Monday, September 3, 2012

Nôtre Dame du Raincy

Nôtre Dame du Raincy is an quick and pleasant RER trip away from Paris. It's easy, free, and definitely the most striking building by the Perret brothers in the Paris region. Built in 1922-3, Auguste and Gustave Perret created a lastingly beautiful church that acts as a link between the gothic and the modern.




Nôtre Dame du Raincy is famous in the modernist canon as the first church to be constructed entirely from raw reinforced concrete. The influence of Raincy's tower, fifty metres high and stepped back toward the summit, can be seen at early twentieth century churches across Paris, many of which adopted Perret's strategy of a tall tower to signal the church's presence in a world forgetting religion.


Despite the modernist credentials of the Perret brothers and the concrete construction material, Nôtre Dame du Raincy feels surprisingly more akin to the Sainte-Chapelle than to its contemporaries. This is largely due to the striking use of stained glass.



The advantage of concrete here is that it allows walls to be made almost entirely of glass. With the exception of the main facade, the exteriors here are used simply to facilitate the interior's use of light (and are hidden by fences -Nôtre Dame du Raincy was always intended to be seen from the inside and the front).


The shallow barrel vaulted ceiling, which is largely unadorned, often appears as if hovering with little support. In addition to the glass walls, the concrete columns used by the Perret brothers are incredibly slim, giving the space a remarkable openness. The floor slopes down from the entrance, allowing a raised choir at the western end with a vestry (less remarkable than the main space) underneath.




The stained glass itself changes colour as one moves through the church, a rainbow that moves from green through yellow, orange, red and purple to blue. The geometric patterns on the glass, by Marguerite Huré, are somewhat addictive, with their constant variations in shape and colour combinations.

Huré was an important figure in early twentieth century stained glass and also later collaborated with Auguste Perret at Le Havre's Église Saint Joseph. Elsewhere in the Paris region, she worked on the rather unusual Nôtre Dame des Missions in Épinay-sur-Seine, which grew out of a church designed as an exhibit in the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition.

Nôtre Dame du Raincy seems to receive remarkably few visitors, likely due to its inaccessibility by metro, but is more than worth the short RER trip out of Paris -it's an essential place of pilgrimage for any aesthete or architectural enthusiast.

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