Sainte Marie de La Tourette


The sun shone in all her glory, casting a dappled light through the tree lined boulevard as we drove up to Sainte Marie de La Tourette - a Dominican Order priory on a hillside near Lyon, designed by architects Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis and constructed between 1956 and 1960. The outside is quite impressive and imposing, but the true personality of this building is to be found on the inside. A juxtaposition of harsh lines and the sloping landscape, with dark shadows and harsh light playing against each other on the brutalist architecture - angles against the September sky. The coolness of the concrete against the warmth of the afternoon air, with a strangely calming effect permeating throughout.

Le Corbusier intended to create an architecture in harmony with peoples' needs and beliefs, La Tourette was designed for the Dominicans by Le Corbusier to be compatible with their daily life, corresponding to the different activities of eating, sleeping and praying. He visited the site with his sketchbook and having looked at the lay of the land he chose carefully where it should be positioned and through a fertile dialogue with the community, how it should be composed.

The Dominicans who inhabit the priory to this day, understand that the architecture of La Tourette is something that must be experienced, therefore they are extremely keen that it should remain open to the public - this they achieve by holding carefully curated contemporary art exhibitions, encounters between the works of a visual artist and the architecture of Le Corbusier. Currently as part of the 14th Biennale du Lyon Floating Worlds exhibition, we had the pleasure of attending the Lee Ufan exhibition Beyond Memories. Ufan is currently one of the most influential Korean contemporary artists and his work exploring contrasts lends itself to this particular space. In 2015 sculptor Anish Kapoor's work was featured at the Le Corbusier designed priory as part of the 2015 Biennale du Lyon. Both these exhibitions highlight how naturally and seamlessly the art and sculptures find their place in this living spiritual space - this real life living utopia. Encountering the architecture and the artistic quality of these selected works, makes for an unique experience - one quite beyond the grasp of words.

If you are not fortunate enough to make it to the Biennale, then a guided tour is also a possibility or you could stay overnight for €51 with communal dinner and breakfast - however we must stress that this hospitality does understandably come with rules which have been put in place in order to preserve and respect the silence of La Tourette. We also highly recommend a walk in the forest surrounding Le Corbusier's vision - this open light filled geometric priory - an imposingly impressive place, that evokes peace and harmony, a most welcome pause, in an otherwise hectic life.