Brittany seeks funding to save historic timber-frame houses

The heritage buildings date back to the 15th century and are a symbol of the region

16 March 2021
By Joanna York

Plans are underway to save historical, timber-frame buildings in Brittany, dating back to the 15th century.

The buildings, known for their bright, colourful façades, are synonymous with Breton towns such as Rennes, Vannes, Quimper and Dinan.

There are 370 such buildings in Rennes alone. 

However the Middle Age structures have struggled to find a purpose in the modern world.

The regional council said: “Multiple timber-frame houses in the heart of towns and villages are suffering as they are unoccupied due to layout constraints and sometimes unhealthy living environments.”

Now the region is launching a new initiative to save them.

Communities can apply for regional funds to restore historical buildings, under which they will be assessed by heritage architects to understand how much maintenance work is needed, and how much it might cost.

Financial aid packages of €10,000 will be made available, with one already being allocated in Quimper.

Historical houses were easier to build

Timber-frame houses were popular among middle-class families in Rennes in the Middle Ages. 

Breton heritage expert Jean-Jacques Rioult told news source 20 minutes: “People were afraid to use wood because of the fire risk, but it was used for a long time as it was less expensive than granite.  

“People had to order granite from Bécherel [30kms away from Rennes] and transporting the materials was extremely expensive.” 

Preservation work ongoing

Work to save the historical structures has been ongoing in recent years.

A 2011 study found that 660 historical buildings in Rennes were damaged, with 330 in a dangerous state.  

In the same year, 20 orders against the owners of dangerous buildings were reported, but efforts to restore buildings meant that by 2018 this had gone down to one or two a year. 

In 2019, a two-year project to identify all timber-frame houses in the region resulted in the publication of the book Architectures en pan de bois dans le pays rennais (Timber-frame buildings in the Rennes area).

Prior to this, one of the authors Stéphanie Bardel said records were “old and incomplete”.

In 2019, regional authorities helped four communes in Brittany restore their timber-frame buildings. The new plan is an extension of this initiative.

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