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Deconstruction of the barrack hut

It's a difficult step, it's not that technically we don't know how to do it, it's just that this emblematic building will disappear. Even if, for some, it looked ugly at the entrance with its worm-eaten boards and rusty metal sheets, it will take with it a piece of history that began on the other side of the Atlantic over a century ago.

During the Great War (1914-1918), the American Army Expeditionary Force thought about architectural solutions that would allow for the rapid and inexpensive construction of prefabricated barracks, with standardised dimensions, that could be modulated and dismantled without large pieces of wood. Hospitals, mortuaries, kitchens, dormitories, offices and warehouses were all built on the same model, the Burton-MacNeille barrack.

From this point on it is not possible to know more: When? When? How? Why? By whom? Part of this story will remain forever forgotten, but at the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), my grandfather acquired one of these shack to use as a farm shed. Since then, it has participated in the life of the campsite by housing equipment and displaying posters of events in the valley for 70 years. Heritage conservation is about remembering where you came from and passing on the lessons of the past, so it was important for us to explain the history of this building here.

It is therefore with a twinge of regret that we begin this destructive, yet inevitable, step to create something new.

Step 1: dismantle the adjoining basic lean-to building, then remove the few tiles covering the ridge, which will be treated like the rubble from the foundations, then the galvanised sheets used as roofing, which we will re-use on the lean-to building.

Step 2: after the roofing, we moved on to the structure; unsurprisingly, it was not in perfect condition and was beginning to show serious signs of disrepair. We decided to cut out each bay with a chainsaw in order to demolish the building slice by slice, with one truss and its two posts at a time. This makes it possible to make small pieces that can be loaded by hand into the trailer and taken to the waste disposal site where the wood will be completely transformed and reused (in particleboard, paper, insulation or fuel, or perhaps even green electricity). We have simply kept the boards that were used to make the concrete formwork for the rainwater tanks.

Step 3: The view is now clear! The demolition will be finished when we get the foundations out, but first we want to pull out the rose bushes and replant them elsewhere. Although they are not very visible, the older ones have seen many campers as they were planted by my great-grandfather in 1951, so it is only natural to give them a new place. Finally with the mini-excavator we can break the concrete foundations and take them to the nearby quarry, so that new constructions can be made with them.

This destruction stage will generate a good part of re-usable or recyclable materials. Like the phoenix, our barracks will be reborn in other forms, in other places, it's a bit like the story of life 🙂

october 2022

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