Mancunian Stephen Hodder is mad for Le Corbusier's chapel, but bad copies of the great man's Unité d'Habitation get him even madder
The first sight I had of the Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamps was of the textbook-familiar roof floating over a distant hilltop treeline. But no textbook could prepare me for the experience of engaging with the building. The sculptured convex and concaved battered walls seemed to respond to the surrounding landscape and horizons, anchored by the three chapel towers. The transition to the interior was to experience a serenity and spirituality only matched by notable medieval precedents. It is a remarkable 3D space seemingly hollowed from the solid. The sloping floor generates a gravity towards the altar, accentuated by the asymmetric arrangement of the pews.
The unfortunate and later reinterpretations of another seminal building by Le Corbusier, the Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles, represent for me the biggest mistake. There are notable exceptions, but the transposing of the ideal with little consideration or understanding of community, of cultural differences, of building management and of the technology was one of the great disasters of the latter half of the 20th century. There are profound lessons for the current profusion of high-rise housing in our inner cities.
Stephen Hodder is director of Manchester-based architectural practice Hodder Associates