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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Contemporary Castles

Grizer's first castle (top) and his second (lower, right)
now under construction, soon to be a bed and breakfast.
The other day as I was perusing the local newspaper, I stumbled upon an article about a man and his wife from Whipple, Ohio, who were in the process of building their very own medieval castle. The first question crossing my mind was, do people still build medieval castles? Whipple is in northern Washington County some fifty or sixty miles from where we live, but in fact, part of the school district where I once taught art. My first inclination was to check to see if I recognized the names of any of the friends and family of Bill Grizer working on the project. I didn't. Grizer is the teenager who grew up wanting to live in a castle. Actually, he does already, having converted his ranch style home (top)into a fairly reasonable facsimile of a medieval castle. His second endeavor along this line is grander (to the tune of 35,000 square feet) and far more medieval. With the help of his wife, six kids, and extended family, Grizer expects to finish in 1217.
Architect Charles Sieger's dream castle in Miami, complete
with its own moat and probably alligators too.
As impressive as Bill Grizer's medieval dream may sound, it's relatively modest compared to what other architectural dreamers have put the minds and money to work in building medieval castles. Take, for instance, architect, Charles Sieger's "modern medieval" castle built in the center of a man-made lake near Miami (above). If you, too, yearn to live in a castle, this one can be yours for a modest $10.9-million. It comes complete with such medieval amenities as a pool with fountain and a pond, 10,124-square-feet, eight-bedrooms, and a six-car garage. When does a castle become a palace?
An eclectic medieval exterior, a refined late-medieval interior.
Actually, where such architectural extravaganzas are concerned, that's a very valid question. The key word in the residences we're looking at here today is "medieval." All too often such castles get lumped in with, and confused with, chateaus. Chateaus are, indeed, palaces, or close relatives at least. Castles, on the other hand, have always been basically fortresses in which the medieval wealthy took refuge to keep from being murdered in their sleep. They have tall, thick, stone walls, topped by crenellations, watchtowers (round or rectilinear), heavy arched doors, narrow slits for windows, small courtyards, and limited, quite "masculine" decorations. The chateau may retain some of those items, but never the defensive walls, moats, or alligators. The Oak Brook, Illinois, castle (above), is an eclectic mix, heavy and simple like a castle, but lacking the all-important defensive walls. Hagar the Horrible would have little difficulty sacking this one.

A fairly good example of the medieval adapted to a thoroughly modern, luxurious lifestyle.
Translated that means a mansion with medieval decorations.
Contemporary castles can pop up virtually anywhere the rich and famous find convenient to congregate, such as the small town of Versailles, in horse-country Kentucky (some five miles west of Lexington). Castle Post may once have been one man's home and castle, but today it's a ten-unit, high-end hotel with a single room starting at $195 per night. A Majestic Suite will set you back $420 per night. Or if you'd like to turn the place into your own private castle, that'll cost you $265-million. The castle features low walls, cut stone, round towers, conical roofs, and pseudo-medieval furnishings. This one is medieval, but only up to a point.

Though modest in size and lacking an all-encompassing wall, this example has many of the medieval attributes the larger attempts at castle building often lack.
Only the open porch seems out of character.
As in the case of Bill Grizer, medieval castle architecture seems to be just as popular with the modestly well-off, as with the billion-bucks set. Moreover, when the wealthy engage high-profile, high-priced medieval architects what they usually end up with is lots of compromises. In the more than five-hundred years since castles were all the rage, how we live our lives has changed drastically. Walt Disney, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Bavaria's mad King Ludwig not withstanding, castles were seldom things of great beauty (nor were they intended to be). Yet today, an ugly, highly defendable castle with thick walls rising fifty to sixty feet from the water level in the fetid moat (with or without alligators) would hardly be conducive to comfortable habitation no matter how devoted the owner might be to medieval lore. So instead, as in the case of the high-tech architectural genius (below) with his 3-D printer and way too much time on his hands, those who long for the long-past days of lords and ladies, can only pretend. Pretending is good, it keeps us from going insane.

All you have to do is figure out a way to hook up your printer to a cement mixer.


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