The old house with red shutters borders the Marne. Its waters criss-cross Joinville, a city of Haute-Marne full of contrasts, with its 3,000 inhabitants, its Renaissance residences and its warehouses of bygone industries. In full completion, the site manager, Charles Cagni, points to the upper shutters of the ground floor: “They are fixed. The old ceiling was over three meters, a horror to heat. So we made a false ceiling, but to hide it from the window, we needed a solution that suited the Architecte des Bâtiments de France (ABF)”.
In this former stronghold of the Dukes of Guise, the historic center flourishes around the imposing bell tower of the 13th century church, where the belt of Saint Joseph is said to be kept, says the legend. To preserve the atmosphere of the place, any renovation project must seek the opinion of the Buildings of France. “We are working within the perimeter of the protection of a remarkable heritage site,” explains Caroline Marlot, ABF for Haute-Marne. From the material of the windows to the color of the facade, from the technique of insulation to the installation of solar panels on the roofs, it is the guarantor of the architectural coherence of the territories.
A rewarding policy
In France, 55% of protected buildings are in municipalities with less than 2,000 inhabitants. For these towns, the historical heritage is a cultural lung, but also an economic one. So, where to find the budget, when bringing up to environmental standards is added to the cost of renovation – rising with inflation? The equation is complicated. Especially in Joinville, where about 20% of housing was built before 1919.
Some are very degraded by the lack of maintenance and the rural exodus.
At number 13 rue des Royaux, a bourgeois house now houses seven social housing units. While the 18th century facade features a simple ocher-coloured roughcast, the interior has benefited from high-performance hemp insulation. A success, rewarded by the price of the ribbons of the Heritage, which gives reason to the policy followed by the municipality.
Since 2012, it has found a solution to finance these projects: it pre-empts empty buildings and resells them at very low prices. “The deed is signed if the future owner agrees to renovate,” explains the mayor, Bertrand Ollivier. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, the municipality draws up specifications with the agent des Bâtiments de France, which indicates to the potential buyer whether he can carry out the work and what investments are necessary. “The obligation to insulate from the inside or to keep wooden windows generates additional costs”, recognizes Romain Riat, operations manager at the Urbam Conseil agency, mandated to support the municipality on renovation projects.
The town hall supports the owners financially, in particular by covering 50% of the cost of facade work. Since 2012, it has granted 2.3 million euros in aid, partly from the State and from Cigéo, the nuclear waste burial program located 20 km away. Result: nearly a hundred of the 1,982 housing units in Joinville were refurbished between 2016 and 2021, with energy savings of over 25%.
These numerous construction sites have given local entrepreneurs the opportunity to specialize in old buildings. A know-how appreciated by Véronique Aviat, owner since 2019 of a residence a few steps from the church. Every week, this resident of Vitry-le-François (Marne) visits her house: “When I saw her for the first time, she was in a sad state, says the retiree. I fell in love with its facade and its structure. Carefully, she climbs the original narrow spiral staircase to the first floor where the shell is complete. The interior is already summarily decorated with taste. The rooms come back to life, with its double-glazed windows divided by stone mullions carved by Charles Cagni’s team. On the facade, the high relief of a portrait has been preserved by the craftsmen. “It is undoubtedly the former owner of the house, supposes Véronique Aviat. They say he looks like my husband. Old stones know how to choose their master.