Original sketch concept for the Marseilles “Unite d’Habitation” or dwelling block as a complex of residential buildings.
The Marseilles block as realized. Even moreso than before World War II, reinforced concrete became the material of choice in Europe. Although the materials were expensive, labor for the form work was cheap. This meant that many innovative shapes and textures could be developed easily. The situation in the United States was the reverse.
Many of the ideas that Corbu had developed in the inter-war period remain a part of this scheme, including the elevation of the main mass on pilotis and the use of the roof for recreational purposes.
Plan (below) and section (above) of skip-stop arrangement of floors
The individual apartments in the Marseilles block are very much the derivative of the arrangement of rooms and spaces in the Citrohan House of 1922. The living room is a two-story space with an overlook from an upper level. Depending on the position of the apartment in relation to the corridor, the bedrooms are either on the upper level or on the same level as the living room. This arrangement permits every apartment to have a high terrace and large windows as well as cross-ventilation. The scheme of the Marseilles block was repeated elsewhere, including Berlin as part of the IBA (Internationale Bau-Ausstellung or international building exhibit), a program for re-building the city of Berlin that began during reconstruction after World War II. ( The IBA program continues today.)
Reinforced concrete framing with model of relationship of individual units to the larger organization.
Shopping street in the middle story of the building.
Pilotis (above) and the Modulor system of dynamic proportion as represented on the exterior of the building
The commission for the Pilgrimage Chapel at Ronchamp in eastern France intended to replace an earlier chapel destroyed by fire. This is one of Corbusier’s most surprising designs and caught the professional public off-guard. The first thing that Corbu did was to analyze the site by drawing it from several distant views, such as this one.
Equally important to Corbu were the views from the site, such as this one with its sweeping panorama of the nearby regional landscape.
Sketches for the Pilgrimage Chapel viewed from three directions. The basic idea of the chapel took shape rather early and did not change substantially although it was refined during design development.
Plan and elevations Corbusier said that he wanted to produce an “ineffable” space, i.e. one that is too overwhelming to be described in words, one that is inexpressible. Part of the “ineffability” of the space would be a lack of clear dimensionality and scale--a theme found frequently in some modernist thinking, especially where function was not a problem of daily routinized activities like cooking.
The chapel’s proportions, however, are based on the Modulor.
Axonometric drawing of the chapel from above without its roof. The sculptural quality is unmistakable, but related to the phenomenology and symbolism of light
Numerous suggestions have been made regarding the possible source of the external form. These include praying hands, the prow of a ship, and a nun’s habit. Given Corbu’s life-long propensity for abstraction, none of these suggestions is very compelling. Moreover, the intention of creating an “ineffable” space would seem to preclude the possibility of figural imagery. Structurally, the chapel is constructed of reinforced concrete, both cast in forms and applied as gunnite over a frame. That is how all the curvilinear forms were built and how the wall with the apparently arbitrary arrangement of windows was constructed. It looks like a solid masonry wall with deep cuts for the windows, but it is actually hollow. Corbu was criticized for this by purists who argued that it was not an honest use of materials.
The interior of the chapel is small and meant more for private devotions that for large services. On days of pilgrimage, mass is said outdoors.
There is an altar and a pulpit on this façade. The relic that is the object of the pilgrimage is displayed in a reliquary visible from both the interior and exterior of the chapel. The outdoor chapel can accommodate very large numbers of pilgrims who can stand on the grassy knoll for the mass.
The roof is a thin shell of reinforced concrete that is raised along the enclosing walls by small supports. This permits light to enter the interior along the resulting slits; and it gives the impression that the roof is really a piece of fabric, delicately suspended over the interior. This is a surprising effect that is not really perceived from the outside. The interior is quite dark, in contrast the bright white exterior and has an extraordinary fusion of intimacy and monumentality.
Upon entering the chapel, attention is drawn to the relic displayed in the window about the altar but then also to the light that is coming into the building from sources in the thick wall to the right. The light is modified by stained glass and it is a natural effect that observers move forward to find the sources of the light at the ends of the shorter and longer, wider and narrower shafts in the wall.
In the Pilgraimage Chapel at Ronchamp, Corbu came as close as anyone to reproducing the environment of mysticism found in the Gothic cathedrals of the high middle ages. While this is by no means a neo-Gothic chapel, it does use the power of light to create a phenomenological experience within the carefully wrought forms of the building.