Château de Sainte-Suzanne


General overview

The Château de Sainte Suzanne harbours several remarkable access features (signage, models, guided tours, exhibition displays). This case-study focuses more specifically on the contemporary extension.

Principal access interventions :

  1. resolving the question of an entry for all visitors
  2. blending contemporary architecture with a listed building

Location :

  • in Mayenne, between Laval and Le Mans, France
  • at the heart of a medieval town recognised a “most beautiful village of France”, perched 66 yards (60 meters) above the river in the valley, on a triangle shaped ground

Description :

  • medieval walls (11th-15th centuries) with two buildings : the “Bergerie” (sheep barn) and the “Boulangerie” (bakery);
  • 17th century stately residence which houses the Centre for the Interpretation of Architecture and Heritage (CIAP)

Illustrated case-study :

Find out more :


Heritage significance and attractiveness

  • the entire built environment, inside and outside, is listed a national Monuments Historiques
  • it is situated in one of the “most beautiful villages of France” and in a territory labelled “Pays d’Art et d’Histoire” (translator’s note : a national quality label for towns, villages and regions of outstanding heritage interest)
  • tourist value : the château hosts a regional (départemental) Centre for the Interpretation of Architecture and Heritage (CIAP)

Vue aérienne du château de Sainte-Suzanne Vue de la cité médiévale reconnue comme faisant partie des «plus beaux villages de France».

Access challenges

  • inaccessibility of the building for people with mobility difficulties, older people and parents with pushchairs, as there was no lift and no level access

The project entailed the restoration of the stately home in its entirety, so as to provide safe and comfortable public access to its spaces. The challenge was to reconcile accessibility and the protection of a listed building, while undertaking a programme of major works.


  • construction of a contemporary wooden extension tucked onto the gable wall, resulting in access to all floors
  • interior restoration that improved access, safety and comfort. New exhibition displays for the museum


Going for an extension

Entry is via the northern facade, via a porch way, which connects the courtyard with the ground floor. Access to the lower ground floor and the upper floors is via a staircase. The entire building, inside and outside, is classed a national Monuments Historiques. It would not have been possible to consider an intervention involving the porch.

The decision was taken to start a programme of interior restoration and museum development after restoration of the facades, with the goal of improving visitor access, safety and comfort.

The construction of a wooden extension tucked onto the eastern facade was the solution chosen for providing access to all floors. The extension has a lift, a staircase, boiler room and accessible toilets.

Vue des abords du château de Sainte-Suzanne

Design concept for the extension : continuity with the historic building

The extension, conceived by the chief architect of the Monuments Historiques, aims to be respectful of the site and its buildings :

  • separation with the stately home by a slim vertical glass wall
  • is slightly in recess of the castle’s facade and leaves visible the shape left by stones torn out of the walls at the angles of the gable wall
  • uses of several compositional features of the stately home : the horizontal protruding strips in the wooden boards echo stone. The main entry, wide as the castle’s windows, repeats the patterns formed by mullions and transoms

The extension’s shell is made of horizontal wooden boards which are not joined together, alternating “standing” and horizontal positions and evoke a sun-shading structures. Inside, they create views to the outside and maintain the continuity of the wooden envelope and its appearance as a single volume. The extension rests on a stone foundation which is level with the floor inside and shelters the envelope from wet ground.

The commitment to aesthetic continuity did not allow for level access. Therefore, the lift of the extension is accessed at the level of the courtyard, which is situated left to the entry of the building.

Façade nord de l’extension conçue par l’architecte en chef des monuments historiques.Vue du pignon Est du château avant la construction de l'extension

Impact on the access journey

The design of the extension has provided a new main entrance. Access to the stately home is now via the extension. The car park, pathways and the crossing of the courtyard up to the building takes the visitor’s access journey into account. The lift provides access to all floors of the manor house: ground floor, first and second floors all of which are open to the public, as well as the basement floor with its offices and meeting rooms.

Comptoir d’accueil du château-musée de Sainte Suzanne.

Players and processes


  • Client : Regional Council of the Département de la Mayenne
  • Project manager : Mrs Marie-Suzanne de Ponthaud, ACMH


The project was conceived by a chief architect of Monuments Historiques and presented to the national commission of Historic Monuments and the regional directorate of cultural affairs of the Pays de la Loire. Several amendments have been made this way before the project was validated and implemented.