The Christian monastery, among the most paradigmatic of building types, has for centuries retained the basic formula of a square plan around a cloistered garden. Nevertheless, since the Middle Ages, these complexes, including their church buildings, were often progressive examples of Western architecture. But long after religious communities ceased being the most influential patrons of the built environment, their leaders continued to support Modern architecture. And Modern architects have jumped at the chances, so few and far between, to interpret the building type in their own way. In the 1950s, both Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer designed monastic buildings: the former, the Dominican monastery of Sainte-Marie-de-la-Tourette near Lyon, France; the latter, the lesser-known Benedictine complex for Saint John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota (and later, its sister institution, Annunciation Priory in North Dakota). In each case, the community leaders were looking for a bold design.
The same was not true for the Cistercian monks of Notre-Dame-du-Lac Abbey in Oka, outside Montreal. Their existing building, a late-19th-century stone structure designed to house over 150 monks at its peak, had become far too big for the community’s diminished population, reduced to just under 30 monks at the start of this century.