Like a hyphen across the sea
Some 3.5 million tourists cross it every year. The 1,600-metre-long bridge made from oak and steel provides the only access to French UNESCO World Heritage Site Le-Mont-Saint-Michel. All of the woodwork was completed by Les Ateliers Aubert-Labansat – one of the finest restorers in the country.
Even from a long distance, Le-Mont-Saint-Michel towers out of the shallows off the northern French coast. The medieval tourist attraction's imposing height is due to its fortified abbey with the pointed spire dating back to the 19th century. Today, the strong defensive walls surround a number of hotels and restaurants. There is also a post office, a police station and a town hall.
The castle in the sea is home to just 41 people, many of whom are the monks and nuns of the abbey. Restorers are part of the landscape in the narrow alleyways of the mini-community. Among them is Les Ateliers Aubert-Labansat. With its "Qualibat Monuments Historiques", the small operation holds one of the few licenses providing authorization to undertake public contracts for historical structures. The specialist's handiwork shapes the appearance of Le-Mont-Saint-Michel – from the church spire to the access to the island across the sea.
Since 2014, this access has been provided via a bridge laid with oak planks, which replaced a causeway more than 100 years old. The load-bearing structure is intended to prevent the increasing silting exacerbated by the lack of water drainage. The semi-circular bride was intended to connect the mainland to the island like a hyphen drawn with a pencil, according to architect Dietmar Feichtinger. The plan succeeded. The bridge spans the shallows inconspicuously without disrupting the views of the impressive natural spectacle. Some 2,000 m3 of oak was ordered for the project. However, only 550 m3 of this ultimately satisfied the high quality requirements. The structure costing 35 million euros required two years of construction. No cars are permitted. Instead, a shuttle bus takes passengers from the remote car park to the mid-point of the bridge. The remainder of the journey must be completed on foot. Hotel guests are advised to "travel lightly".
For Gilbert Pierre, Managing Director of creator Aubert-Labansat, the bridge to Le-Mont-Saint-Michel is a landmark project. He has also been involved with the restoration of numerous other cultural monuments, such as the Palace of Versailles. He works exclusively with oak, the traditional variety of wood in France. Most of the extremely challenging work carried out by his company is performed by hand. "As much machine technology as possible – whenever possible," however, is the maxim of the Managing
Director with a keen eye for profitability and quality. "WEINIG is synonymous with outstanding German engineering and is exactly the right partner for us," says Gilbert Pierre. The operation uses a Gold series Profimat Fortec for planing and profiling. Ripping is performed by a FlexiRip longitudinal circular saw. However, the centerpiece is a Rondamat series tool grinding machine. The machine perfectly delivers more than 600 different profiles that must be produced based upon historical designs. The profiles are taken from the old sample using a metal comb and then produced quickly and precisely on the Rondamat based upon the template. "Often, we only need a profile just once. However, production on the Rondamat is still profitable," stresses Gilbert Pierre.
All 49 employees of Atelier Aubert-Labansat use their expertise to accompany a project from beginning to end. "This creates a close affinity with their work," says Gilbert Pierre. The old restoration business has a surprising progressive participation model. Employees can become partners in the company and, thus, in the major challenge of preserving French cultural heritage. Majority owner Gilbert Pierre is retiring this year. He actually wanted to be a car mechanic. However, his father pushed him into joinery. "That was just how things worked back then," says the entrepreneur with a smile.