Burgundy rules in French architecture’s game of stones

The beauty of a building often stems from the material used to build it and Pierre de Bourgogne limestone is a classic example.  

26 June 2019
The Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton was also built with the Pierre de Bourgogne stone
By Connexion journalist

This stone has been used in many stunning buildings around the world, including the staircases of the Louvre; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the base of the Statue of Liberty; the Taipei Tower in Taiwan; and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

Architect Sir Norman Foster chose light-coloured Anstrude stone from Burgundy to dress the walls of his extension in the Great Court of the British Museum in London in 2000.

It is also used in ultra-modern contemporary architecture – such as the Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry, which opened in Paris in 2014.

Two abbeys in Burgundy are notably built from it: the 11th-century Notre-Dame de Cîteaux, at Saint-Nicolas-lès-Cîteaux, south of Dijon, and Fontenay, which was built in the 12th century at Marmagne, Côte-d’Or.

12th-century Abbaye de Fontenay was made from the protected Pierre de Bourgogne stone, hewn from quarries in Burgundy

Burgundy is the best-known region for stone extraction in France and last year the stone was awarded an indication géographique (Ig), a label more usually reserved for food and wine, by the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (Inpi).

The label identifies a product whose quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographical origin, meaning, for example, that champagne can only come from the Champagne region.

The purpose is to prevent substandard copying.

In 2014, France extended this labelling to artisanal and industrial products. So far, seven have it: chairmaker Siège de Liffol, Limoges Porcelain, Perpignan Garnet, Aubusson Tapestries and Aubusson Carpets, Brittany Granite – and Burgundy Stone.

Tiphaine Paquette, spokeswoman for the Association of Burgundy Stone, said that being awarded an Ig will go a long way to promoting and protecting the stone: “It will help keep the industry alive, preserve jobs and skills here and fight against counterfeiting and help stop cases where the Pierre de Bourgogne name is used for products which do not come from Burgundy.”

A great deal of effort was put into obtaining the label but the association said it was worth it as it was fed-up with seeing the name applied wrongly to concrete, plastic, wood, ceramics, reconstituted stone and other materials.

There are 83 varieties of Burgundy Stone, which are quarried in five areas: the Tonnerrois Basin, Nivernais Basin, Mâconnais Basin, the Côte Basin, between Beane and Dijon, and the Châtillonnais Basin.

They are found across the four departments of what was the Burgundy region: Côte-d’Or, Saône-et-Loire, Yonne and Nièvre.

Burgundy stone quarry

Mrs Paquette said the stone is prized for its quality and variety.

“You can find it in many different colours, and as well as the classic beige, there are undertones of pink, yellow, blue and grey. You can find it with different densities, grain, texture and resistance to frost.

“In some parts, there are even fossil remains in it, which give added interest. It can also be worked to give different finishes, either polished or textured.

“It means the stone has many different applications, both for the interior and the exterior, either structurally or decorative.” There are three main categories of rock. La Lave limestone was traditionally used for roofing, which was reputed to last for up to 200 years.

On modern buildings in the region, it has largely been replaced by cheaper and easier-to-apply tiles, but it can still be seen in some places. When it has been used on a recently-restored roof, it stands out as it is still in natural beige, before weathering to dark grey and black.

La Pierre Mureuse is extracted with a thickness of between six and 12cm and is ideal for wall construction.

La Roche Ornamentale comes from quarries where it can be found in banks up to 20 metres high. It can be machine-finished and used for façades, door and window frames, or interior or exterior paving stones.

It is also sculpted by hand or by machine and can be used for interior elements such as fireplaces, stairs, work surfaces for the kitchen, or washbasins.

Mrs Paquette said the stone is not reserved for top architects but is also affordable for private home-owners.

She said: “It depends, of course, but a lot of it is no more expensive than tiles, for example.”

It is also promoted as ecological. “It is the perfect environmentally-friendly building material”, said Mrs Paquette.

“It is long-lasting, recyclable, local and quarried according to strict regulations so that, for example, any water used is recycled to be used again, rather than running away into the bedrock.”

Stone does not give off any toxic fumes, it needs no extra elements to give it a finish, it stores heat when it is cold and keeps buildings cool during the summer.

It is a natural product which fits well with today’s changing expectations and the Association for Burgundy Stone says there is plenty left in the ground for many decades to come.

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