The mountain inhabited | Sergio de Miguel

Létoile du mer Le Corbusier


The homo sapiens, the human being, carries 200.000 years on the earth, although somehow our history can that it began does so only 30.000, in this remote instant in which a first ancestor felt the need to represent, exteriorizar and reflect his thought, in that moment in that his intelligence knew traspasar the animal limit and act to satisfy, no already his more primary instincts, but his intellect, his creativity and his spirituality.

That first human lived to the coat of a grotto, in the interior of a mountain, in a place in shape of matrix, of regazo, of caverna uterine, depository of the mysteries of the conception, of the pregnancy, of the periodic births and of the general child-bearing renewal of the life . Collecting in that safe space, progenitor, extended his hand, open and fortuitamente bad injured , looking for the protective surface that wrapped him, and found the red of this hand in negative on the wall, found  with an expression of if same, of his nature. This answer of the wall to his own be , this virtual mirror of his reality,  tornó in obsession, and his hand – already without wounds – jointed  repeatedly with the rock while the another espolvoreaba red painting around, to obtain as resulted a silhouette, a figure on a bottom, an image.

The surface mural that received him offered a repertoire of forms huidizas that renewed  to the light caleidoscópica of the fogata , prompt, surfaced of the walls and of the ceilings all a courtship of animals avivados by his imagination, the protuberances of the cave remembered him, under the effect rasante of the light, those beings that him fascinaban and that constituted the object of his veneration. The substance mural, the uncertain relief, earned felt through a stroke perimetral, as that that there was inmortalizado the hand, of a line that drew the figures that went to remain there by the effect of the draftsmanship of the outline, a visual edge that designated the border between two surfaces of different luminance. The image was there, created by him. An abstract and intelligent gesture, the line, had allowed him dominate the outline, the figures, and with him can form images, mímesis of the reality. Like consequence looked for the colour in his icons, more still, did not need to find his figures in the wayward reliefs, ploughed them he same in the surface rugosa of the cave, in the rocks , and further, began to paint outlines taking like model his prolija imagination, the surfaces, the supports of such creations, were chosen by his location and  ensayaron varied compositions. His fever housed the possibility to simplify his strokes, and invented guarismos, unambiguous signs with particular sense, ways to schematise and convencionalizar concepts. Of equal way, the size, the magnitude of his representations no longer depended of the dimension of the support found but of his multiple intentions. In definite, an immense creative field opened  in front of if.

The man had found a way to represent the world, had invented the convention of the line like outline, used his tools of ploughs to achieve reliefs, delimited images of the beings and the objects, invented symbols and with this, achieved to do of the reality something really his, intelligible and near. It had found a conscious way to relate and evoke his vivencias, to explain his ideas. And all this in the interior of his cave.


Still the hand had not raised in invocation opened for the cosmic sky, in recognition of the sky sunny or starred as genuine ceiling of the world. For the present time, the cavern (as place) was the temple and the haunt, the wall presence was sheltering the sacred thing and the profane thing, and the world, the cosmos, had not arisen out of the counterfoil, the beginnings of any civilization were situated in gestation but the embryo was a carrier of big messages; the drive icónica was appearing strongly to satisfy his creative longing, that one that it was separating him from the rest of the beings.

If we attend to Worringer, which enunciates the idea of that the abstraction in the early man is narrowly joined to the cosmic distress, it is possible to explain as that caveman, who was situated lost and spiritually defenseless, it came to the abstraction as way of overcoming the uncertainty. In the middle of the things of the world, only it was experiencing darkness and caprice, was not understanding the laws that were governing his life and in his environment he was reigning a certain sense of the chaos. In such circumstances, the man was not late in realizing that the order that he was not finding out, in the universe, it could replace with the order that he itself was capable of creating. The symbols, the images, were a weapon with which to penetrate into the chased artificial order. During the prehistory the abstraction has to be understood as a necessary reaction to the chaotic perception of the world.

