At the beginning of each year we spend a week in Normandy,(northern France)and needless to say one of my favourite occupations is architecture spotting. The creme de la creme of architecture in Normandy are the amazing old manoirs which dot the wooded, undulating landscape. Many are extremely ancient (back to 14th or 15th centuries) and they are all inhabited. Imagine any of these as your place of habitat:
They are built in a mixture of stone, brick and wood. This half-timbering is typical of vernacular Normandy architecture.
This is the lodge house of long demolished manoir
The manoirs appeal to my visual aesthetic in a number of ways; one is the very sculptural quality of the buildings - assemblages of huge, elemental, geometrical three dimensional shapes - in this case just rectangles, cylinders and cones, the lowest common denominators of the geometrical lexicon.
Moats encircling some of the manoirs lift them to another level of exquisiteness! Of course their purpose was to offer protection against marauders but now these still, glass-like waters serenely enhance the architecture and create compelling otherworldly reflections
Manoirs of this period - I'm guessing 16th century - have a rather forbidding appearance and I can't imagine the interiors were very comfortable or at all luxurious. The windows are few and small so the rooms must have been dark and although the scale and solidity of the building signifies wealth and power the style and placement of the manoir clearly indicates its main function - to provide a place of protection for its occupants. It was that approach to construction perhaps which led to the unique unpretentiousness of some of these buildings.
Built a few centuries later, this one on the other hand is much more sophisticated and the moat was probably just ornamental. The roofs are nothing less than fairy-tale.
(sorry about the out-of-focus picture, old camera, pre-blog days)
I would never have found this one if someone hadn't told me about it as it is up a tiny track way off the main road. I'd say this is the perfect manoir!
It does interest me how the builders managed to construct these edifices in such a way that they would remain watertight when surrounded by a lake of deep water! Why doesn't the water seep up the walls or undermine the foundations??
The combination of patterned brickwork and half timbering is an essay in texture and design. the herringbone bricks are wonderful and demonstrate how concerned the proprietors were to create a thing of beauty.
I know I've included a lot of shots of the building with its reflection but it was so hard to edit as each seemed to show another dimension - in this one the pattern of winter branches seems to echo the pattern of the manoir facade.
This entrance is on this facade - there must have been some kind of drawbridge. Out of shot is the current occupant's car - I can only vaguely imagine what it would be like to treat this manoir as home.
The weather always seemed to be a bit dark and gloomy when I took my photos but actually I decided the muted greys and earth colours and bare trees suited the atmosphere of the manoirs more than a bright sunny summer day would have done.
In the grounds of a very grand chateau is this much earlier building which seems to serve as a lodge house now. It was the beautifully shaped domed roof and mini-spire which captivated me - and the combination of tiny red bricks and patterned grey roof slates.
My only sunny picture! This manoir must be one of the oldest in Normandy, I think it dates back to the 13th century, if not earlier. No water moat but like a lot of Normandy buildings surrounded by a flat green moat of grass instead - the buildings seem to grow straight out of the fields.
I hope I'll find some more manoirs next January - but before then I'll have my annual summer trip to southern France and I'm sure there'll be plenty of divine chateaux there waiting to be snapped by me!
See my post on Black and White Houses where I've compared half timbered buildings in Wales and Normandy