The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany has been the subject of sizable renovation works. Accessibility has been integrated into the scheme right from the start and considered at every step of the works. Access for all publics and the deployment of new technologies in the service of the cultural dimension of the project were main objectives of this vast renovation and modernisation programme.
Principal access interventions:
- Connecting castle and town
- Rethinking the distribution of interior spaces and vertical circulation
- Enrich the visitor experience with new interpretive tools
At the heart of the historic city centre of Nantes.
The original castle of which only a tower remains dates back to 13th Century. It has been substantially remodelled by King François II and his daughter Anne de Bretagne. Owing to Anne de Bretagne’s wedding to two Kings of France, the castle became a royal castle and Kings spent time in it until XVIIth Century. The city of Nantes acquired the castle during WW1, at which stage it became home to its museum collections.
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Heritage significance and attractiveness
- Site classified national “Monument Historique”
- Local history museum of Nantes
- A new visitor trail on the castle’s ramparts created during renovation programme
- Popular tourist destination : 170 000 visitors a year and more than 1 million online
- the accessibility of the site (un espace en moins)
- internal circulations: access to various floors via stairways
- access to the collections
Between 2004 et 2007, important renovation works were carried out. Their purpose was to valorise the monument and to make the Duke’s 15th Century castle the new home of the museum, while respecting spaces, structure and monumental appearance. Access for disabled people was at the heart of the project : for the castle and museum are to be accessible to all.
Consultation has played a major role, notably through the appointment of an Access Officer.
Connecting castle and town
The castle is an enclosed fortress which had only one entry over a drawbridge for visitors prior to the start of the renovation works. Historical analysis of the castle revealed that there had earlier been two other ways of access : an emergency entry and an entry from the Loire riverside, which had been landfilled in XXth Century.
The emergency entry had been rebuilt for the benefit of visitors with mobility difficulties. A new horizontal footbridge, which connects the entry with the courtyard has been built where there had been one in the past. This is close to an accessible tram stop and car park, allowing for a seamless access journey. A single entry for all would have been preferable, but was not possible. The existing drawbridge links the castle with a historic town centre, which is almost entirely paved (with uneven stones and slabs). Today, however, the majority of visitors use the new entry as it allows an easy and seamless journey.
The renovation of the castle and museum was the opportunity of creating a new walkway on the ramparts. Up to this point, these had only been accessible via stairways, and only portions of it were accessible. A lift, un-conspicuously fitted against the Grand Gouvernement building, preserves the architectural integrity of the castle. A footbridge connects the lift with the ramparts, half the length of which has been made accessible. Full access to the ramparts for visitors with mobility difficulties was not possible, as several flights of stairs could not be removed.
Re-thinking the interior distribution of spaces
Two buildings house the museum’s displays, the Grand Logis and the Grand Gouvernement. In between them is the smaller roofed and walled space called Les Jacobins. The Grand Logis and the Grand Gouvernement have a number of floor levels at differing heights. The spiral staircases which lead up to them are known to cause discomfort, also for visitors who have no mobility problems.
The Jacobins space, situated within a tower, had previously been destroyed. Its walls and roof had been restored. This vast central space has been preserved emptied of its floors to serve as a space for organising visitor flow. A lift now provides access to most floors of the Grand Logis. This new re-fit improves the legibility of the building’s architecture.
The lift could not provide access to all levels. A platform lift was therefore installed at the level of the attic and opens up access to the big mezzanine.
Use of a platform lift required a dispensation (translator’s note : from meeting duties under French disability legislation). A platform lift is at times the only solution to provide access to floor levels of differing heights in a listed building.
It was not possible to provide a loop shaped route for visitors of the museum, given its spatial structure. Visitors explore one level at a time and come back to the central pavilion to visit the next one.
One of the aims of the exhibition design was to put earlier floor levels on show. A deeper lying older floor level, or “likely archeological level” can thus be viewed in some rooms. As they represent a health hazard, metal handrails have been installed in front of them.
A visitor route with interpretation for all publics
Various interpretation tools are on offer for a more interesting visit by people with disabilities. They also provide a different experience to all publics. Several spaces combine to offer a sensory trail experienced via sound, sight, touch and smell available for all visitors.
In addition to these “visits for all”, specific tours and accessible formats have been developed to meet the requirements of several groups of visitors with disabilities. These include multi-media guides in French Sign Language, audio and tactile resources for people with a visual impairment and learning resources for visitors with a learning difficulty.
Players and processes
- Client: the town of Nantes
- Project manager : Pascal Prunet, chief architect of historic monuments; Jean-François Bodin, architect and museographer
- Consultation: appointment of an Access Officer
At the castle of the Dukes of Brittany, a culture du compromises played a vital role. In order to persuade decision makers, it was key to show that the chosen design solutions improve the quality of experience and comfort for all visitors, not only visitors with a disability.