Really, from the contemplation of the results, a great abstraction had been achieved unconsciously. Abstraction in the form of his signs and symbols, formed with profusion from the whiteness of any representation, and certainly in the simplification and concentration of the natural forms that it was imitating. Because the concept of the abstract thing is on the one hand in the search of the totality, as process of meeting with the general thing, the inevitable thing, the essential thing, across doing without the particular thing, the incidental thing and the accidental thing, and for other one, in the search of the specificity, of the isolation of the parts of the set, once chosen, to treat them with major intensity. Both manners of abstraction were combined by the resource of the transparency, that is to say, proving to be the beings who were represented not so much by what one saw of them but for what it was known that they were containing, showing simultaneously the interior and the exterior, and of the same way, with the obsessive overlapping of figures in search of the representation of the movement. It was a question of a nearest world like representation infantile but clearly tied to a deep need of expression.

The architecture should have been born at the time. It is not difficult to imagine the moment in which the man emerged of his natural mansion, of his maternal cavern, to undertake a long and complex way, materially and psychologically, of construction of his own habitat. With his renewed, capable skills of finding sense to his environment across the manufacture of his images a model should have found again in the nature to imitating, a field of interpretation. The images, the visual perceptions, the generation of representations, definitively, the formation of ideas, should have allowed to the man to invent new ways of dealing and therefore of living.

As if about the abstraction of the contour line and the meaning of his symbols it was treating itself, the man could discover intuitively what today we understand for the order and the number, how and how much, to measure and to count, that one with what one conquers the indetermination, with which it is possible to create of nothing. There was opened a way of formal findings by a still indeterminate end.

According to Giedion, the origin of the architecture (and the beginning of the art in general) divides of solving the problem strongly established in the human spirit, of the witness and the change. In the prehistory, the separation between the belief and the reality was not still marked. It is for it explicable that the first mansion of the man, the cavern, this space naturally lived inside a mountain, this voluntary burial, this stony protection, refuge of the life and of the death, of his representations and of his ideas, was generating a strong latent image, a determinant character in the first architectural manifestations.

The megalithic formations of the neolithic European, the most archaic constructions that they could find, seem to be the evident result of this idea, of this image. Certainly that is not easy to uncover the complex evolution of the human mansion, knows that the first vestiges were coming to circular or oval buried forms, to forms similar to nests; cavities were scratched and were covering precariously from the construction, the utilization of the material world, fleeing gradually of the utilization of the natural forms. Nevertheless, the most paradigmatic and lasting, the dolmen, this incipient construction that today turns out to be almost always come down to gigantic horizontal rocks supported miraculously by others in painful uprightness, we can verify that it was constructed really by the intention of forming a chamber of colossal stones that, fixing in the soil and raising big slabs for ceiling, it was covering later with an artificial mound of contributed land or tomb. This mound that was sheltering an interior space, place of worship, stay and burial, constructed by the prehistoric man from the only model who could know, supposes a new approximation to the world of the images for the attainment of a personal world, in an eloquent interpretation of the nature and an effective transposition of his vital experiences. It had created his mountain and had managed to live it, ingeniously. And on having done it, it returned to do and esculpir reliefs in his walls, and with all these images it managed to take conscience of his presence.


One of the most archaic civilizations, the Egyptian, had to be the inheritor of the dark milleniums of prehistoric creativity. As his predecessors, his constructions were sheltering both the human thing and the divine thing, the life and the death, and certainly his conception did not move away of the beginning of the relief, so basic for his forbears; it is possible to verify that his laws of composition were identical. The irregular rocky prehistoric walls turned into polished and flat surfaces, and the reliefs were perpetuated, of equal way, incrusted in the walls. The synthesis of wall, sculpture and structure came then to an eloquent perfection. But more clarifier can that it is that his more ancient construction, the pyramid, was turning into the direct descendant from the image from which the dolmen was coming. Again, a constructed mountain wraps a buried space specially raised to shelter the representation of the reality, the man opposite to the world. The artificial cavern, profusely decorated, is again the center that it is necessary to protect, the place that it is necessary to stand out. The abstraction of the inhabited mountain turns into a geometric sophisticated figure, of great precision and elegant size, his construction entrusts to the apilamiento of pieces, and is his silhouette (the order) and his volume (the number) what is purified. The pyramid supposed the victory of the abstract pure form, and his absolute simplicity was impossible to improve.

