The Digital Cathedral of Amiens

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Cross Section of Choir

Cross Section from the Southeast Side of Cathedral

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Abstract

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amiensAs the apotheosis of Gothic architecture built during the 13th century, Amiens Cathedral is a dynamic and living structure. As the ninth largest Gothic cathedral in the world and one built in relatively short span of time, Amiens Cathedral exhibits remarkable stylistic unity throughout. Alongside the Parthenon, Amiens is taught each semester to several hundred students in Art Humanities. This has been a course required since 1947 of all undergraduate students in Columbia University’s Core Curriculum. This cathedral and the animations I created are used in classroom instruction.

My objective is to recreate Amiens Cathedral as it appeared in the 15th century. My method is to build an accurate computer model of the entire cathedral, accurate to the inch, photo-realistic, and fully interactive. My hope is to find new and creative ways to engage students and visitors with this work of architecture.

The final video sequence is in two parts. One, a three minute construction sequence of the cathedral’s erection between 1220 and 15th century. Two, an eight minute fly-through of the finished work of art. Viewers approach the cathedral through the narrow medieval city streets and circumnavigate the exterior from bird’s eye and ground level. Viewers then enter the cathedral and are guided through the complex interior spaces. This trilogy is complemented by historically appropriate music from 13th century French composer, Pérotin and 15th century composer Josquin des Prés.

Students can download this model and freely edit, revise, and explore from their personal computer. This model of Amiens Cathedral is built with free computer modeling software called Sketchup. Sketchup has a wide range of drawing applications, such as architecture, interior design, and civil engineering. And, for computer modeling software, it is remarkably easy to use. With just a few commands, such as draw, pull, animate, and toggle, students and teachers unfamiliar with the program can build their own models in minutes.

Amiens has undergone significant revisions and the destruction of almost all its original stained glass windows and large parts of its nave. Through digital modeling, it is possible to restore the structure to its original appearance as its architects intended. Through video, we can recreate and expand the intended audience of this building, recreating digitally the experience of pilgrimage. Through virtual reality, we can encourage new ways of engaging with art and architecture.

A building is dynamically experienced as a sequence of sights and rooms. An image, however captures one view of this structure at one moment of time. A photo is static. Film is dynamic. I hope this project will address this issue and provide a meaningful and engaging way to explore Amiens Cathedral in the digital age. Watch the two films below, followed by links to explore this model in virtual reality.

More about this cathedral can be found on Columbia’s Art Humanities website.

This project would not have been possible without the invaluable guidance of my faculty mentor and professor Stephen Murray, who taught me in the Fall 2016 Bridge Seminar Life of a Cathedral. This project is also featured here on Columbia University’s website.

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Part One

Amiens Cathedral: A Guided tour

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A guided tour of Amiens with music composed by Perotin: Viderunt Omnes, most likely composed in 1198, twenty-two years before construction started on Amiens. Viewers approach the cathedral from the west, as pilgrims would have in the Middle Ages. They then circle above and through the complex system of flying buttresses that support the cathedral. The animation finishes by viewing the cathedral from below the foundations in an abstract fashion; starting from the concrete ground-level view of the pilgrim, the animation becomes increasingly abstract and digital. This video was posted by the Media Center for Art History at Columbia.

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Part Two

Amiens Cathedral: Construction Sequence

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The construction sequence of Amiens Cathedral with music by Pérotin: Beata Viscera written circa 1200. A narrative written by Professor Stephen Murray are transcribed below:

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Work began along the southern flank of the nave with the west façade. The north nave aisle follows a little later. Robert of Lusages was probably asked by the clergy to create a provisional liturgical space that would serve for the immediate celebration of the offices. In this way, the south nave aisle and the south transept aisle were finished in the first five years of work.

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With the north nave aisle completed soon afterwards, probably around 1230, Robert of Lusages died and was succeeded by his former collaborator, Thomas of Cormont.

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In the 1230s and 1240s, Master Thomas constructed the upper nave, simultaneously laying out the lower choir. Bells were hanging in the southwest tower by 1243.

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Thomas of Cormont died in the later 1240s with the upper nave complete. He was succeeded by his son Renaud of Cormont who in the 1250s and 1260s constructed the upper transept and choir.

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Renaud changed his father’s forms, introducing a different type of triforium and a different flying buttress. The choir fliers are placed too high and are too light be effective. Renaud thus becomes a type of Icharus, a disobedient son destabilizing the authority of his father’s structural system. The upper choir was finished toward 1269.

