Breton architecture – a sense of place

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Paul Gauguin painted in Pont-Aven, moving from Impressionism to "synthetism"

Staring at the dreich, Scottish rain outside my office window, it is hard to believe that I have just come back from two sun-drenched weeks in Brittany.

I am trying to recall the sights, sounds and smells of Nevez, Raguenéz, Pont-Aven and Bénodet: the rough granite coastline and shimmering sea, the super-salty surf that the kids were gleefully dodging, the sudden and short-lived rainfalls drumming onto the roof of our tent. (Not to mention the local cider and caramel au beurre salée…)

A windy walk along the beach in Bénodet

Houses on the hill in Pont-Aven

I was struck by how closely the area’s many new-build houses resemble centuries-old Breton homes. While introducing some new features (maritime-style, circular windows were popular), the designs stayed close to the regional vernacular.

The buildings were  tall, wide and shallow structures, with thick masonry walls in white or cream render – good thermal mass for keeping warm in stormy winters and cool in blistering summers.

Windows were often small and placed mainly on south-facing facades, and roofs were steeply pitched slate or thatch with elaborate dormer window detailing. Gardens had sparse planting, clusters of pine, and the ubiquitous pink-and-blue hydrangea.

From Dol-de-Bretagne (Wikimedia Commons)

I assumed this uniformity to be a result of tight planning regulations – or is it self-enforced by Breton clients, architects and builders? Either way, the distinct architectural style helps preserve and reinforce the region’s identity.

Nevez cottages (Breizh33 on Flickr)

As much as I hate seeing innovative, brave design being stifled by overly conservative planning control (and royal interference…), I do enjoy spending time in places where new-builds retain a sense of history and local context. A difficult balance to strike, perhaps. Do you have any examples of places where they have got it right?

Maria (11) setting up 'home' in a big Breton pine

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One Response to “Breton architecture – a sense of place”

  1. Exterior Cladding Says:

    Exterior Cladding…

    […]Breton architecture – a sense of place « ESI.info Building Design[…]…

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