Notre Dame Du Haut is a religious space designed by architect Charles Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, in the 1950’s. The chapel is located in Ronchamp, France. This style of architecture is known as the International Style, Brutalism, Sculptural Style, as well as Expressionist Modern. Notre Dame Du Haut replaced the previous structure that was destroyed by bombs in 1944.

Physical Characteristics:

  • Simplicity
  • Oblong nave
  • Two side entrances
  • Axial main alter
  • Three chapels
  • Three towers
  • 4 ft to 12 ft thick, whitewashed, sprayed concrete walls (known as Gunite or Gunnire)
  • Beton brut roof
  • Southern facing wall of windows
  • Exterior alter
  • Sculpture of the Virgin Mary

How the Physical Characteristics Enhance the Religious Function:


The chapel appears completely organic both in form and in materials. Notre Dame Du Haut lacks any obvious attempts at accentuating geometry. The materials are left in the raw and allowed to age naturally. The simplicity of form gives the chapel the feel of sculpture.

Lack of ornate detail allows the building to completely exist as a religious space without any distractions to pilgrims and worshippers. Lacking mass-produced materials the structure is pure and simple exemplifying the desired way of life for those who came to the chapel.

Oblong Nave-

The word nave was derived from the nave of a ship. Le Corbusier created a nave for the chapel that appeared similar to the nave of a ship. This line of thinking brings us back to simplicity. Le Corbusier was breaking down all the elements of the structure to the basic forms and intentions so as not to distract from the true function of the building as a religious space.

Beton Brut Roof-

The roof is dark brown contrasting greatly with the whitewashed walls, constructed with two reinforced concrete membranes. The roof softly curves upward toward the sky. There is a small gap between the walls and the roof making it appear to be floating above the rest of the chapel. From the interior of the building one can see a line of light entering the structure through this gap. It is said that the smooth curve of the roof is symbolic of praying hands.

South Facing Wall of Windows-

This wall is also known as the ‘wall of light’. The windows vary in size and are placed in no certain pattern in the wall. Even though the walls are thick and heavy the interior is filled with a surprising degree of light thanks to these windows. The windows contain elements of stained glass adding color to the otherwise achromatic structure. The windows also enhance the steep slope of the wall.

Light has been a long time symbol of religion. Gothic Architecture took this concept to the extreme considering light one of the most important elements of any religious structure. Light gives the space an ethereal quality.

Exterior Alter-

The hill on which Notre Dame Du Haut is located has been a site for pilgrimages since the thirteenth century C.E. The alter on the exterior of the chapel is a place where these weary travelers can come and worship. During important pilgrimage days, such as feast days, the outdoor chapel can house every visitor. The exterior alter is one of three chapels located beneath three towers. The main chapel can only hold up to 50 people. The small main chapel allows for more personal prayer.

Sculpture of the Virgin Mary-

This wooden sculpture is placed in a high niche. Le Corbusier was raised protestant so he therefore researched the Catholic religion before beginning to design the building. While learning about the religion he noticed a reoccurring mother and child relationship. He placed the sculpture up high so that the Virgin Mary could look over her children. The Virgin Mary can be seen from both the interior and exterior of the chapel. This way she can look over both alters.

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