The church Sainte-Bernadette-du-Banlay was conceived and designed from 1963 to 1966 by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio and built in 1968 in the town of Nevers, in the Bourgogne department of central France. The building was commissioned following an architectural competition launched in 1963 by Bishop Vial and Rev. Bourgoin, pastor of the parish.
The project of the Church synthesizes two important axes of research of the two authors: Claude Parent based his whole architectural production and speculation on the development of the “Fonction Oblique” (“Oblique Architecture“), an exploration of the slope, while theorist Paul Virilio was long interested in the German bunkers that lie abandoned along the coast of France, a subject which prompted his reflections on the nature of war and existence summarized by his book “Bunker Archaeology“, 1958-1975.
The general appearance of the church is a monolithic concrete block, inspired by the architecture of the bunkers and apparently intended as an architectural transcription of the cave where Sainte-Bernadette allegedly saw holy appearances. The volume is composed by two inclined concrete shells fronting one another in the higher point and supported by a central pillar. The vertical distance between the two heavy masses is a “fracture”, a discontinuity between the two main volumes which lets light from a skylight filter into the interior of the church. The “fracture” (“faille” in French) is another pivotal point in Parent’s research on the construction of space, in that it is the void formed between the masses of volumes which provides their dynamism.
Inside, two inclined planes materialize the nave and the chorus while a set of stairs, representing the main entry, is located at the middle of the two floors.
Most images © « Collection Frac Centre, Orléans », except via: http://www4.culture.fr/