The Last Act (or The Complete Project Part II):
Firminy, France - September 14th
Eglise St. Pierre, Le Corbusier (1971-1975) (2003-2006)
The Church of St Pierre in Firminy was finally finished after a protracted political dispute, 35 years after it was started in 1970. For a churches in Europe, this isn’t really that much of a pause when you consider the close to 200 years between the start and finish of Notre Dame in Paris. The time spent as an abandoned construction site may have seemed more significant today because the church, despite being started and finished after Le Corbusier’s death is like a letter from beyond the grave. The church speaks to strength of Le Corbusier’s lifetime architectural project that people other than the author were able to start and finish an architectural masterpiece without the architect even being there at start of the construction. It may have actually been easier with him not there; architects can be a difficult bunch to deal with- even in death.
Although the original religious program for the church has shifted somewhat from what was intended as result of the state taking over funding of its construction, it is unmistakable through the architecture what its purpose was. The church sits at the center of a disparate and widely spaced modern landscape of other building’s planned by Le Corbusier: a cultural center, a swimming pool, a stadium and one of unite apartment buildings a little further up the hill. The impact of having the centerpiece of this “new” town of Firminy unfinished for so long still seems to still have had some consequences on the surrounding area today. Despite the new building being at the geographic center compositionally, it is far from being at the center of the town culturally. For residents who watched the church’s foundations being built in the early 70’s as a part of a strategy of rehabilitation and urban revival, it may have already seemed a bit naive that this complex of buildings would bring about the kind of societal change for Firminy that Le Corbusier had professed it would. Balancing people’s spiritual, cultural and athletic lives by positioning a collection of buildings close to each other may have been a little optimistic. In 2003, when work was taken up again, the goal for finishing the “church” was no less optimistic: tourism. The purpose of completing the project had become for the town, not spiritual renewal or religious seeking, it was the attraction of simply having Le Corbusier there.