Notre Dame du Haut – a designer church

<Photo of designer church Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>

What you’re looking at is a chapel designed by Franco-Swiss designer Le Corbusier. Standing on a hill in Ronchamp, Notre Dame du Haut was finished in 1954, replacing a chapel that had been destroyed during the Second World War. The site has been religious for a very long time: the building before the destroyed chapel was a fourth-century chapel.

<Photo of interior windows at Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>The grounds have some old graves in one tiny corner of the land, and some old foundations of what was perhaps the old chapel are visible not far from the current chapel. The bells are on the outside, dangling from a metallic support further away on the same hill. The grounds are quiet and relaxing.

A large pyramid stands on the other side of the chapel — a memorial to those who lost their lives during the war, and it doubles as a high view point of the chapel. From the top of the pyramid, part of the roof (pictured on the right in the photo above) looks like the bottom of an ark.

The roof is slightly raised to allow a line of light inside the chapel. The many small windows provide a light that is far more spectacular in real life than any photo, and there are nooks within the chapel where natural light has been used in imaginative and impressive ways.

<Photo of stained glass at Notre Dame du Haut, in France'>I mistakenly went to this chapel with a designer friend. He was happy to finally see the church he had studied at design school. He was less happy when I picked on those windows. As glorious as the design is on both the exterior and the interior, there was something that let those windows down.

First of all, the primary colours reminded me of an old Studio Line advertisement.

I’m sorry! I know I’ve just offended a large population of the world by not agreeing that everything about this church is amazing. I just couldn’t help but hear that Studio Line jingle in my head when looking at these windows!

Interestingly, these windows are not stained glass: they’re hand-painted enamel. The world is also supposed to be in awe of these techniques, and I’m probably that one idiot who just doesn’t get it. I think they look like windows with cellophane on them, like you see in kindergartens. The hand-painted flowers and blobs were probably very difficult to get just right, but they just added to that kids’ painting feeling for me. Again, I’m sorry, designers (and I know one designer who might not be speaking to me after reading this!) and anyone else who is offended by my lack of appreciation.

Apart from those points, the windows are indeed impressive. They are of different thicknesses (like the close-up pictured), sizes and positioning so that the light reflects into the church in different ways. Unlike most religious monuments, the chapel and its grounds invoked in me a genuine tranquility. I hope that makes amends to all designers out there. After all, churches are supposed to be predominantly spiritual, aren’t they? Chapel win.

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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4 comments on “Notre Dame du Haut – a designer church
  1. Ron Rundkle says:

    Wen, I couldn’t agree more! My french teacher, who is from Nancy, raved about this church. Said I must see it. Sorry, I’m a graphic designer, and I just don’t get it at all. Don’t feel bad. I’m sure there are more like-minded people out there.

  2. Ruby says:

    It reminds me of a mushroom. There, I’m sure I just offended way more designers than you did!

  3. Wendy says:

    So glad it’s not just me. Is it a bit like….

    …?

  4. Lesley says:

    All a bit arty-farty for me as well. These modern guys don’t appear to worry about the fancy roof leaking or the flimsy bridge wobbling etc. But never mind, they won the competition for who could design it.
    PS I do know that Le Corbusier is so last century already!

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced professional writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Read more...

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