natural materials (302)

‘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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Off-Grid Cabin

Lloyd Kahn’s books were instrumental in Josh and I creating our very own off-grid cabin. Please consider this an open invitation to visit us anytime! Please see attached photos of our cabin that Josh built entirely by himself, as well some of our favorite treasures!

Peace and copious amounts of blessings upon each and everyone of you for all that you do! Keep up the good work! We love what you’re creating! We look forward to hearing and collaborating with you soon!

Take good care,
Jessica and Josh Courson

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Straw Bale Guest House in Idaho Inspired by Shelter Book

Hello,

I’m writing because we have just recently completed a straw bale ADU in our backyard in Boise, Idaho that all came about because of (1) a pregnancy and (2) seeing Lloyd Kahn speak at Bookshop Santa Cruz promoting Small Homes: The Right Size years ago. I wanted to share our story.

My husband and I had moved from Santa Cruz to the Santa Cruz Mountains (Boulder Creek right outside of Big Basin). We had the big dream of starting from scratch on an off-grid property and building a structure over time utilizing natural building principles. We had taken a straw bale building workshop at Real Goods/Solar Living Institute in Hopland, CA and fell in love with straw bale building. That first winter was tough. It rained so much that we barely had the ability to get that infrastructure going. There were trees falling and mudslides. Leaky roofs and mice. No power, no running water.

Then we found out we were pregnant and needed to rethink whether we would realistically be able to both work full-time in Santa Cruz, commute 45 minutes each way, and build a home while taking care of a small child. Land, permits, building materials, daycare, etc. all added up financially so to live in that area we would both have to work full-time jobs. How could we do that and build a home? It was daunting.
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Stone Masonry Publications

Lloyd, hello. I’m Tomas Lipps, used to live in Bolinas late ’70s, early ’80s… I was pleased to stumble upon your blog today and have enjoyed browsing through it. One line in particular struck me [referring to the book Shelter]: “We were both fans of Life Magazine, and felt that each two-page spread should stand alone and be visually balanced.” That’s because I’ve gotten into publishing myself. I edit a glossy print publication called STONEXUS Magazine and a digital counterpart to it called the STONEZINE, and in the print mag I’m particularly sensitive to how the two-page spreads are laid out. (The ‘zine is single-page, 8.5″ × 14″.)

Good to see you’re still at it, and out and about. I’ve been confined here in Santa Fe due to the damn pandemic, but as soon as I get issue #XX printed and mailed out (April), I’ll go off on the trip I had planned in 2020 — to Sardinia. Will be photographing stonework there, the Bronze Age Nuraghi in particular fascinate me. You seem to be familiar with Italy, anything you can tell me about Sardinia?

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