Landmarks: Notre-Dame de Haut

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The Independent Culture
Set on the top of a hill in eastern France is the superb pilgrimage chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp. It was designed by Le Corbusier between 1950 and 1955 on the site of a church that was destroyed during the war. You approach it up a narrow lane and there is a kind of orchestration of the building and the landscape which is quite sublime. Because of its remote location, getting materials up and down was not easy - one of the reasons why the original church burnt down was that they couldn't get the water up the hill.

Its battered white walls are pierced with very small windows and a brown roof. Inside, very small stained glass windows throw little pools of primary colours. The building is punctuated by three very tall towers, all in the shape of a 'D': at the top, the round part of the 'D' turns over, like a periscope, to face the landscape, allowing the light to cascade down into the chapels below. From the outside the towers look like sentinels listening over the plain.

It is a place of great serenity and of contemplation, an act of piety in its own right which doesn't refer to any of the forms previously used in churches. It is probably the great work of architecture of the 20th century.

Le Corbusier was an extremely talented artist and even though it's unique as a work of art, somehow there is a suppression of ego. It's a building which achieves its aims with the simplest possible means.

Frank Woods is a partner with Austin- Smith: Lord, 17 Bowling Green Lane, EC1

(Photograph omitted)

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