Afterthe initial fervent opposition from the architectural community, Renzo Piano's convent on the grounds of the Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, is finally complete.
The convent sits in the shadow of a highly-lauded design by Le Corbusier, an architectural legend so venerated in his own right that the Fondation Le Corbusier, the organization devoted to preserving his work, vehemently opposed anything being built on the chapel's grounds. Starchitects like Richard Meier joined the opposition, while, as if it were a Pritzker Prize winner showdown, the likes of Tadao Ando supported the new convent.
Commissioned by the Association Oeuvre Notre Dame du Haut, Piano was ultimately able to erect the building, with a mission to preserve Le Corbusier's structure and finish the job with a mere $14 million,raised through a combination of local government funding, donations, and thesale of the nuns' former convent in Besançon, which their order had inhabited for 800 years. The new structure, barely visible, is nestled into the hillside, greeting visitors with an outward facing zinc and glass façade.
Thenew addition to the grounds replaced the former visitors' center and gave aspace for the small population of Clare Poor nuns to live and meditate. Far from glamorous, the living quarters are designed as spaces for contemplation, featuring a simple palette of zinc, concrete, and wood, each with access to a garden. In order to respect Ronchamp's environment, Piano worked with landscape architect Michel Corajoud to preserve the original landscape and replant trees.
While Piano's initial instinct was to turndown the project, one of the head nuns helped change his mind. "IfSister Brigitte was to be my client, then what else could I say?" Pianotold the Guardian. "She has a profound love of architecture, of landscape,of sacred space — and even of people without religion, like me. She wanted aplace of silence and prayer. I said: 'I can't help you with prayer, but perhapsI can help with silence and a little joy.'"
To tour Renzo Piano's new convent, click the photo gallery at left.