Ramblings from the study trip

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Here are the thoughts I copied down during our study trip to the monastery La Tourette near Lyon, designed by Le Corbusier in the 60’s

DAY 1 at the monastery (and the trip getting there)

The first days of our study trip have been self-planned for the most part by Steffen, whose (wreck of a) car we have been driving to the monastery. He has travelled around Europe a lot because of his great interest in wine, food, etc. And thusly he knew of a few places of interest on the way, where we should go. First and foremost, the Vitra museum in the town of Basel, where we had a tour of the many very interesting factory and museum buildings commissioned by the design company and designed by famous starchitects from around the world. They differ greatly in style and range from the pragmatic and simple by an English architect (I will find his name later) in corrugated aluminum plates with round corners, to the absolutely insane by Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. Gehry because of his free-form sculpture approach and Hadid because of her work with perspective and confusing lines. Both of them using their houses as a way to experiment with form-finding and testing ideas for future projects. Both of them interesting as architecture, but not necessarily very functional. Unfortunately, the building which seemed the most interesting, by Tadao Ando was not open because of a conference that day (it is a conference building – so those things happen), we got to see it from the outside and to look at some photos, but it was really a pity. Just from what I have seen I have had a great deal of inspiration for my project, as Ando deals with the noise of the road adjacent to the building, by digging out a courtyard to the south and getting in an abundance of light. The way he does so, along with the way he uses walls in the landscape, which you are actually inclined to walk along, his incredible (some would say autistic) attention to detail and the way you enter the building are all some that I will consider as inspirations for the project at hand – or at some other point in the future.

Another very interesting building at the site is only now being built. It is designed by Herzog and Demeuron and is interesting mostly for the way of dealing with bricks. Machine made bricks are chopped to pieces, so the inside part where there are channels is suddenly the exterior. This creates a fantastic tactility in the sunlight and also obscures the lines of the bond, making it one surface. I think the contrast between this and the existing, very irregular bricks could work really well. The lines would then be vertical, rather than the horizontal lines of the ultima bricks. Perhaps there could even be a way of working with both according to what’s happening – showing the landscape, vs. showing the height of the tower, vs. contrasting the building, etc.

After a night’s stay in Mulhouse, we continued to Ronchamp, and Le Corbusier’s famous Notre Dame Du Haut as well as Renzo Piano’s beautiful monastery sitting on top of a hill with 360 degrees of views to the stunning landscape around it. This chuch is very unlike the monastery where I am sitting now, but at the same time many details and tell-tale signs show that it’s definitely the same maker. As we also learned in Silkeborg this is the one work in Corbusier’s euvre, where he really let his artistic side out and boy did he – to an extent where it borders on being too much at times, but with some absolutely fantastic sculptural effects, work with interior and exterior light (the sun was showing it from its best possible side). One thing I took notice of above all else, at least in relation to the current assignment was the floor. It wasn’t level but slanted from the ‘back’ of the church downwards to the alter and the plateau it stood on, which then again kinked and slanted upwards again. This effect of walking on the floor next to all the spatial mosaics with different colors of light and directions, below the organic, convex shape of the roof, with the light from a slit flowing along it is quite as special experience. Inside all the towers, light flows down in a fantastic way. Here the floor is also raised and there are shrines inside of them. There are really some great effects going on here and somehow I feel that even if I don’t use it in the current project I am certainly going to unconsciously have them in my arsenal.

Now. Having arrived at La Tourette, with the weather still showing everything in the best possible way I must say that… it looks a fucking mess. It’s clearly a different Corbusier at work. Very academic with his modular at full warp speed. So far it’s very interesting to move around in. There are a lot of interesting details and lines that meet when you move, etc. The telltale signs of his ideas of exploring architecture through movement. All that is great, but in this project he – like in most of his other work – cares little for esthetics. It’s extremely rough and very deliberately so. It’s there to tell his story and to be a massive mess in its own right. It is very interesting, but very ugly. More on that later.

DAY 2 – Getting the place under my skin

Everywhere you go. There is a slight humming, a sound of water running in the pipes and of people talking or walking somewhere not quite distinguishable. On the church, the racing car spoiler clock tower and the enormous exhausts on the crypt scream masculinity. The west facing façade of the church looking like the solemn face of an easter island sculpture.

