Olaf Nicolai

The speculation started by Olaf Nicolai on two strange rocks at Sainte Marie de La Tourette, flowered in every direction. First, in the architecture of Le Corbusier, a starting point for a methodical doubt. Also, in the method itself, cooperative from the beginning, which led the artist to put together a veritable intervention team, sent on an expedition to collect all sorts of data about these mysterious rocks.

In knowledge, too, since exploration and the introduction of artists to new techniques is an integral part of our project. Olaf Nicolai benefitted from the expertise of Dirk Meylaerts, the Lafayette Anticipation’s Director of Production, to reproduce the stones using advanced computer formalisation techniques. Finally in the search for a correspondence and dialogue between different forms of creation which, during an evening of performance, brought together a cellist, a dancer, a poet, an engineer-composer and two graphic artists.

As the artist means to deploy the first phase of the project over several years, this speculative study remains for us a case study. “Speculation About Two Unidentified Objects“ encompasses architecture, collective work, invitation and trans-disciplinary approaches, in a fertile exchange with the Centre Pompidou (under the banner of the fifth edition of the Nouveau festival), Sainte Marie de la Tourette and the Le Corbusier Foundation.

The workshop held on rue de Plâtre on the 7th of March 2014 revealed to what point research, experimentation and the synergy of forms and ideas constitute certain of our fundamental commitments and the promise of unifying adventures for Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette.


From the Allée Cavalière in the parc de la Tourette, in Eveux-sur-Arbresle near Lyon, we see the corners of a monastery pushing upwards. Set in nature by Le Corbusier between 1953 and 1960, the concrete block was intended, according to Father Marie-Alain Couturier who commissioned it, “to show that prayer and religious life are not linked to conventional forms”. Bedrooms, rooms for study and recreation, a library, a cloister and a refectory, Le Corbusier organised the life of the Brothers to the nearest centimetre, based on modernist designs. There is nothing superfluous, except two large concrete stones placed at the entrance. A closer look reveals these strange shapes serve neither the surrounding nature, nor the architecture, nor even the religious function of the building. There is no trace of them in the architect’s plans, or in his notes or the meticulous exegesis of his work.

Olaf Nicolai, whose work makes Modernism the paragon of a critical dialogue with Western culture, makes plenty of references to Le Corbusier. Quite naturally, his interest was drawn to the two stones at Sainte Marie de la Tourette. These two unidentified objects, baroque and highly unreasonable in a minimalist and functional architecture, constitute a starting point for a method of objectification leaning on free speculation. Therefore, in 2014 he conducted a first expedition to Eveux-sur-Arbresle to try to give these stones formal reasons, different from those of the concrete. He scanned them in the minutest detail with the aid of 3D engineers, filmed them as we film the surface of an unknown planet, measured them, weighed them, geo-localised them to gather all sorts of quantifiable data. Kerwin Rolland, engineer-composer, probed them to capture their vibrations while the soloist Truike van der Poel vocally interpreted them in the cloister.

Back from Sainte Marie, Nicolai offered the measurements of the mystery to the imaginations of other artists. At an open-source workshop, the carefully collected data was reinterpreted: the singer Leonardo Ortega and the cellist Silvia Lenzi improvised on a score written by a computer from recordings made by Truike van der Poel. The novelist Arthur Dreyfus read a hundred hypothetical titles for a hundred hypothetical books on the two rocks. The dancer Bryan Campbell danced the stones from the photos and scans collected at the convent, Kerwin Rolland played them like resonating bodies on a synthesiser. Olaf Nicolai, finally, organiser of these strange festivities, returned to the genesis of “Speculation About Two Unidentified Objects” which constitute, for him, a motif of canonical research.

Workshop realized on the 7th march 2014, in the frame of the 5th edition of the du Nouveau festivalWith Bryan CampbellTruike van der Poel, Leonardo Ortega, Silvia LenziKerwin RollandArthur DreyfusTill Gathmann and Helmut Völter

Thanks to: Le couvent Sainte-Marie de la Tourette and Frère Marc Chauveau; Michel Richard, Director of the Fondation Le Corbusier ; Bernard Blistène et Florencia Chernajovsky at Centre Pompidou; lefabshop.fr; Romain Guillet and 3D Solutions

Photographs: Olaf Nicolai for le couvent Sainte-Marie de la Tourette and Aurélien Mole for the workshop.