Tag Archives: fan vaults

Scanning at Westminster Abbey and 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 St Stephen’s Chapel underneath 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 Stephen’s Chapel, a crypt below 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.

6ICCH Presentation

 

In July we attended the 6th International Congress on Construction History, hosted in Brussels, Belgium. The conference included participants with a wide range of interests in construction history and there was a strong showing of researchers investigating vault design and construction. This included colleagues from Spain and Germany, such as David Wendland and Marie Jose Ventas Sierra’s  talk on the Hall of Arms vault in Albrechtsburg Meissen as well as Rocio Maira Vidal who discussed the abandonment of sexpartite vaults across Europe, including Lincoln Cathedral in England. It was a delight to meet Jacques Heyman, who wrote ‘The Stone Skeleton’, and gave a fascinating talk on the change of level in the fan vaults at Kings College, Cambridge.

At the congress we shared our initial investigations of the nave and choir vaults at Exeter cathedral, which we surveyed in 2016. We suggest that all the high vaults were laid out in two dimensions using a geometrical figure called the ‘starcut’, allowing the same proportions to be maintained throughout, despite different bay dimensions. The three-dimensional geometry of the vaults, however, presents significant variation between bays. These appear to correspond with the construction sequences proposed by previous scholarship. Nevertheless, the nature of the variations does not correspond fully with previous interpretations. We propose that two-centred arcs were found at Exeter earlier than generally recognised and in a different pattern of distribution than previously suggested.

More information on 6ICCH can be found here.

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.