Sainte Marie de La Tourette

Symbolism / Social Issues

Designed by Le Corbusier and constructed between 1956 and 1960, it is Dominican monastery near Lyon, France. Built for approximately 100 monks it consists of two levels and houses a church, library, study halls, work areas, refectory, and sleeping rooms. Its layout is based on a traditional cloister with perimeter circulation. But since the building is built on a steep slope the traditional layout is creatively abstracted with the circulation areas elevated well above the courtyard.


The monastery is constructed of poured-in-place concrete creating a massive and at times a severe appearance. But Le Corbusier expertly manipulated the exterior massing, detailing, and textures to enhance the play of sunlight on the surfaces of the building over the course of the day. Le Corbusier also utilized a number of innovative daylighting strategies to illuminate the interior. Light shafts, or what Le Corbusier referred to as “light cannons, guns”, were cast into the concrete to capture and deftly aim the light to specific locations in the interior. To control the daylight entering the monks sleeping cells he utilized a brise-soleil, or “sun breaker”, system of louvers that were cast into the exterior concrete. For the walls of the corridors facing the courtyard he developed a system of concrete frames and glass panes whose spacing was based on musical theory. Le Corbusier even referred to them as “musical glass panes.” The dappled pattern of light and shadow that they cast across the floor was visually dynamic and constantly animated the spaces.

Visual Effects

The play of light is creatively integrated in almost every interior space of the monastery. But perhaps the grandest use was in the church portion of the monastery. It is a large box-shaped space laid out on an east-west axis. The space is divided transversely by five steps. The western, lower half has rows of benches arranged parallel to the long walls. The benches are illuminated by daylight that enters the space through long brightly colored slots located above and behind the monks. The visual effect is one of a soft shower of light cascading over the monks when praying at the benches. To the south of the altar is an opening in the wall. There, behind a screen, is the sacristy lit by a number of daylight admitting light cannons. To the north of the altar the wall opens onto a side chapel. It extends into the upper area of the lower church and is illuminated by colored light emanating from light cannon. In this chapel stands the sacramental altar. Behind and to the north of the sacramental altar is lowered chamber that houses a number of small altars. The walls of this chamber are painted red and yellow and the ceiling painted blue. The light cannons bring in light from above and shower each altar with light.