark, cult scene

Slits of light in the church of the Tourette convent

When you enter the church interior, you are struck by the contrast between the darkness and the extreme brightness coming from the coloured horizontal wall slits. It takes time to get used to the darkness, so the first visual impression is quite well transcribed in this first photograph.

Skylight in the church of the Tourette convent

The skylights take various forms: rectangular on the ceiling of the church and for the horizontal slits on the walls and almost circular like the one above in the transept which contains several altars.

And the light was

Interior of the church Le corbusier at the Tourette convent

In this picture of the interior of the church, I have added some of my lights…
God and Le Corbusier will perhaps forgive the photographer who does not respect the architect’s dark will nor the solemnity of the place which is extremely dark, but I can show you the entire interior structure of the nave, illuminated thanks to its skylights and coloured “loopholes”. Everything is done so that the light, necessarily divine, arrives in a spectacular way and inspires contemplation.

Colourful Transept

Coloured skylights at the Tourette convent

In one of the transepts, separated in two by a concrete wall painted yellow, there are 3 round coloured light wells, small concrete benches in the shape of crescents and several “training” altars for the Dominican friars.

Interior architecture photographer at work in the church

In the technical parts or the sacristy we find Le Corbusier’s emblematic colours, blue, red, green and yellow, which give a conceptual rhythm to decorative elements, doors, furniture, pipes, frames or interior structures such as concrete walls.

Plastered chapel

On the opposite side of the building, close to the cells of the Dominican friars, there is also another place of worship, a small chapel of about 25m2 which you can quickly get around.

Chapel of the Dominican friars at the Tourette convent

The chapel is very narrow and high up and also has a skylight at the top. The colour code is green for the wardrobe as in the sacristy and black for the handles.
The yellow internal communication doors all have an original black protection around the handle to protect them from dirt.
It is in such small details that you can see the “up to the end” and the rigour of architect Le Corbusier.


End of the report for this first part of the interior visit devoted to the church and chapel of the Tourette Convent, you can find other subjects about Le Corbusier in this blog of an architectural photographer.
You can subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog if you want to discover other future (or past) peregrinations related to architecture and, why not, come back to me the day you are looking for a French heritage architecture photographer!

Thierry Allard

A door opens on the continuation of the interior visit of the convent of La Tourette as well as on my exterior circumambulation of the convent of Le Corbusier

Door open for the continuation of the visit of the Tourette convent