JOINER WORKSHOP of Bánffy Castle

The International Built Heritage Conservation Training Centre

Bánffy Castle, Bontida,  one of the most significant castle ensembles in Transylvania,  reached an extremely precarious condition by the end of the nineties.  The Transylvania Trust, since its creation in 1996 has carefully followed the castle’s destiny. The size, architectural and historic value, and degree of degradation of the castle make its restoration and use a complex task, which will only succeed with a proper long-term strategy and international co-operation.

In 1998 the British Council and the Romanian Ministry of Culture, recognising the need to develop a built heritage conservation strategy, invited the Transylvania Trust and the British Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) to design and implement a project to promote historic building conservation in Romania. The result is now the Built Heritage Conservation Training Centre at Bánffy Castle, Bontida. The program initially began in 1999, and since 2001 has been based at Bánffy Castle, Bontida, where the courses have been developed to meet international demand. As a further step the International Built Heritage Conservation Training Centre was officially opened in 2005.

The structure of the training

The Centre provides teaching modules, each of two weeks duration, which offer a theoretical and practical understanding of the care of the historic environment. Its principal emphasis is to offer a direct hands-on learning experience for its students. This is achieved through practical workshops in the crafts of Rendering, Masonry Consolidation, Carpentry and Stonemasonry, within which students undertake practical restoration projects directly on the castle buildings. The workshops are jointly led by British and Romanian craftsmen.

The courses provided through the centre are available to craftsmen who are already within the building industry, who seek to either specialise or widen their personal skills, and to undergraduate and post-graduate university students. It is these individuals who will be responsible for preparing specifications and schedules of work for the care and maintenance of the historic environment in the future. Typically, students have a background in architecture or structural engineering or conservation related subjects.

At the end of each course a Diploma (Certificate of Achievement) is presented to successful students. The Certificate is accepted by the Ministry of Culture and is widely acknowledged within the building industry in Romania as having special value and recognition of quality.

Goals and principles

The purpose of the centre is to promote excellence in the conservation of the historic environment and specifically to teach traditional building craft skills which can be utilised in the repair and maintenance of historic buildings; whilst in parallel undertaking the restoration of an endangered major historic building.  

The Centre promotes a policy of Minimal Intervention in dealing with the repair of historic buildings, combined with a strategy of Compatibility in techniques and materials, and the use of local resources. It promotes a philosophy of researching, analysing, understanding, and recording historic buildings before and during intervention.

The BHCT Centre encourages an holistic approach to historic building conservation, recognising that the care of the historic environment is not the remit of a single group of specialists. Many disciplines are involved in its care, and therefore in addition to its practical courses it offers specialist workshops to other participants such as Landscape Architects, Building Historians and Archaeologists, who also have a role to play within the historic environment.

The training specifically embraces the principal skills required in the restoration of a building and promotes the concept of understanding between craftsmen, project managers and architects. It also embraces the concept of pride in workmanship.

Results

So far more than 2000 students have been trained through the BHCT programme. They have come from Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, France, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Croatia, Brazil, Australia, Belgium, USA, and UK, etc.

Training through direct work on the castle has achieved the partial restoration of a number of the buildings within the castle ensemble. None have been fully restored to completion but where work has been undertaken; all the buildings have been saved from extinction.  It was completed the restoration of the former kitchen block, and its conversion into accommodation and catering facilities for the students of the BHCT Centre, as well as opening the Art Café, the restoration of 2 floors of the Miklós building and conversion into lecture rooms and conference facilities,  the restoration of the former chapel within the main building, and conversion into a community cultural hall, the partial restoration of the former stables and conversion into workshops, and partial restoration of the main entrance gate and adjacent rooms, and conversion into a visitor reception and exhibition area, as well as a lapidarium. 

The castle offers a perfect setting for this activity. Its severe state of dilapidation provided a major challenge to the process of restoration in 2001, and set major questions to the whole approach of conservation restoration in Romania. If restoration could be achieved here in the presence of such degradation it could be achieved throughout Romania at many other sites. This was the challenge. The success can only be judged from the results.

The training model developed here at Bonţida (conservation through teaching; teaching through conservation) is now being promoted in other countries, particularly in SE Europe, as they emerge from years of communist rule which resulted in problems similar to those experienced at Bonţida.

The Training Centre has been awarded in 2008 with the top prize for heritage preservation education, training and awareness raising of the European Union and Europa Nostra. “Highly valued for its double approach: training for conservation and conservation through training. It is an excellent example of cross border exchange of knowledge.” The castle has therefore once again an international recognition, albeit in a different form than that of its previous notoriety.

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