builders (189)

‘They Said It Was Impossible’: How Medieval Carpenters Are Rebuilding Notre Dame

From The Guardian / The Observer
Kim Willsher

Sat 20 Aug 2022

At Guédelon Castle, the year is 1253 and the minor nobleman, Gilbert Courtenay, has ridden off to fight in the Crusades, leaving his wife in charge of workers building the family’s new home: a modest chateau that befits his social position as a humble knight in the service of King Louis IX.

Here, in a forest clearing in northern Burgundy, history is being remade to the sound of chisel against stone and axe against wood, as 21st-century artisans re-learn and perfect long-forgotten medieval skills.

The Guédelon project was dreamed up as an exercise in “experimental archaeology” 25 years ago. Instead of digging down it has been built upward, using only the tools and methods available in the Middle Ages and, wherever possible, locally sourced materials. Now, in an unforeseen twist of fate, Guédelon is playing a vital role in restoring the structure and soul of Notre Dame cathedral.

Paris’s imposing 13th-century cathedral, a world heritage site, was consumed by fire in April 2019, destroying its complex roof structure, known as La Forêt because of the large number of trees used in its construction. The widespread view was that it would be impossible to rebuild it as it was.

“The roof frame was extremely sophisticated, using techniques that were advanced for the 12th and 13th centuries,” Frédéric Épaud, a medieval wood specialist, tells the Observer.

“After the fire, there were a lot of people saying it would take thousands of trees, and we didn’t have enough of the right ones, and the wood would have to be dried for years, and nobody even knew anything about how to produce beams like they did in the Middle Ages. They said it was impossible.

A number of the companies bidding for the Notre Dame work have already engaged carpenters trained at Guédelon, and more are expected to beat a path to the Burgundy clearing 200km down the autoroute du Soleil from Paris.

It might be quicker and cheaper to turn wooden beams out of a sawmill — especially with French president Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to reopen the ravaged cathedral in 2024 — but you will not find anyone at Guédelon who believes it should be done that way.
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Timber-Frame Gothic Style Church in New Zealand

Hi Lloyd,

Here’s another amazing wooden Gothic style church built in nine months by seven carpenters and a manager in 1866. Old St. Paul’s Wellington. The ceiling timbers are Kauri, a native New Zealand hardwood.

Kind regards,
Bill Choquette
Wellington

P.S.: Been posting infrequently lately due to overwhelming busyness, both personal and professional. Also now deeply into my next book, provisionally titled Live From California, a sort of autobiography, which includes a native Californian’s view of what went on in the ’60s.

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Bruno and Misha’s Greenhouse on Vancouver Island

All wood from beach and hand-split shakes from driftwood cedar. Bruno Atkey’s incredible repertoire of buildings is on display on pp. 74-95 of Builders of the Pacific Coast (my favorite of all my building books).

Everything he does, all the joints, the design, the materials are to me, perfect. A kindred builder.

(My tower is roofed with shakes that Bruno split from driftwood cedar logs and that Misha drove down here in a van about 7 years ago.)


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Remote Living on High Altitude Lake on Xeni Gwet’in Land in Canada

Today I got an email from Jakub Amler in British Columbia, describing a 75-year-old man named Chendi, who has been living on the shores of the high altitude (4200 feet) 50-mile-long glacier-fed Chilco Lake in west central British Columbia for over 50 years. This is on the land of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations tribe. From Jakub (edited):

“It’s hard to believe he has been here for such long period of time since he hasn’t cut down a single tree — for firewood or structures. He collects all his wood, mostly with his rowboat on the wild and windy Chilco lake.

It is totally off grid, no road access. His “truck” is a rowboat which he uses to carry all the logs from the lake. He doesn’t use any power tools (lover of japanese tools, of course), the craftsmanship is unique, his buildings are charming like most of the buildings in your publications.”

Chendi allows people to come stay there (one month minimum), and says:

“Volunteers sleep in simple and old log cabins, carry water, use an outhouse and rustic bath or sweat house. This is a very difficult and isolated lifestyle, requiring volunteers to be physically fit. You cannot function here if you are not up for the challenge. The wind is quite intense for much of the year. It is also as majestic a place as you ever will see.

Kayaks are available with access to pristine wilderness, hiking, rowboat, fishing from a kayak, gathering wild roots and hunting or snaring.

I also only want people who are serious about going forward from this experience to lead a different life. This is not just a place to have an adventure, but a place to learn a meditative lifestyle (yoga). I want people to come here with intention and mindfulness.”

www.workaway.info/en/host/438711758842

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Cottage in Australia Inspired by Our Book Home Work

Hi Lloyd 🙂

I’m a long time reader and lover of your wonderful books — thank you so much for sharing the treasures you find and inspiring so many builders out there. You have a great eye for beauty in natural and built form.

Here is a structure I built inspired by works I have seen in your books (Home Work is still my fave!).

Thanks again for bringing positivity and sharing the joy.

Be well.

Ben Anderson,
Wollongong, Australia

Cuttlefish Cottage: Latest build. About 50 tons of soil on the roof, all glass (apart from louvres) was destined for the crushers, so I built windows and doors to fit the glass. Mud brick walls covered in local white clay ‘paint’ I made, all furniture & kitchen from hard rubbish piles or off ‘Gumtree’ (like Craigslist), local made steel beams (we have a steel mill in town). All hardwood timber from salvage, e-crete floors (using clan, fly-ash & recycled aggregate), trombe wall, passive solar design, vegetable garden on the roof (makes amazing watermelon!!!), solar hot water, amazing ‘landscape tanks’ for retaining walls and water storage combined, outdoor kitchen for our market garden (check out ‘Popes Produce‘ on Instagram/F-book) and heaps more!

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Yogan’s Gazebo? Arbor? Little Barn? Playground?

So Hello Lloyd. Here is my last creation. A gazebo? An arbor? A little barn? A playground? (I don’t know the name in English for a small timber frame like this!)

It’s a timber frame type king post truss and hammer arch truss — mixed! I made it by cutting the trees, and then using a portable Woodmizer sawmill. I used only chestnut trees because they are so easy to work with — it’s my favorite wood.

For making the curved pieces, I sawed two sides with the sawmill, then the curved faces with a beautiful old 1947 Guillet bandsaw. Next, I drew the axis of my frame with a chalkline and defined the top and the visual sides. Then I traced the axis and levels of my frame on the floor of the workshop with a chalkline, pencil and colored chalk. I placed the pieces on the lines and with a carpenter’s plumb bob (flat and empty in the middle), I drew the assemblages — this is called piquage.

When all the wood was traced, I  machined and cut the pieces — the tenons with circular and hand saws, drill, and chisels, and my mortises with a special mortise-machine. Then I made a mise à blanc (dry run), then the finishing touches, the sculptures. I planed the wood’s edges with a draw knife and used lime and water to create a beautiful brown old-style color.

Now to erect it! For the heaviest beams, we used a long aluminum ladder with a system of four pulleys and rope.

This structure is in “Layotte,” a high-quality restaurant in southwest France, where I made two other structures in the same style. The first one 18 years ago with a twisted roof — 12 meters long, 2.5 meters on one side and 5 meters on the other, so the roof is totally curvy! The table too has a trapezoidal shape, that makes a strange vision! You are welcome to eat in my country!

–Yogan
instagram.com/yogancarpenter
yogan.over-blog.com

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