Build with logs in Europe
European structures - Old and New
by Thierry Houdart
(french log builder and autor)
1) The european inheritance
It seems evident that log building was, a few
centuries ago, widely spread all over Europe, and from this old world emigrated
towards the new one. Archeological investigations on our continent seem
to show that log houses built with whole trees, stacked and notched, can
be found regardless of time and place. It is a way of building found in
cool or cold climate as well as mountainous, wooded or pioneer countries.
It is important that we European log builders have a clear idea of what
a log building was in our countries a few centuries ago, why it nearly
disappeared, what are the surviving testimony of log buildings in Europe,
and above all, we must think that log buildings of the past are for us,
a constant source of inspiration and may guide our creative imagination.
Nearly 3000 years ago, in the loneliness and immensity
of European forests, men,among pre-Celtic population, started using logs
to build their houses, with the trees they had just felled, with axes made
out of bronze which technology they had just acquired. Different log building
techniques emerged all over Europe, reflecting the tradition,culture and
skills of each region. In Biskupin-Poland, a whole village of log houses
and log fortifications has been discovered dating back to 8OO b.c., preserved
by the inundation in a lake. The logs were stacked, interlocking one another
and notched together. The space between two logs was chinked, filled with
moss, straw, mud, and wool .One century later log construction were widely
spread all over Europe.
Archaeological sites, as Unteruldingen in Germany, Asparn in Austria, or Paladru in France give a marvellous account of the method of building with logs in that time.
But later,somewhere in northern Europe, probably in Karelia, men invented a log fitting technique avoiding chinking between logs. It consisted in scribing each log with a tool made of iron, similar to a pair of dividers, and adjusting it, reproducing the form of the log below.it is known as the European (or Scandinavian) chinkless full scribed fitting log technique. It seems that this way of building with logs was practiced in all northern countries from Karelia in northern Russia and Finland to Sweden and Norway, but as far as we know, it never spread up to the present days into southern,western or eastern Europe.
In these last regions, all the log constructions
were mainly hewn and caulked in different ways, even if the log construction
joinery and decorations were often very sophisticated,.and still characterize
the culture of many regions on this continent such as the Mouramores in
Romania or the Biezgady in Poland, Baltic States, Slovaquian Tatras,Bohemia,
Russia and Ukraina, the Valais in Switzerland, the Southern-Tyrol in Austria
, Val d'Aoste in Italy, Queyras in the southern Alps in France : this region,
for instance, still exhibits a few villages of log buildings called "fuste",
an old french word meaning log building.
The history of horizontal log construction in
Europe is linked to both forest and population development. As a matter
of fact, from the Roman conquests until the last century, forested areas
have steadily decreased because of the agriculture extension, intensive
use of firewood for domestic and industrial uses, and also of the need
for timber for construction, civil engeneering and shipbuilding..
Faced with this timber scarcity, building techniques changed. The timber framed houses, using hardwood and short timber, starting from the middle age, became more popular all over western and southern Europe.
Meanwhile, horizontal log construction remained only in very few mountain areas, the Alps in particular, where softwood species were still abundant. But in some regions such as the southern French Alps, regulations in the XVIII th century prohibited wooden construction to
save the logs for shipbuilding.
Until last century, lumbermen and coalmen used to live in the forest in very poor log cabins. Thus, until now the image of the "cabane de rondin", or "baraque" (log cabin) remains as a synonym of poverty.
Nevertheless, testimonies of old log buildings,
barns, haylofts, houses, the oldest dating from the XIIIth century, still
exist in southwestern Europe, and not only in mountains (sometimes preserved
in wonderful open-air Museums). They show a great range of log building
techniques, and among them the piece-en-piece, which was very common in
some regions such as the Alps. We also know that from the famous Troncais
oakwood, in the center of France, where still exist some old log houses,
several families emigrated toward Quebec province.
Finally stone and, later on, concrete had the upper hand, and our architecture of the last two centuries may give the idea that log building never existed in our country. In fact, it used to be widespread and belongs to folk architecture. It is only a long- forgotten tradition.
