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Monday, February 20, 2012

The Convent on the Hill 山丘上的修道院

A few months ago a poster for the book, The Convent on the Hill - Le Corbusier's Last Vision  山丘上的修道院, was sent to our office. The book is by photographer Nicholas Fan, 范毅舜, and is mainly about La Tourette designed by Le Corbusier. Intrigued by the image on the poster and with La Tourette being one of my favorite buildings by Le Corbusier, I ordered a copy via I spent a bit more money and bought the limited edition with the slipcover; I can't help it as I am a sucker for any book in a slipcover.

Only when I received the book did I realize this is more than just a collection of photographs. Fan wrote quite a bit of text to accompany his photographs. For the most part the text is fine. The story is essentially divided into two parts: the history before Le Corbusier received the commission and the design of La Tourette. The main protagonist of the first part is Father Marie-Alain Couturier, who was instrumental in hiring Le Corbusier to design La Tourette. Father Couturier was a visionary who pushed for the church to be the patron of the best contemporary artists and architects. It is very nice to see Fan discussed extensively about Father Couturier since great architecture cannot come to fruition without a great client.

While I enjoy reading about the first part of the story, I am disappointed with the second part - the design of La Tourette. Fan wrote admiringly about Le Corbusier's design. He  said that the first time he visited La Tourette in 1991 he hated the design. However, going back twenty years later to photograph the building, he has modified his views. In one caption to the photograph, Fan said he changed his attitude about Le Corbusier after seeing nature through the undulating glass surfaces (page 192). I can't help but wonder if Fan realizes that the windows were actually not designed by Le Corbsuier, but generally acknowledged to be the work of Iannis Xenaxis. Fan also made a big deal about Le Corbusier's creativity with the light canons, however, these were also credited to Xenaxis. In fact, the the seven light canons at the sacristy were also designed by Xenaxis.

To write about La Tourette but make no mention of Xenaxis is really unacceptable. A simple search on Wikipedia will provide some basic insights on Xenaxis' involvement in the design of La Tourette. Furthermore, even Le Corbusier had acknowledged the contribution by Xenakis.

Nevertheless, while I find the text to be wanting, I thoroughly enjoy looking at Fan's photographs as they are quite beautiful and capture the space and the life within the building. The book is certainly still worth buying for anyone interested in La Tourette.

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