When Cathedrals are Gray Exhibition

An Exhibition of Drawings, Photographs, and a Model

L'Eglise Saint-Pierre de Firminy-Vert

Le Corbusier + José Oubrerie

José Oubrerie will give a lecture titled Architecture Interruptus on April 10.

Opening reception for the exhibition will take place on April 11 at 4:30 pm.

In the fall of 2006 the small French town of Firminy in the Loire Valley finally celebrated the completion of the Eglise Saint-Pierre, over 45 years after it was first conceived. Le Corbusier received the commission to design this parish church in the spring of 1960 as part of an ambitious urban renewal plan to transform the industrial town. Le Corbusier embarked upon the design of this inspired project with the help of his then-associate José Oubrerie.

The cornerstone was not laid for the church until 1970, by which time Le Corbusier had died. Four years later, with only the lower two levels and an uneven portion of the sanctuary walls above completed, the project was abandoned when money and political backing ran out. Critics noted the lost opportunity this presented, “The Church of St Pierre in Firminy-Vert was Le Corbusier’s last building and could be seen as an architectural form of musical coda, the striking finale to a vast array of works.”

Oubrerie, however, never lost sight of his ambition to finish the project, and in 2001, it became possible as the newly elected Mayor of Firminy, Dino Cinieri, had enlisted sufficient local and national support to resume construction.

The opening of the church received substantial press coverage from Architectural Record to the cover of Metropolis to the Herald Tribune.

Saint-Pierre will be radically unlike Le Corbusier's other churches and unique among religious structures. Its geometry is produced by the projection of a circle onto a square, a metamorphosis that represented for the architect the transition from the earthly to the spiritual realm and one made possible by a complex hyperboloid shell enclosure. The square base of the church, containing functional rooms, is surmounted by an enormous truncated cone housing the sanctuary, which is lit by an array of protruding "light cannons." The shell, and the winding pathway into and through the sacred space—another version of Le Corbusier's promenade architecturale—are the central elements of Saint-Pierre.

The “last project” of the Atelier Le Corbusier is thus no longer Le Corbusier’s alone, nor is it Oubrerie’s, but rather a long delayed product of their collaboration.