But a fundamental change was in preparation from the first Egyptian mastabas, simply buried chambers, up to Gizeh’s big pyramids, an idea anchored in the unconscious one that would determine an organizing basic beginning: the vertical one. There is an enormous jump between the concept of mastaba and the first pyramid staggered of Zóser, the apilamiento of the same element that was diminishing of size on having gained height was going to suppose a germ; the size, the scale and the proportion started having importance, and this way, the image of the great mountain raised for and for the man it stood out strongly in the big spaces opened of a country colonized by the desert, was exposed raised and in dominant position and his exquisite geometry produced a great tension in the surrounding nature. Hereby, the man was looking haughty in his natural position, the vertical one. This way, which started by being an intelligent but shy interpretation of the nature managed to endow the man of a strong feeling of domination and of being able.

In the Mesopotamia of that time a parallel way followed. The zigurat, construction somehow related with the Egyptian culture, was answering also to the sense of raising massive placed volumes freely in the space, but with some differences with regard to the pyramid. His origin seems to be common, but his development supposed a change of mentality. The zigurat arose inside an enclosure of different constructions, part of a civil organism, whereas the pyramid was raising solitary separated from the located accessions. The pyramid was inaccessible, it was possible neither to penetrate nor use. The zigurat, on the contrary, was raised. It was a question of a tower consisted of a series of platforms staggered with a temple in the highest thing, already not in his interior. The sacred space, the cave, emerges of the entrails of the mountain to place in his apex. The vertical one, the domain, already is not only visual, demonstrates with the action of the man. To rise, after be burying, it would be since then a permanent longing, a definitive form of architectural expression.

Much later, in the classic Greece, the temples were raised curiously in the same way: taking advantage of the high place of a mountain, this natural time, in a promontory that was dominating the landscape, happening to form a part of him. The Greeks never imagined his temples independently of the place, they cost both for the choice of his emplacement and for the art that allowed his execution, and it is not necessary doubt that his fundamental worry was them to harmonize with the landscape. Hereby, and without beginning to interpret his ways, the Hellenic culture was gathering the tradition of the telluric thing, which had his origin in emerging of the land and winning to the nature, in expressing the spirituality across the act of rising to look beyond. The one that could recreate a sacred interior of semidarkness, headquarters of the images that were venerated.

The sacred thing already would never part with the vertical one, hills and elevations in all the geografías would use as base to all kinds of architectures. Strategic mountains distinguished by the man were going to represent his stamp, his characteristic attends. Temples, basilicas, mosques, sanctuaries, monasteries and cathedrals would stand out in the highest of the inhabited places. Promontories so privileged that would suit again and again, as if about archaeological strata it was treating itself, the temples of every civilization and culture.

In the Middle Ages he reigned again a strong cosmic distress, a great abstraction. The disappearance of the pagan Gods of the first cultures, almost human, next the civilization and the mansion of the man, gave step to the new and only God of west, with a totally universal and supernatural, strongly inexplicable and generating character of respectful fear and insecurity. In consequence, the buildings that devote themselves him were constructed under keys universalistas and taking basically abstract concepts as a reference. The new God was not living in the land and his buildings were diverse representations of his mansion. Initially the basilica of the first Christians represented the celestial city, later the Gothic cathedral will reproduce the sky, the idealized paradise, the materialization of the origin (and the destination) of the man. And we meet that also it is a mountain, a vertical overlapping of structures that emerges directly of a rock, of a crag or of the soil. And as not, his interior turns out to be decorated with the multicolored icons of his builders. The images, once again, made possible and recognizably the attitude of the man before the world, represented eloquently his ideas.

Those buildings constructed by civilizations with trend the abstract thing have jointly his reference to the cosmic thing, to the universal thing over the concrete thing and the nearby thing. The cathedral seems to go out of the center of the world, and in his to emerge to the landscape it drags the devilish figures that they live inside the land, monstrous gargoyles evoke the forces of the evil. His position on the soil is direct, without podium of transition and his position in the landscape it is determined by his presence and the orientations. It is a building so tied to the distant thing, to the sky and to the interior of the land, to the invisible and intangible thing, since they it were the Egyptian pyramids.


