Firminy, France

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.

Eglise Saint-Pierre de Firminy-Vert
Photography © Roland Halbe

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.


Conception: 1960–1965
Client: Eugene Claudius-Petit, Mayor of Firminy
Architect: Le Corbusier; José Oubrerie, assistant 

First stages of realization: 1968–1979
Client: Association Le Corbusier pour la construction de l’Eglise de Firminy-Vert (a nonprofit private organization)

First construction project: 1968–70
Architect: José Oubrerie and Louis Miquel

Second construction project; first and second phases of construction: 1970–79 
Architect: José Oubrerie

Final project and construction: 2002–06*
Client: Agglomeration de Saint-Etienne Métropole, Michel Thiolliere, president, and Ville de Firminy, Dino Cinieri, mayor

Architecture team for the renovation of the Historical Landmark:
Jean-Francois Grange-Chavanis, Architecte-en-Chef-des-Monuments-Historiques-de-la-Loire

Architecture team for the completion: 
José Oubrerie, Architecte, chief architect of design and construction

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

Main contractors:
Entreprise Chazelle, reinforced concrete and masonry, Jean-Noel Chazelle, president, and Aurelio Fernandez, engineer and supervisor of the site construction

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 :

Ciments Lagarge

Shell surface pulverization

Labo-France (Labo Stop)