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Vernacular Architecture

of Rural France


The Perigord

As a young man I lived and worked in the Var, in the south of France, as a stone mason building for the local expatriate community.

During those years I came to appreciate the diverse, organic beauty of the various regional traditions of vernacular architecture

evolved over the ages in response to the respective climatic conditions and available materials of each area. Since then, I have

tried to visit all areas of France to see and document the many variations, but the area that calls me back most compellingly is the region

found between the Dordogne and Lot rivers, an area also known as the Perigord Noir. Even today it remains an unspoiled rural and

agricultural landscape supporting sheep and cattle farming and many groves of walnut trees. The urbanization is composed of traditional

architectural forms and limited to the hamlets, villages, and occasional towns thinly scattered over the land, leaving the majority of the

rolling countryside in carefully kept fields and forests. It is, of all the places I know on Earth, where I feel most at home, and where I find the

loveliest architecture and best food in France or anywhere else. I was inspired by buildings of this area, and also of Burgundy, when I

designed and built my own house. I have lately returned from a long, but not long enough, visit to the region where I was at leisure to make

some photographs of the buildings that most appealed to me. I have selected a number of these to present here. I have several things in mind

with this first selection of images, but I intend principally to illustrate the variety of surface textures that may be seen within a small group of

buildings, or, indeed, on a single building that may have evolved into its present form over many generations.


Rather than detracting from an aesthetic harmony or appeal, I find that this variety often adds a pleasant complexity to the visual interest

that attracts the eye in the first place, and that often helps to tell the story of the building's history. And, since these buildings date from a

pre-industrial age, they were built without the use of cinderblocks or Portland cement, but rather, of local stone using traditional lime and

gypsum mortars, mixed with local sands that produced the distinctive colors that organically integrated these buildings into their particular

settings. These subtly colored mortars were used not only for setting the stone, but also for the original stucco coatings, now often partially

weathered away or gone altogether.  So, in any given building, or ensemble of buildings, it is typical to see great variations in existing surface

textures, from walls evenly rendered in well preserved original stucco, to walls with what appears to be almost dry stacked stone where the

original stucco and joints have weathered away, and everything in between these extremes, often depending on how the several areas face

the prevailing weather.


I would also point out that the builders selected special stones for corners, window and door jambs and lintels, and for other special structural

considerations, and often used simple rubble or loosely coursed ashlars as infill between corners and openings, intending to cover these areas

of infill with a finished stucco render. As the stuccos have, in some cases, weathered away over the years, the original patterns of stonework

emerge, or partially emerge in ways that have, to me, a special beauty and charm. In some cases the owners maintaining or rehabilitating these

old stone buildings have decided to repoint, or partially repoint the walls rather than cover them again with a stucco render. Variations in techniques

of repointing, perhaps guided by aesthetic considerations, leave the joints between the stones more or less filled, according to the taste of the

mason or owner, so that in some cases the shapes of the individual stones are clearly defined, while in others the edges are less distinct where

the mortar more fully fills the joints, even coming over onto the the edges of the stone faces.


I have selected the following images especially to illustrate the variety of existing surface textures on traditional stone architecture found today in

the Perigord Noir. As time permits, I will add some other images to illustrate some other themes related to traditional architecture and urbanization. 

10 October 2010