Upon reading that the Chapel of Ronchamp had recently been vandalized, I was surprised; but even more so I was offended. Personally offended. It’s not that I have an especially close connection to Le Corbusier’s Chapel; In fact I’ve never even seen it in person. I just remember learning about it in school and seeing the photos of the original drawings. They were swoopy, organic, charcoal drawings that captured the weight of the structure but at the same time were based on the fulcrum of the human arm in a simple gesture.
Reports described a stained glass window had been broken and a concrete trunk stolen from Ronchamp. Who would do such a thing? Why a church? Were they picking on it because it’s old? Did it look helpless without a barbed-wire fence surrounding it? The damages incurred have been deemed “priceless” and “irreparable” and emergency measures have been taken to “secure the protected site.”
This incident makes me wonder though, about the protection of our buildings. I can easily imagine attempting to pay a visit to a revered architecture destination like Ronchamp, and being admitted to enter only though a strict and grueling security procession. Although it may prevent the occasional would-be vandal, doesn’t that ruin the whole ‘visit a beautiful work of art’ experience? Where is the line between security and accessibility? There is something so beautiful about freely exploring a building within its context; experiencing the life of the place uninhibited by security checks and tall gates. But we all put care, effort, and emotion into our buildings, so naturally we want them to be protected from harm and destruction.
From anti-graffiti coatings to guard geese, old castle moats to the ‘eyes on the street’ theory of Jane Jacobs, we have been employing various degrees of protection for our buildings and spaces for all of architectural history. The area we must investigate is when these precautions are properly protecting our architecture or when they may close out the very people we are trying to engage. When can we integrate appropriate security measures to be seamless and effective, and when can we eliminate obtrusive ones for a refreshing new opportunity for interaction and joy?