The building site is perhaps one of the most meaningful spaces for architects, as it is where the project comes to life, where techniques are actually applied, putting the project and the designer to the test. Many building sites are affected by work alienation, but they were once a place where craftsmen could learn and pass on knowledge. Today, with the evolution of construction techniques, centuries-old methods are in danger of being forgotten. This brings us to Guédelon Castle, located near the French village of Treigny.
There is no evidence of any medieval constructions ever existing on the site, so Guédelon Castle is a modern-day building built from scratch using only medieval techniques to reproduce a construction site from the 12th and 13th centuries. The plan took shape in the 1990s by a group of architects, historians, and archaeologists, and now has about 70 workers working every day to reproduce the handicraft technologies of the period.
Guédelon Castle was designed by Jacques Moulin, chief architect of historical monuments, and reflects the architectural style of Philip Augustus King of France from 1180 to 1223. He is known for standardizing the military architecture of castles in the French kingdom, hence the fortification structures, such as the Louvre, in Paris or the Château d'Yèvre-le-Châtel, in Loiret. The building features of this period fuel our imagination: polygonal ground plans, large stone walls, round flanking towers with staggered openings, a corner tower, taller and higher than the others known as the tour maîtresse or main tower, and two towers protecting a large entrance gate.
As an in-depth study of the methods and processes in the Middle Ages, the Guédelon Castle project is supported by a fictional scenario based on the real social context of the time, including the rank of the local lord and the name of the builder of the Castle. The design is based on the architectural canons laid down by Philip Augustus, a castle with a quadrangular ground plan and six towers: a Great Tower, a Chapel Tower, two smaller corner towers, and, at the entrance, the twin towers of the Gatehouse. It is an ongoing construction project since 1997, and the construction techniques are the result of extensive research and field trips to medieval castles.
The goal is to recreate the organization and processes of a medieval building site as accurately as possible, from the origin of the raw materials to manufacturing and transportation. Every stone for the building is hewn from the nearby quarry and then formed into the right shape by hand by stonemasons. Every single nail and every tool is forged on-site using traditional means. Even the pigments in the paint workshop for decorating the walls are extracted directly from earth and ground stone. The building site relies on many different crafts, such as stonemasonry, which includes quarrymen, banker masons, and fixer masons, as well as the work of mortar makers and wagon drivers. The team also includes woodsmen, blacksmiths, carpenters, roof tilers, potters, painters, rope makers, basket weavers, and gardeners.
Like a bird building its nest, we gather materials from the surroundings to build the castle. – Guédelon Castle construction team
Construction began in 1997 and is still in progress. On the website, you can follow all stages of construction, starting with site clearance, moving on to the building of the foundation and perimeter walls from 1999 to 2000, then the construction of the water cisterns, the crossed rib vault in 2002, and the internal architecture, which takes place from 2003 to 2008. In 2011 the largest vault was completed, and in 2012 the first mural paintings started in some areas while the towers were being erected. The chapel tower is now completely covered and finished with its tall, narrow lancet windows.
Not only is Guédelon Castle the result of many studies and research over the years, but it is also a local tourist attraction open to visitors. People can literally immerse themselves in the distant world of the Middle Ages and experience the building site as a learning environment. Guédelon seeks to understand medieval life and society by rediscovering long-forgotten techniques while also providing knowledge and information about a more crafted and handmade construction style.
For more information, visit the Guédelon Castle's official website.
SZILAGYI, Patricia. 2021. Building like in the Middle Ages. Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/building-like-in-the-middle-ages/a-57426457