In every epoch, the commanding procedure have wanted to homogenize the representations icónicas, the dominant images in the collective subconscious, in the culture, and his transgressions have been a motive of singularización and customization. The will of the artistic forefronts or of thought has been always to take his transgression up to the limit, creating phenomena of wonder that with the time had to settle in the culture. The atypical thing has been always the area of own game of the originality and the invention.

We are present approximately hundred years ago at a fundamental transgression in the area of the images. To a revolution. A clear symptom was the fact that the abstract or unformalist painting was evolving beyond the images icónicas that had been characterized by his semanticidad, for representing something that an observer could manage to recognize. This new form of expression, which already latía in the impresionism on having aspired to paint only the light, was departing from the base that the images “say” not only across his expression icónica, but also across his plastic expression (composition, color, etc.). This way of thinking, this trend to go beyond, triumphed in our culture not only in the painting.

Returning to Worringer’s thesis, the distance with which it was happened to glimpse the artistic or creative events was questioned. The empathy, or what has come to understand by naturalism, that is to say, the most absolute proximity, the mímesis with the royal thing, was giving step to the abstraction, which was occupying a very remote or clearly next place but always foreign to the immediate perception. The art was trying the simplification and the concentration, the symbolic thing and the conceptual thing, the transparency and the simultaneity.

Since in the distant prehistoric beginnings, the modern artists of the 20th century were going to reveal to yes same from the images. The abstraction became strong again, and since then, a new world has been in preparation in a dizzy way.

It is necessary to remember that the recent architecture would be difficult to explain without emphasizing any names. A handful of “teachers”, of charismatic personal details at the head of armies of unconditional, managed to produce the change of attitude that one was coming preparing from the previous centuries. The “L’Esprit Nouveau” was the result of a long cycle of debates, unsuccessful attempts and multiple experiences. It was the definitive accolade to several centuries of indecision and ambiguity. These “different” men could open and consolidate, finally, new ways.

Le Corbusier was one of them, probably the most well-known. His work and his thought changed the course of the architecture of a very simple way: looking for the origins. For him the architecture was suffocating in the customs and a great epoch was going to begin. The styles, he was saying, they were a lie and he pleaded for the spirit of the order and the unit of intention, for him the elements that were constituting the architecture were the light and the shade, the wall and the space, and in her the sense of the relations was reigning and they were governing the quantities. It had a life full of inventions and reintepretations. A search that was very far from dying with his person.

The new architecture became free of the soil, of the plane of support, as if the most evident and more concrete force, that of the gravity, had stopped existing. Everything was questioned. The buildings were rising on piles, with will of levitar, stopping to spend the inaltered territory for below. Other times, they were settling or they were anchoring to the area, but with independence of him, as if they were settling elegantly from the sky or were emerging abrupt of him. Any axialidad was eliminated, already be virtual or royal, of the building with the landscape. Both were treating each other like foreign, his autonomy being highlighted. In turn, the different volumes were talking between yes taking as reference question as the orientation, the position, or his relative proportion. It was giving priority, therefore, to topológico over the compositions imposed by the classicism, in which the structural axes were establishing the dialog. There recovered the value of the positional thing, of the cosmic reference that was possessing the prehistoric work. The new architecture was guarding a clear correspondence with the megalithic constructions: he was lacking formal codes, which was mattering was his position and his orientation with regard to the natural thing. It parted with pre-established languages, with styles, and the aspects tied to the topología were emphasized. There recovered the cleanliness of the ornamentation and the search of the origin of the form.

