About Us

This ongoing project brings together a team from the University of Liverpool to investigate medieval vault design in the British Isles using contemporary digital techniques. Our main aim is therefore to examine different tools that are now available, such as digital laser scanning and digital modelling, and ask questions of how these can be applied to historic works of architecture and the knowledge we can gain from this.

Our analysis is inspired by the work of Robert Willis, a Victorian engineer and scholar who questioned the design and construction methods used to create medieval vaults, however, he could not fully prove his theories as manual surveying techniques available at the time meant it was logistically not feasible. Now we have the use of digital surveying techniques, the process of surveying medieval vaults is much faster, and our aim is to augment and extend the work of Willis.


Dr Alex Buchanan has been at the University of Liverpool since 2007 where she is Senior Lecturer in Archive Studies, having previously been archivist at The Clothworkers’ Company and Lambeth Palace Library in London. Alex’s research is situated at the intersection between archives and architectural history: she is interested in how medieval architecture was designed, communicated and recorded and how it has been studied in the post-medieval period. In 2013 Alex published a monograph Robert Willis (1800-1875) and the Foundation of Architectural History on a pioneering architectural historian whose work on vaults inspired both her initial interest in him and the present project. Email.

Square Nick

Dr Nick Webb is a qualified architect and lecturer at the Liverpool School of Architecture. He is researching the application of contemporary digital techniques as a method of analysing historic works of architecture, providing new and enhanced information that would not have been possible in a pre-digital era. These applications are being investigated in relation to designs that were not constructed, buildings that were built and then destroyed as well as buildings that still exist; the application of which can be seen in this project. Email.

Dr James Hillson is an art historian who studies medieval things, specifically Gothic architecture in northwestern Europe between 1100 and 1400. His research focuses on the international transmission of artistic ideas in England, France, Germany, the Low Countries, Spain and the Baltic, with a particular emphasis on the roles of language, drawing, trade and technical training in communicating architectural forms, concepts and construction methods. James completed his doctoral thesis at the University of York in 2015 on the topic of St Stephen’s Chapel at the Palace of Westminster. In 2016 he was appointed a Research Fellow at Emmanuel College in the University of Cambridge, during which he embarked on a new project with the aim of producing a second book on the processes behind architectural copying and artistic exchange in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. He joins Tracing the Past as a postdoctoral researcher. Email.

Dr Sarah Duffy is joining the project on a technical basis for one year, bringing a wealth of experience. Sarah previously worked on the ‘Carved in Stone’ project exploring ancient inscriptions at the University of Liverpool, and has experience of photogrammetry, drone and mast surveys, RTI (reflectance transformation imaging) as well as laser scanning. She has previously worked with the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and collaborated with Historic England. Sarah is joining us for one year working on a part time basis and is leading on preparing the digital data for analysis as well as archiving all information with the Archaeology Data Service. Email.

JRJR Peterson is a technician and photographer in the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures at the University of Liverpool. He is focussing on the use of photogrammetry as one method of digitally surveying the vaults, as well as working on the digital laser scanning. JR has also been involved in projects in Turkey using digital scanning techniques, as well as projects using studio photography to document archaeological artefacts.