Tag Archives: digital techniques

Scanning at Westminster Abbey and the crypt of St Stephen’s Chapel

In January 2019, we travelled to London to undertake a digital survey of the medieval vaults of Westminster Abbey and the Victorian reconstructed vaults of the undercroft of the destroyed St Stephen’s Chapel beneath the Palace of Westminster using funding from the AHRC.

Westminster Abbey, perhaps the best known church in the UK, offers a number of valuable opportunities to the project. Whilst most of the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year pay homage to Britain’s illustrious dead buried there, architectural historians continue to argue over whether the nation’s mausoleum owes more to France than to England. Our research will enable us to compare Westminster’s vaulting with other sites both in the UK and in France to explore the ‘Frenchness’ of its design. Furthermore, the chapter house and cloister vaults have previously been identified as having unusual 3D geometries, so we will use our digital data to investigate this. As a royal project, Westminster is also unusually well documented in the records of the King’s Works, throwing further light on the building sequence, the identity of the designers and details of construction methods. From such records, we know that the medieval masons plotted their designs on a full size ‘tracing floor’, from which moulds were cut for the individual blocks of stone and the wooden formwork by which the ribs were supported during construction.

St Mary Undercroft, formerly the crypt of St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster and now the place of worship for the Houses of Parliament, is another well-documented royal work, started by Edward I. Its vaults take an innovatory ‘lierne’ form, with extra decorative ribs which have been claimed as the earliest liernes in England. Although now largely a Victorian reconstruction following the great fire of 1837 which destroyed most of the medieval palace, measurements were taken from the medieval vaults prior to demolition. Our digital survey will be used to compare the measurements of the demolished medieval design with the current Victorian reconstruction and possibly identify elements of original medieval fabric lurking beneath the Byzantine-style paintwork.

The two surveys add to a growing list of case study buildings that will be individually analysed, as well as offering comparisons between sites. We are currently making good progress with analysis at Exeter, Ely and Wells cathedrals, and will begin investigations using the Westminster Abbey and St Stephen’s Chapel data later this year.

British Art Studies Article

Our article investigating the creativity and imagination used to design the choir aisles at Wells cathedral has now been published in ‘British Art Studies’.  This article is free to view here.

Abstract

This paper explores the topics of creativity and imagination in relation to the design and construction of the lierne vaults in the presbytery aisles of Wells Cathedral, erected around 1330. It explores the potential of digital scanning and analysis for forensic investigation of the structure in order to identify the processes involved. Four different processes were employed and we compare those used in the three eastern bays of the north and south aisles. These are shown to share characteristics with the retrochoir but to involve different approaches to 3-D projection and stone-cutting. We conclude that the basic geometry of the vaults was defined in advance of construction, using full-scale drawings worked out on a tracing floor. In both sets of vaults the 3-D geometry continued as a sequence of steps and was derived from measurements ascertained from existing elements (including the drawings) but was not consistent across the two aisles. The processes reveal different priorities, whether for level ridges (north aisle), different choices in terms of rib radii or apex heights, and different sequences of design steps. This demonstrates the potential for experimentation at every stage of construction.

Buchanan, A., & Webb, N. (2017). ‘Creativity in Three Dimensions: An Investigation of the Presbytery Aisles of Wells Cathedral’, British Art Studies, Issue 6.

DAACH Article

Our article investigating the use of digital techniques to analyse the choir aisles at Wells cathedral has now been published in ‘Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage’. This article is free to view until 7th May 2017 through the following link:

https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1UkLO7szebZ9pb

Abstract

Architectural historians have identified Wells cathedral as a key monument in the transition between high and late Gothic, a move in part characterised by the rejection of simple quadripartite or tierceron rib vaults for more complex vaults. Here we will show how digital methods are used to reopen questions of design and construction first posed in 1841 by pioneer architectural historian Robert Willis. Digital laser scanning documents vaults accurately, thereby establishing their geometries to a high degree of certainty and, at Wells, highlighting differences between the choir aisle bays which have previously been treated as a single design. Significantly, we will show how digital techniques can be used to investigate these differences further, using point cloud data as a starting point for analysis rather than an end point. Thus we will demonstrate how modern technologies have the potential to reignite historic debates and transform scholarly enquiries.

Webb, N., & Buchanan, A. (2017). ‘Tracing the past: A digital analysis of Wells cathedral choir aisle vaults’, Digit. Appl. Archaeol. Cult. Herit., 4, March 2017, pp. 19–27.

