Le Corbusier – Church of Saint-Pierre de Firminy
The last major project by Le Corbusier, Saint-Pierre de Firminy is a catholic church in Firminy, central France, designed by the Swiss-French architect in the early 1960s and completed in 2006.
Above: the church of Saint Pierre in Firminy by Le Corbusier, view from the south; photo Pablo Garbarino (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
The church was devised for Firminy Vert, a model quarter designed by Le Corbusier on the outskirts of the small town of Firminy in the Loire department.
For the new church, Le Corbusier, in collaboration with architects Louis Miquel and José Oubrerie designed a 33-meter/108-foot high pyramidal building mostly made in reinforced concrete.
Initially, the project comprised two different buildings, one for the church and one for the oratory, that were merged into a single one later in order to reduce construction costs, with the oratory in the basement and the main nave on the upper level.
One of the last buildings designed by Le Corbusier, the church of Firminy was inaugurated on 26 November 2006 after an over 30-year-long construction process; photo Richard Weil (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Le Corbusier, Saint Pierre de Firminy; plan of the first floor.
The roof is pierced by two periscope-shaped skylights; photo Richard Weil (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The construction of Saint-Pierre de Firminy began in 1973, eight years after Le Corbusier’s death, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the building was completed. This long delay was due mainly to funding problems and the decline of the iron industry on which Firminy’s economy was largely based, which led to the interruption of the development of the whole Firminy Vert quarter. Yet, the construction of the church was resumed in the early 2000s, after the unfinished building was declared monument historique by the French government in 1996, and eventually completed under the direction of Le Corbusier’s former collaborator José Oubrerie.
Today, the basement of the building accommodates an information center, a permanent exhibition of le Corbusier’s work, and an auditorium while the church on the main floor, which has been consecrated in 2007, is regularly used for religious functions.
The church’s main hall has raked seating – a rather unconventional solution for a Catholic church – and is lighted also by a series of small circular openings which reproduces the shape of the constellation of Orion. The main altar, the pulpit, all interior and exterior walls, and the pavements are made of bare concrete, while the benches are in steel and glue-laminated wood.
The main nave is illuminated by two skylights and a series of small circular openings, whose arrangement resembles the constellation of Orion, which creates streams of lights on the opposite wall; photos Richard Weil (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The “Orion constellation”; photo by Pieter Morlion (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
The church’s stepped seating is rather unconventional for a catholic church; photo Richard Weil (CC BY-SA 2.0).
As usual in Le Corbusier’s religious buildings, the openings are painted in primary colors; photo Richard Weil (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The towering bare-concrete dome of the Saint-Pierre church; photo Richard Weil (CC BY-SA 2.0).
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