What Building a Castle the 13th-Century Way Can Teach Architects Today

Chateau de Guedelon france construction photo overall

We have written many posts about the lessons modern designers could learn from the way we used to do things, like planting vines, using awnings and learning how to use windows properly. In France, they are taking it to a whole new level, and building the ­Chateau de Guedelon,an entire castle from scratch, using only traditional materials and methods, and they are partying like it's 1299.

Chateau de Guedelon france construction photo roof framing

The BBC covers it:

Builders use sandstone quarried from the very ground from which the castle is emerging. Modern cement did not exist in the 13th Century, so mortar is made from slaked lime and sand. For tools they have basic ironware. In woods surrounding the castle, craftsmen ply all the trades required for so monumental an endeavour. Stone-cutters and carpenters fashion the raw materials. A blacksmith forges the nails. Ropes, baskets and roof-tiles are all made on site. "The rule is that only what we know from documents that existed at the time is allowed," says Sarah Preston, an English guide.

Chateau de Guedelon france construction photo stonework

Construction of the 25 year project started in 1998, and they have just completed the great hall. It is a fascinating demonstration of what one can do with resources close at hand; modern building technology and practice now has materials and assemblies coming from all over the world. As they note on the website:

At a time when environmental protection is of such concern, Guédelon provides practical lessons in sustainable building for green constructors of tomorrow. This pioneering construction site offers information on making and using wattle and daub, rubble walling, lime-based mortar, traditional terracotta roof tiles, oak shingles, flax and hemp ropes.

Chateau de Guedelon france construction photo framing

The project now employs 50 people full time, while up to 300 volunteers come and help, learning the skills that have been rediscovered and reinvented here. While there isn't a great deal of demand for castles these days, there is lots of demand for skilled trades who can fix old buildings, and in an era of relocalization, the knowledge gained here may prove very useful.

Lots more information at the Guédelon website.

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