The modern art and the primitive one are something like reproduction of the situation Greece – renaissance, a new Primitive-modern binomial. Not uselessly, the take-off of the abstract expression coincides with the beginning of the second decade of the century. A historical period in the one that can be on the one hand a certain idealization of the life and the company, and for other one, the presence of the dark distress before a present and a future that would not be late in staying awake like horribly. The period between wars was characterized by the hope of the best and, world simultaneously, a chaotic perception of the present. The postwar period was not different. In these years, the idealization was, once again, the effective remedy opposite to the distress, gave like proved the search of the crystalline thing, of the geometric and rationalized purity, the representation of a non-existent order in the land, the multidireccionalidad and the antipregnancy. Definitively, the Utopian condition of the forms triumphed.


Le Corbusier had, it is not to say anything new, a life fills of findings. In 1948 it had the fortune of meeting the project of the Sainte-Baume. A steep mountain of the south of France, property of an altruistic geometer had to help which to construct a sacred space. The project had to develop completely inside the rock, indistinctly in an artificial or natural way, crossing it from side to side in search of the light and the distant sights. Lamentably he never executed, but his later work makes think that it was a motive of intense reflections and that Him Corbusier penetrated furthermore into his bold search of the origins. A few years later there would come the opportunity to construct what could not in the Sainte-Baume, to satisfy his flushed creative intelligence.

Corbusier, next at the age of seventy, and with almost fifty of intense architecture, raised Ronchamp’s chapel. In the apex of a mount, present on the valley, he constructed one of the most sacred places that could be visited. From the moment that has an interview his whiteness in the distance, an expectant ascent begins. It is a question of a long approximation that it finishes in the base of a ramp from where, cut away in the sky, there is contemplated a slender tower crowned by a small cross. This point is the real door to Ronchamp, the point of item of an unexpected tour.

It is necessary to consult the plant of situation of the definitive project to be conscious that the ramp, in the half of his tour, breaks finely and to re-lead the steps not towards the access that frames the tower, since it seemed in his first section, but directly towards a tangential position to the volume of the chapel for his left side. The direction of the ramp does not invite the visitor to penetrate in the interior but to surrounding it.

Once above, it is enjoyed the concave surface of grass surrounded with trees on the one that emerges, already visibly in all his magnitude, the thick and illuminated wall of the south front and his heavy demolished cover. Only it is time to tremble brief before the inertia of the raise makes us disappear after the western front.

Once avoided the access, walking between the forest and the blind walls of the chapel, the attention stumbles over an object; a small curved bib with a cylinder and two pyramids of concrete in his interior. Slightly similar to a source. The enormous gargoyle that one precipitates from the lowest part of the cover makes understand that the water of this strange container is the water of the rain, expelled accurately it was doing there. Overcome the obstacle, and already in the north front, the brave shade of the chapel invades the deambulatorio, increasingly width for the gradual distance of the screen of trees.

As it is advanced, the eyes attend to the escenográfica presence of the zigurat that rests to the bottom of the dark plane of grass, his magnetic light makes spend almost unnoticed the north access and stimulates to continuing the circular movement about the chapel. Again, the access to the interior does not seem to matter. To walk drives to the oriental esplanade, there the vegetation is opened towards the south framing beautiful conference of the valley. In his higher point, the voluminous cover receives an exterior space; an altar, a pulpit and a cross speak to us that from there inform the rites. It is in this esplanade where there meet the public inspectors who are present at the ceremonies. If one does not go back, the circle inevitably is closed without having discovered the interior.

It is a tour directed with crafty mechanisms. To circulate in the sense of the needles of the clock. For some reason that never explained, Le Corbusier wanted that “promenade architecturale” it was taking place in the exterior and not inside the building, as so many other times. The screens of trees, walls decked in power of his cubic coefficient, they substitute the built-up bodies that were surrounding and shaping the deambulatorio about the chapel in the first versions of the project. His “everything exterior is an interior” it removes to the practice here across the classification of the masses, indistinctly natural or constructed, to determine and to characterize the spaces for him decided. Even more, the fact of entrusting the formation of the exterior tour to the limits of the forest grants to the principal body, to the center of gravity, a character if it fits more sublime, provided that no unnecessary competition is established by other built-up bodies.