Walking down the narrow hallways, especially to the northeast, facing a hill – your view is blocked and the glass alternates between being fitted directly to the concrete and being inside a black frame with a window that opens. Rythms appear when you walk.

When you go outside the main door and start walking down the steps to the courtyard, sand and grass distinguish the route. You walk under the buildings in the same patterns you would inside, but here you have the opportunity to demonstratively change levels and see the building from new angles.

Put quite simply it’s a mess of a machine of a megalomaniac’s mind. So far the true qualities lie in the landscape and in simply walking around taking in the views, rythms and different spaces that only open themselves while in movement. The walls of the spaces for staying are covered in thick layers of  sprayed gipsum, which being almost the shape of egg cartons gives the impression that they should handle acoustics well – they just quite clearly don’t. Being too hard and having no textile surfaces to rebound upon. There is no softness in this house apart perhaps from in the people in it’s cells. The sounds that change are also part of this experience. You really feel that you are in the belly of a monstrous machine. Even in the church you constantly hear the humming of the heating furnace below. ‘it’s alive’. This experience is greatly enhanced of course by not talking, just walking, sitting, being there. The acoustics in the building are not made for conversation, they are really really horrible in a conventional sense. But along with the absolute abscense of insulation, they ensure that wherever you are in the building, you feel the life of the community around you. Of the machines powering the building, with all the chords, pipes and utilities exposed and acting as ‘decoration’.

The church room itself is quite interesting. Having visited Ronchamp yesterday, which was like a thing from nature, this is quite clearly purely machine. Scenes from the death star come to mind. Different colored lights come in from the sides, just as in Ronchamp, but here the light is one color in each narrow window frame, and all the larger openings are systematic. However – at seemingly random places, there are tiny openings just as those in Notre Dame du Haut. Letting in a tiny bit of light for instance just before walking behind the ‘confession screen’. Which by the way has clear glass with holes in it, so you can clearly see who you are talking to – you are not in the company of god.

Reading the text before coming here gave me some perspective on the thoughts behind the structure, this idea of walking inside and outside, orienting towards the courtyard and the landscape, etc. But I have to say that said text could have been a tenth of the length and you wouldn’t have less of the actual points. What a load of architecture theory horse shit. This house is a horrendous block of concrete that only an academic mind could appreciate. It’s the brain child of the ultimate self-proclaimed prophet of architecture, and thusly loved by his disciples for its purity of idea. Loved as only one’s own child could be. It stands demonstratively in the hills not quite sitting, not quite floating. It’s a heavy box to lift. It’s a machine, not made for esthetic purposes, but for containing and working with its community of black friar monks. To satisfy the experiment that Corbusier involved all of them in. Who’s your god now?

I could keep saying both good and bad things about this house for days, possibly repeating myself once or twice, but there is no conclusion I think other than that this house is an experiment. It’s a machine made for testing ideas and pushing limits. It’s not made to be pretty, to fit in or to satisfy anyone. It’s a messy, brutal and powerful piece of art, that no one in their right mind would have in their back yard, but which you are somehow still drawn to explore.

DAY 4 – reflections and connections to own project

New plans, thoughts, inspiration. Vive La France

La Tourette consists of a myriad of complexities, details, situations, light, spatial constellations, etc. It shouldn’t work, except the one thing that insures that it does above all else – is the plan solution. The butterfly movement described in XX text where you move from viewing the landscape to viewing the courtyard I think could be a really strong influence to use when designing at Kalø. Taking in the ruin and the landscape in alternating moves. Entering walking along a wall like in Ando’s Vitra project, except this time it’s the wall of the ruin, you walk down into the new space below and come up on the other side of the walls of the ruin, now looking towards the landscape, but still essentially, walking along the wall – thusly also seeing as much of the ruin and it’s details along the way. It will be the ruin that decides where to go, as I have already given myself the rule, that I mustn’t destroy any of the ruin – thusly I can move over low pieces of wall, through existing openings or peut-etre below pieces of wall by digging or suspending those parts on concrete beams? – maybe this would be entirely unnecessary, but we’ll see.

Another element could be using vegetation. Trees on one side and the walls on the other, to create shade and to frame the views along the sea with both natural and artificial (quotation from frampton text)

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