Digital Past 2016

On 10th and 11th February 2016 Nick attended Digital Past 2016, an annual conference organised by the Royal Commission on the Ancient Monuments of Wales focussing on the use of digital tools and techniques in the context of heritage assets.

Projects linked closely to the vaults research were particularly informative, for example Dr Maurice Murphy’s use of laser scan data in conjunction with Historic Building Information Modelling (HBIM) to serve as conservation and analysis documents. In the context of the vaults project, we are keen to investigate the use of HBIM to assist in our continuing analysis of the geometry of medieval vaults, which is very complex in terms of the amount of geometric data gathered. An Irish government funded project 3D-Icons was very revealing in terms of the processes required to create accessible digital models of significant monuments and buildings. For example, converting laser scan data to mesh models with rendered textures, and finally making these easily viewable to the public.

The conference presented a number of other intriguing projects, for example Professor Bob Stone’s use of drones and immersive virtual reality to inspire communities to engage with local histories, as well as the use of Gigapixel photography to document Welsh chapels and make available the interactive views online. The Cynefin project to digitise Tithe maps showed how Gigapixel photography can be used to copy large and delicate maps without damaging the original, and their consequent overlay with modern digital maps to provide a free resource for the public and researchers to use.

The conference was a great success and we look forward to returning next year, where we hope to present an update of the vaults project.

Modelling Vaults at the University of York

On Monday 1 Feb Nick and Alex went to the University of York to an event organised by Professor Tim Ayers, which brought together three leading experts on European late Gothic to discuss issues of vaulting, specifically international transfer of ideas and the design processes involved. The opening seminar was led by Paul Crossley, Professor Emeritus of the Courtauld Institute and Dr Zoë Opačić of Birkbeck College, offering a reflection on Professor Crossley’s work on late Gothic in Eastern Europe. It was encouraging to hear one of our case studies, Wells Cathedral, described as a clear influence on the work of Peter Parler in Prague Cathedral and discussion of Lincoln Cathedral’s tierceron vaults as an apparent influence on Polish examples of a similar form, for example the Cistercian church of Pelplin. We’ve already identified Lincoln’s nave as an influence on the vaults we’ve scanned at Chester, which share the feature of a ridge rib which does not extend to the side walls. Stuart Harrison was also in the audience and keen to share with us his discoveries about the plan of the now-lost east end of Lincoln Cathedral, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the British Archaeological Association. We can’t wait!

Next, Professor Norbert Nußbaum from the University of Cologne gave a lecture entitled ‘Benedikt Ried’s Vaults in Prague Castle and the question of Formative Inventiveness’. Professor Nußbaum is co-author with Sabine Lepsky of Das Gotische Gewölbe (Darmstadt, 1999), a foundational text for the study of Gothic vaulting. Using a series of digital models, Professor Nußbaum showed how the seemingly chaotic designs of the Rider Staircase and the Chancery involved a series of geometrical manipulations based on a two-dimensional plan which could be shifted sideways across a grid or rotated to deconstruct its original logic. He argued that these feats of architectural ingenuity could be compared with the contemporary phenomenon of the ‘Wunderkammer’ (cabinet of curiosities) and were intended to provoke the question ‘How did they do that?’ These were highly sophisticated designs demonstrating the learning of an architect sufficiently confident in his knowledge of the rules to be able to break them – but in contrast to the architects of the Italian Renaissance, the ideas were presented in built form rather than in a textual treatise.

We came away very excited by both the presentation and by the ideas involved, particularly the methodology used to discover the results and the use of colour in the digital models to make clear the hypothetical process enabling the vault design to be accomplished. We saw some clear parallels between the geometries discussed and the vaults we have scanned, but also some significant differences which we look forward to exploring further.

Further information about the event is available here:

Scanning at Nantwich St Mary’s Church

On Friday 13th November 2015 we visited Nantwich St Mary’s to scan the medieval vaults in the choir, as well as the intriguing reconstructed vaults in the crossing by George Gilbert Scott. Below is a timelapse video showing the laser scanner in action in the choir operated by Nick, whilst J.R. records the vaults for photogrammetry purposes, and Alex provides a short guided tour of the sculpture on the misericords in the medieval choir stalls.

Even with the timelapse speed, the rotation of the scanner seems slow. The individual scan provides a point cloud model of the architecture immediately around it, which when combined with other scans, gives a highly detailed and accurate point cloud of the entire vaults in the choir. The next stage of the process will be to interpret the data using a number of digital modelling techniques in order to provide a better understanding of the underlying vault geometry.

A collaborative research project using digital techniques to investigate medieval vault design in the British Isles.