Friday, September 20, 2013

Ronchamp, Troyes, and Slow Bus Drivers

We left Switzerland on Thursday for the French lands of France. Our itinerary for the day was to hit three more buildings in Basel, pip on over to the chapel at Ronchamp for the day, and then drive the 3 hours to Troyes, arriving just in time for dinner.

Isn't it funny how you make plans, and the universe comes over, looks at them, and then flips your table over?

But really, we were a little behind on Thursday. Our bus driver arrived late and looked a little green behind the ears. Then on our way to a church by Karl Moser, he got very lost and we ended up losing some time. But no big deal, right? The church itself was beautiful, we arrived at the perfect time when the light shines through the stained glass windows. The entire church looked like a beautifully painted kaleidescope.



Our next two stops involved some sweet talking and sheer luck. Both were Herzog & deMuron projects, and they were neighbors. One was on the Swiss side of the border and was a rehabilitation center, and the other one (a gym) was on the French side. We walked across the very minimally secured border to the gym first. Heiner gave us instructions on how to walk swiftly inside and ignore anyone who tried to stop us (sneaky sneaky), but luckily a very friendly security guard let us in.

We looked at the columns in the gym, and how they were all leaning left and right to form almost a chevron pattern (for all you quilters out there!). The chevron pattern is a more stable shape than just straight columns, so the architects were able to use thinner columns to achieve the same structural strength.


After the gym, we asked nicely at the rehab center if we could go inside the atrium. They let us in, and we milled about, marvelling at the many courtyards of the building. The idea behind the rehab center was interesting- the architects took a cubic shape and subtracted pieces from it. Where there were "holes", they created couryards. The building is very transparent; most of the walls are glass, so you can see through almost the whole building at once. You could argue that that level of transparency might not be desirable for people rehabilitating themselves from traumas and accidents, but the architects thought that the high transparency would help everyone motivate each other.


We then piled into our bus and started the (excessively) long trip to Ronchamp, France, to visit one of the most famous chapels we've ever studied. The architect was Le Corbusier, the same guy who did the Heidi Gruber Haus and Villa Savoye, which we will be seeing on Friday. The church was designed to be a pilgrimage church, which means it only holds services once or twice a year. The main altar and pulpit are outside too, which turns the whole lawn into the area for the congregation. It's perfect for when 10,000 people show up for mass there! Inside the building is a beautiful dark chapel where smaller services are held.


We only had a few hours there, due to Mr. Bus Driver getting lost on the way. But we did an exercise where we each drew the floorplan of the building three times. The first time, I drew the outer perimeter first, then the inside. The second time, I drew it from the inside out. It was interesting to see how the drawings improved just between one and two. I was stoked for number three and even busted out my big sketchbook for it, but I started the drawing too high up on the page, so the top half of the building got cut off...

The altar outside, and the windows of the chapel within

Renzo Piano designed a nunnery at Ronchamp, nestled into the hillside. It was an interesting position for him to be in- design something that is itself beautiful without taking away from the piece of iconic architecture up the hill. Our professor actually met him 5 years ago, when he was visiting Ronchamp on a site visit for this nunnery.

We left Ronchamp around 4:20, much later than our original 3:30 departure. That put us getting into Troyes around 7:30, which put us very close for dinner. And to top it all off, I don't speak a lick of French.

Troyes is essentially a long stop on our way to Paris, but we were able to utilize our time here well. We visited the Mediatheque (the library), some student housing, and a gym before Heiner turned us loose for the afternoon. I spent my day walking around, taking in the picturesque town, and sketching. I drew some timber frame houses and the Gothic Cathedral in town- all in all, I would call it a good day.

Troyes has the greatest number of medieval timber frame houses of any city in Europe, I do believe.

It poses an interesting design question. In a town with so much medial history and style, how should the modern architecture look? Should it be a reproduction of what is there? Should it be completely different? I think the most successful projects were those that met in the middle. Those that alluded to the timber frame, but modernized it. I found a GREAT one out on a walk, but I didn't have my camera.

This is a student housing project that was trying to mimic the timber frame, but combine it with concrete. I wouldn't call this one successful, but it sure was interesting.

We also visited the Mediatheque (library). France's government has socialist tendencies, so that means that the people pay higher taxes. But that money is then reappropriated in government works for the people. So there are a lot more government funded projects for things like libraries, community centers, and places for the people. 

The Mediatheque is one of those public works projects. We noticed that the window plane and the columns aren't parallel to each other- the windows kick out at odd angles. We didn't find a reason for it.

But the ceiling was AWESOME.

On an even better note, I purchased a knee brace! The clerk at the Pharmacie didn't speak English and I don't speak French, but we both spoke enough Spanish to understand each other. It all worked out wonderfully.

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