By Jonathan Glancey
BBC Culture, February 21, 2014
On the evening of 17 January, vandals smashed their way through a beautiful, hand-painted window into the pilgrimage chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, a soul-searing masterpiece by Le Corbusier close to the French-Swiss border. The collection box they found inside was all but empty. They tried to bludgeon their way into the new tourist pavilion close to the chapel designed by the Genoese architect Renzo Piano. But they failed and ran off, having achieved nothing but the desecration of one of the 20th Century’s greatest buildings, a place of solace and prayer shaped by the great modern architect not just for members of the Roman Catholic Church, but for everyone.
Writing in the Architectural Review, William Curtis, an English architectural historian based in France, made the connection between what he saw as the vandalism caused at Ronchamp by Renzo Piano’s new buildings and the break-in. The site, he says, “has been transformed and commercialised as a tourist destination, even with a sliding electric gate barring the route to the Chapel. In effect it has become a sort of gated community with outward signs of prosperity. Nor should one forget the sums involved: over 10m euros to build the ensemble of the Piano project.” The new buildings – which also include the vandalised pavilion – are a part of a controversial new convent dug into the hillside close to the chapel for the Pauvres Clarisses nuns, who, says Curtis, “enjoy an environment which is far from poor in a material sense.” More…