Digital Past 2017

This week Nick presented at Digital Past 2017 in Newport, Wales. The paper focussed on the digital surveying and subsequent analysis of the fourteenth century medieval vaults  in the chancel and north transept of Nantwich St Mary’s Church, Cheshire. This produced two distinct discussions; the first investigating the chancel, which offered an opportunity to hypothesise the medieval design process of the in-situ vaults using reverse engineering. The second, the north transept, contains an incomplete (or possibly destroyed) vault and therefore a series of simulations were developed to postulate the design process, and how the vaults may have looked if completed. 3D digital models of the postulated designs for the north transept can be found on the Nantwich vaults page.

The conference presented numerous exciting and innovative digital heritage projects in Wales and beyond, such as Nick Hannon’s investigations into the Antonine Wall, as well as the Welsh Chapels project which is using games engines as a way of educating the public about heritage.

eCAADe 2016 – Tracing the Past presentation

At eCAADe 2016 (Education and research in Computer Aided Architectural Design in Europe) in Oulu, Finland, Nick presented a paper co-authored with Alex and JR discussing the advantages of different digital surveying methods for the project. The paper can be found via CUMINCAD here.

A contextualised digital heritage workshop led by Danilo Di Mascio was also organised, with help from Anetta Kepczynska-Walczak and myself, the details of which can be found here. We were very grateful for the support given by the University of Oulu, and were encouraged by the discussions held with participants, which provided an enjoyable couple of days leading up to the main conference. We hope to run the workshop again at eCAADe 2017 in Rome!

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MODELLING MEDIEVAL VAULTS SYMPOSIUM – ABSTRACTS AND PROGRAMME

The final programme for the modelling medieval vaults symposium at the University of Liverpool in London on Thursday 14th July is now available here.

A list of the presentation abstracts are available via the following link.

If you are yet to book your place for the symposium, please do this through Eventbrite.

We are very much looking forward to seeing you there!

Pazirik Informatics Ltd Website

We are delighted that Balázs Szakonyi will present research investigating the role of horizontal ribs in late Gothic vault construction in Hungary as part of the Modelling Medieval Vaults symposium alongside Gergely Buzás and Balázs Szőke.

At the Modelling Medieval Vaults symposium Buzás Gergely, Balázs Szakonyi and Balázs Szőke will present research investigating a typical vault type that is wide spread in Central Europe on behalf of Pazirik Informatics Ltd.

Besides the vaults still standing in our time, we possess carved stones from numerous perished vaults thanks to archaeological excavations. Several elements from former vaults came to surface which show typical characteristics of these vault types. One of the most important finds from this category came to light during Gergely Buzás’s excavations of 2010 in Pécs. We have created digital scan surveys of these carved stones in the framework of the SzimeAr3D project. The theoretical reconstruction and CAD model of the vault has been created by Balázs Szőke. The lecture will be presented with Balázs Szakonyi translator and 3D graphic artist. One of our goals is to conciliate the Hungarian technical terms with their German and English obverses. The publications and image collections can be inspected on our webpage with a short English commentary.

More information regarding Pazirik can be found on their website. We look forward to hearing more at the symposium.

Modelling Medieval Vaults – Call for Papers

Modelling Medieval Vaults symposium at the University of Liverpool in London, 14 July 2016.

Through the University of Liverpool’s Interdisciplinary Network Fund we are organising a symposium primarily exploring the use of digital techniques to analyse medieval vaults. The synopsis can be found below and on our events page.

The use of digital surveying and analysis techniques, such as laser scanning, photogrammetry, 3D reconstructions or reverse engineering offers the opportunity to re-examine historic works of architecture. In the context of medieval vaults, this has enabled new research into three-dimensional design processes, construction methods, structural engineering, building archaeology and relationships between buildings.

Recent research on Continental European and Central American vaults has established the significance of these techniques, however, as yet there has been little exploitation of digital technologies in the context of medieval vaults in the British Isles. This is despite international recognition of the importance of thirteenth and fourteenth-century English vault design to the history of Gothic architecture in an international context.

The aims of the present symposium are to present new research in this emerging field in order to establish appropriate methodologies using digital tools and identify significant questions for future research in the area.

Abstracts (500 words maximum) are invited for 20 minute papers on the following subjects:

  • Representation and analysis of medieval vaults using digital technologies.
  • Investigations of British tierceron, lierne or fan vaults.
  • Digital techniques used for the analysis of historic works of architecture applicable to gothic vaulted buildings.

Our intention is that proceedings will be published in a suitable journal.

Deadline for abstracts: Friday 13th May 2016

Enquiries and abstracts to be addressed to Nick Webb email.

Symposium date: Thursday 14th July 2016

Location: The University of Liverpool in London, Finsbury Square.