On having surrounded unconsciously the building the curiosity for the interior increases. The income are cracks between masses and penetrating is like to descend to a cave. Though probably it is something more than a cave. The royal sensation can describe like it of being inside a gigantic rock, in an irregular stay in which the light crosses enigmatic and multicolored drawings of figures and messages. Certainly, his rugose walls and his solid light invite us to think that the space that we perceive was buried; it is alike a constructed and buried space; to a hidden volume that the erosion, the passage of time, has managed to extract to the light. What today we see might be the emaciated apex of the mountain; over these tidy rocks it is possible to imagine a time in which the vegetation was raising ado.

The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut has been frequently described in terms of emotions and visual metaphors. It is possible to come to think that the architecture is not done of space and of stone, but of impressions, which are not constructed in the soil but in the head of the spectator. And due to the fact that the architecture not only is a plastic objective presence but also and especially an impression retiniana and sentimental, a motive of interpretation, this surprising appliance has been compared with images as that of a few united hands in attitude of prayer, a ship, the silhouette of a duck on the water, the haido of a nun, and other figurative approximations. On the other hand, there have been authors who affirm roundly that Ronchamp is a reintepretation of the spatial model of the Acropolis of Athens, and others that hold that the architecture of the chapel answers to a stimulus fruit of the visual experience of the second world war, a response to the threatening bombs of the warlike period which consequence was the construction of “bunkers”, the construction of blind volumes of thick walls of concrete that already would never leave his work.

For Le Corbusier the architecture – as he said in repeated occasions – in the bottom it is to affect, to affect for the effect of thousand incidents that illuminate the soul, they surprise her, fill it, irritate her, wake her up. It does not fit the only rewatching interpretation, a round affirmation. The work of Him Corbusier is the work of a complex being, of an inventor of extraordinarily sensitive architecture and I wake up, it fills of readings and approximations.

But Ronchamp is probably the most singular work of his career, that one where it leaves momentarily the formal purity of the box and the manifestation of the structure – closing to which it will return immediately in works as the Tourette or the ” Boîte à Miracles ” of Tokyo. Really, Ronchamp’s chapel is the most opposite thing to one of his boxes, his closings are composed by free, constant walls, turned on yes same enclosing ambiguous, exterior and interior spaces simultaneously. It is a question of an exception in the one that establishes a formal and constructive opposite and strange relation to his path. An approximation to formal unpublished codes, a lucid and happy expression of his extensive wisdom. A flight, a dream, a conscious and rewatching adventure.

In Ronchamp it seems to share with Brancusi the mystical attitude before the stone. His behavior before the matter recovers an archaic religiousness already eliminated in the western world; an attitude comparable to the request, the dread and the worship of a man of the neolithic epoch for whom certain stones were revealing simultaneously the sacred thing and the last, uncompromising reality. The modern man, already does not live through the sacred thing in the plane of the conscience, but in that of the unconsciousness. Already it is not evident since it it was in other epochs, it is not recognized in an immediate way, and Him Corbusier, great connoisseur and promoter of the modernity, can that, in this work, it wanted to resort to the most ancient of the constructions, that one that lodges at the deepest of the unconscious group; Ronchamp’s mysterious presence is near being a megalithic monument; a modern dolmen. The teacher enjoys himself returning to the origins. Nothing more sacred than a dolmen for a place of peregrination, nothing more arcane that to avoid revealing the mystery that his walls enclose.

It is his condition of construction atemporal, untied from any cultural connection and from any artistic trend, his construction and his to stroll perimetral, near to the totemic thing, and his fascinating presence and implantation in the landscape, over his Christian condition, which grants his net sacred character to Ronchamp. It is his measured metaphor, rubbing the literal thing in difficult balance, his wealth of shades and references, his characteristic will to be, which does of this chapel one eloquent I summarize of knowing architectural.

Re-looking to Le Corbusier they do not fit many certainties, but for any reason, the maker of the modern thing decided that the last illustration of his “Ouvre Complete”, the condensed and posthumous legacy of his work, was a detail of his qualified picture ” L’Etoile du mer “; in her there appears the right hand of the artist printed with white painting on red bottom. A deep and personal image, an end that well could be a beginning.

Sergio de Miguel, architect
Madrid, january 2010

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