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Handicap Accessibility and Cultural Heritage in Mayenne ...

Handicap Accessibility and Cultural Heritage in Mayenne and Nantes, France

While seeing a wheelchair coming through the meandering paths of a fortified castle would have seemed a bit crazy a few years ago, our historic buildings have made progress in regards to accessibility. The respect of the law is not the only thing at stake (remember that all public buildings must be accessible or have

Château de Mayenne facade shows modern addition containing accessible elevator and entrance,  Mayenne, France

While seeing a wheelchair coming through the meandering paths of a fortified castle would have seemed a bit crazy a few years ago, our historic buildings have made progress in regards to accessibility. The respect of the law is not the only thing at stake (remember that all public buildings must be accessible or have made a plan, a Programmed Accessibility Agenda, by Sept. 27, 2015). More globally, the concern is providing cultural access for all, an access that can be as much physical as intellectual. However, through the following examples, we can affirm that uniting accessibility and cultural heritage is possible.

Mixing Contemporary Architecture and Ancient Structures: The Château de Mayenne

The medieval Château de Mayenne, in Mayenne, France, could have had all imaginable problems preventing accessibility. It is an ancient Carolingian palace that has undergone numerous transformations. It has multiple steps, meandering paths, and numerous obstacles. Despite this, the building has succeeded and even obtained the 2010 “Tourism and Disability,” label as well as the 2014 “Heritage for All” prize. Their path taken? Creating a contemporary extension to hold the lobbies and elevator. Architect Philippe Madec chose a slatted wood double wall. Far from being shocking, the addition works perfectly with the ancient building, thanks to its color. Inside, the improvement continues with the play of light and unexpected views of the historical structure.

Château des Ducs de Bretagne facade as seen from next to moat, looking at ramparts

The Château des Ducs de Bretagne: Nantes Museum of History

At the heart of the city of Nantes, France sits the Château des Ducs de Bretagne: Nantes Museum of History. Once again, it is difficult to reconcile the palatial and defensive medieval architecture with accessibility. And yet, almost the entire building and its ramparts are accessible. The route taken? Finding solutions by integrating and highlighting the necessary accessibility technology in the ancient building and discovering inspiration in historical paths. An ancient entryway used during the time of Anne of Brittany was recreated and linked to the parking lot and tram so users could avoid downtown’s cobblestones. The floors were removed in a restored tower, becoming a large delivery area with a contemporary elevator. Even the ramparts were rendered accessible thanks to a carefully hidden elevator which preserves the castle’s architecture. Awarded several times with the “Heritage for All” prize and “Tourism and Disability,” label, The Château des Ducs de Bretagne: Nantes Museum of History is proof that we can combine heritage and accessibility.

Accessibility: A Springboard for Innovation

Château des Ducs de Bretagne rampart walkways as seen from above, Nantes, France

When accessibility is seen as an opportunity, it can lead to the creation of new services. This is one of the reasons for which the Château des Ducs de Bretagne: Nantes Museum of History called upon students at the Sustainable Cities Design Lab of the Nantes Atlantique School of Design. Accessibility in a larger sense, meaning the connection between the city and castle, is what caught the students’ attention. Their key word is fluidity. Amongst the measures envisioned are historic panoramas that will take place on the castle’s ramparts. These micro-architectural structures could be inserted along the ramparts and would allow visitors to imagine the view that existed at different periods in history. And why not inspire them to learn more by entering the Nantes Museum of History? Combining accessibility and cultural heritage is therefore not only possible, but also a way to inspire innovation. Accessibility is absolutely an advantage, and not just a prescriptive constrain.

Have you seen any particularly innovative examples where accessibility was brought to a historic site? What are the accessibility laws in your city? Do you believe historical structures should be altered for access? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year...

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