Le Corbusier and José Oubrerie
Blunt, thickset, elemental––these are your first impressions, having turned through the close neighborhood streets of Firminy and come upon the Eglise Saint-Pierre Firminy-Vert in the widening expanse of its suburban setting. As you approach, you find you have been further deceived: the pyramidal mass does not rest staunchly on the ground like the mountains in the background, but alights on a fragile base of glass and a thin concrete wall.
Alerted, you soon notice other surprises: positively the smallest cross ever to grace a Catholic house of worship, a checkerboard roof, and a menagerie of odd appurtenances attached to the volume––one thing looks like a nose, another a mouth, an ear, and yet another, an eye popping out. The inelegance of all these elements almost seems calculated to undermine the sense of gravitas promised by the building’s initial impact.
Entering the grounds of the church, you ascend a knoll along a graveled path before coming to a bridge whose high outer wall cuts off the view to the outside world, an encouragement to shed all petty tribulations before crossing to its hallowed precinct. With each step you slip further into a devotional calm. Until you reach the portico. Interrupting the mood, a wall forces you to turn abruptly toward a front door whose flat color panels and cold frontality slap away any trace of reverie. Although you cannot know what the door means or represents, it insists that you think about it, and the intellectual demand of its conceptual abstraction yanks you back from the realm of the sacred to the secular.
Eventually, you loosen yourself from the astral display, look around to get your bearings, and notice the shallow niches that ring the space with dashes of reflected color. Offsetting the sensational constellation with a memory of stained glass, they become bits of decorative irreverence: red, blue, yellow, green. Are these not the very colors you just met at the door? Finally, as you move up the warped floor to take a seat, you glance up to the shadow-black ceiling, where a red rectangle and a yellow circle beckon in the celestial distance. Sun and moon? Good and evil? You do not give these evocations too much thought: their geometry and color do not insist upon it. But then, if these mysteries are divine light, should there not be only one?
Whatever your reaction to the church is, you cannot deny that you are in the presence of a flagrantly unforgettable architectural opus.
First stages of realization: 1968–1979
First construction project: 1968–70
Second construction project; first and second phases of construction: 1970–79
Final project and construction: 2002–06*
Architecture team for the renovation of the Historical Landmark:
Architecture team for the completion:
Yves Perret and Aline Duverger, Architectes DPLG, managing architects for site construction
Romain Chazalon, Architecte DPLG, project associate and digital design
André Accetta, structural engineer
Entreprise Blanchet, metal work, Jacques Blanchet, president, and Yves Vernay, supervisor of the site construction
*In 2002, the Association Le Corbusier pour la construction de l’Eglise de Firminy-Vert, Jean Dubuisson, president, assisted by Dominique Claudius-Petit and Roger Aujames, donated the built part of the structure (which had been declared a Historical Landmark in 1996) to the Agglomeration de Saint-Etienne Metropole, a public entity.
Shell, altar :
Shell surface pulverization:
Labo-France (Labo Stop)