Wrongchamp ? Our Renzo designs for Ronchamp

“Maybe you wouldn’t see it, (the new building), but you would feel it.”
– Jean Louis Cohen

On the heels of recent criticism of Renzo Piano, comes this in The Architect’s Newspaper:

… The Ronchamp association considered several architects besides Renzo Piano, including Tadao Ando, Glenn Murcutt, and Jean Nouvel. In the end, the first two were deemed too far away, while the idea of Nouvel was rejected because “he would only design something Jean Nouvel. We loved Piano’s museums in Basel and Berne. He is a poet and a philosopher, too.”

Piano himself was somewhat hesitant, and not because of the complexities of building respectfully next to an icon. After all, he has designed additions to several icons, including Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum (in a preliminary design stage) and Richard Meier’s Atlanta High Museum. [EL- You can hardly compare the High Museum to Ronchamp!] But the Ronchamp project is by far the smallest in his office, very sensitive, and with a relatively miniscule budget of $13 million. “There would be no reason to put myself in this funny situation if this were not a work of passion,” he said.

Piano did not even start to design until he had walked the site last winter, driving stakes into the ground where it would be possible to build without being seen from the top of the hill where the chapel sits. According to French law, any changes within 500 meters of a designated landmark are open to the scrutiny of the Ministry of Culture, but the grounds around the chapel building are not subject to this landmark protection. Thus, although the new structures will be invisible, they do come to within 60 meters of the chapel. Piano plans to reforest the flanks of the hill with some 800 evergreens and native deciduous trees, spending one-third the entire budget on landscaping.

Jean Louis Cohen, the preeminent Corbusier scholar who is on the board of the foundation, also walked around the site last summer, “Maybe you wouldn’t see it, but you would feel it,” said Cohen in an interview in which he showed slides documenting the chapel from every possible angle from below the hilltop. “The harmony of the place would be disturbed; it would lose the sense of being a pilgrimage and impoverish the chapel itself.”

… “We are well aware that Renzo Piano will take all precautions called for,” said Michel Richard, (director of the Association Œuvre Notre-Dame du Haut that owns Le Corbusier’s 1955 masterwork.) “They should just build farther away….”

The plan includes a new visitor center to replace the current one—a makeshift pink box at the base of the hill. Renderings show a simple split shed with a dynamic bifurcated roof jutting in directions that echo the swoops of the chapel’s roof. The tilting roof planes would be made of both zinc and green-roof materials, making it appear as if it were rising from the forest floor.

more, and more images

I think putting more architecture there will dilute and alter what is there now. And what is there now is so great that it need not be altered. In cities we rail against isolated sculptural objects. But Ronchamp works perfectly as that. By itself in nature, it has a unity, a purity. I don’t want multiple architectural experiences there. I only want one.

Ronchamp photo: ezra Stoller/ Esto
rendering and model – RPBW

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