2)the present-day development
In the 1850s however, things began to change :
reforestation of many barelands started and especially during the last
100 years, an immense forestry planting program of softwood species was
achieved in southern Europe : spruce, pine, douglas fir, larch...all trees
nowadays available for building log houses. All these new conditions now
make possible a
tremendous come-back of handcrafted log construction in Europe using the log scribing method.
We do think that several requirements are now
fulfilled to enable in Europe a steady growth of the log building craft
-After a few centuries of forest products shortage,standing trees available for log construction are now abundant ; quality logs may be selected.
-More and more people are becoming aware that natural log houses are
confortable and healthy.
-Some young people are now starting to train and to practice scribed log crafting, and are becoming more skilled. Log building companies are still very few, but we started in 1995 a log building training and information program in french language , through our association Bois Sacré (it means the Holy Wood which was the place were the celtics use to teach in the middle of the forest) situated in Corrèze, in the Massif Central in France.We offer material such as books and videos, training sessions, demonstrations and information in the media,.and technical and design assistance to log builders and owners.
How to imagine a modern log building
design in Europe ?
Besides these positive factors remain major problems : administration reaction to a log house project.
-How to obtain the planning permission and convince the housing public officers that a log home is not a foreign architecture?
-How to design and to build a log house which really fits in the surrounding landscape, in countries where most villages have a historic site, where very old stone buildings are carefully protected and architecture regulated?
- How to explain that log-homes are not out-of date buildings, among a stone and concrete architecture,when even the stud-frame builders foster the view that horizontal log construction is an out-of-date building method?
- How to bring to officials and the public the evidence that a log building tradition did exist in past centuries in this country where a wooden house is, most of the time, assimilated either to the Northern Alpine "chalet" which represents a typical regional architecture, with its large gabled wall façing the valley, or to a foreign architecture which is supposed to be Finnish, Scandivanian, or Canadian, style?
Therefore we came to the conclusion that, first, it was necessary to realize some investigations about our construction history, to understand how and why log buildings, which were so important in the old days in Europe, gave over to a stone architecture, and what are the few different styles and traditions in logcrafting still existing in France, and.in the whole of Europe.
When designing, we have to make for each project some local investigation : study the surrounding housing, its aspect, proportions, wall material, colour, roof pitch, material and main direction of ridges, shapes of doors and windows and take in account the landscape.We must also prove, through a good design, that log construction may adapt itself to the landscape and to the mind of the existing architectural environment. Each log construction must be unique, adapted to each site.
As a general rule, some basic principles may be considered :
- Try to create small volume or units linked to
each other, as in European rural construction, rather than a large volume
(in general, houses are smaller in Europe, but small is beautiful), - Dare
to use different natural building materials with logs,such as stone or
earth, and different log joinery such as notches, dovetail, piece-en-piece
or framed timber to back up the idea of different volumes built together
but at different times, just like in a village or in a farm, but avoiding
the patchwork look.
- Dare to use colour for painting,.doors and windows.
-Get inspiration from many folk architecture features and details of log building, but at the same time, avoid too heavy decorations with connotation to the folklore, for example on the overhangs of log walls, and keep sobriety in design.
- Make sure to keep the natural aspect of logs and obtain a natural colouring rather than artificial.
The task is hard, but if we want to develop the
log building market on our continent , it seems necessary to create an
original modern European style integrating regional identity.A modern house
is not necessarily built with sophisticated techniques, but merges into
the surrounding landscape and local architecture, just as if it had always
American log builders and designers have proved that handcrafted loghomes may become a modern way of building. Now it is time for European builders to take up this challenge. If we can achieve a better understanding of what modern architecture requires today and what it is not , we may arrive at ways of creating better log house style.
Thierry Houdart was working as a timber engineer
in France, when he discovered the handmade logcrafting in Finland. With
his wife Marie.F, they decided to
found in France, the first log home company using the scribe technique
(Les Bois de la Combe Noire) in 1980.
In 1995, they started to teach and promote log crafting in France and Europe through the Association "Bois Sacré Techniques et Civilisations du bois". They have written 4 books in French about log home construction.(l'Art de la Fuste)
Their daughter Camille,a young architect, is also involved in log home design.
Construire en bois brut et matériaux naturels
Build with logs in Europe
Montebello, Log Building 2000