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Construction of the main roof and towers began after the choir. After the 1320s, the south tower was completed followed shortly by the north tower and the cathedral spire in the 1350s, crowning the cathedral at 365 feet. After almost 120 years of construction, the cathedral was complete.

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Part Three

Amiens Cathedral: In Cross Section

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The third video is the most abstract in the trilogy. Here, I have juxtaposed interior and exterior views of the cathedral, exploring the relationship between interior and exterior spaces. The sequence opens and closes with an abstract and animated cross section of the cathedral from below. Music is by Josquin des Prés: Mille Regretz.

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Section from South Façade of Cathedral

Section from Above

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The Cathedral from your Computer

An Interactive Animated Glossary of Amiens Cathedral

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In addition to viewing digital cathedral in animation, viewers can navigate the cathedral for themselves.

Here is a model of a single bay of the nave of Amiens Cathedral, with labyrinth below. I have imported actual images and textures into the model to create a photo-realistic effect. Click on individual numbers to see the names of the corresponding components of a medieval cathedral. Or orbit around this model to view from different angles. To learn more about this animated glossary of Amiens Cathedral, click here.

Please be patient while this model loads. Click and drag mouse to navigate around structure. Shift click to pan. Click the cube icon on the lower left hand corner of window to view in full screen. If you are on your tablet or smart phone, click the optical icon to view this model in virtual reality.

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Interactive Model of the Exterior of Amiens Cathedral

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I have uploaded just the exterior of Amiens for online viewers. Unfortunately, due to file size, it is not possible to view the entire model online. But, it is possible, to download this model to one’s computer and then edit in greater detail. Please be patient while this model loads. Click and drag mouse to navigate around structure. Shift click to pan.


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Section of the Nave Roof

Section of West Façade

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The Exterior Sequence

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Below are a few film stills taken from the animation sequence of Amien Cathedral’s exterior. Hover over image to display caption. Click thumbnail to view high resolution image in gallery.

South Side of Choir

The Buttresses and Rear of West Façade

Amiens Cathedral from Above

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The Interior Sequence

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Film stills of Amien’s interior. Hover over image to display caption. Click thumbnail to view full size in gallery. Gallery is organized linearly to evoke the sequence of interior spaces.

The Nave at Amiens, looking toward the choir.

Nave Aisles

Clerestory Level of Apse

Bracing and Joists Supporting the Roof

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Dynamic Angles

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Computer modeling allows one to explore angles of view not possible in reality. Of particular beauty are the view of Amiens from below. With the layers of earth and foundation removed, one looks up the grid of vaults and the forest of columns. The view is simultaneously a plan of the cathedral and a worm’s eye view, simultaneously of a real cathedral and an imagined world.

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Development of the Gothic Cathedral: An Evolution

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Amiens is at an apex in the development of Gothic cathedrals. The earliest cathedrals were modeled after Roman basilicas with two narrow aisles on either side of a long, rectangular open space spanned with wood trusses. This is best exemplified in the plan of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Later Gothic cathedrals in following centuries modified this simple model. The dimensions and height of the cathedral grew, alongside the complexity of its vaults, columns, and ornaments. As Elizabeth Parker argues in “Architecture as Liturgical Setting,” the form and floor plan of the medieval cathedral evolved in response to changes in the use of the church and the rituals of the Mass.

Below are two animated videos illustrating the evolution of the Gothic cathedral: In cross section at left and in plan at right.

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Development of a cathedral nave from Early Christian to High Gothic. A process of evolution and synthesis.

Development of the cathedral floor-plan over 1,000 years. Animation courtesy of Columbia University.

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Learn More

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The projects featured above are a selection. To see more projects related to Amiens, please follow the powerpoint presentation below, the interactive map, or download this model of Amiens online.

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Powerpoint presentation on the construction sequence of Amiens Cathedral. Fully interactive map of medieval Amiens and its urban environs. Download models featured above to your computer or modify to create your own model.

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Many Thanks

This project would not have been possible without the generous help and expertise of Professor Stephen Murray at Columbia University’s department of art history. I am also indebted to Center for Career Education for funding this project via its Work Exemption Program. This project was inspired by a similar video trilogy from the 1990s about Amiens Cathedral: Revelations.

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Little Boxes on the Hillside

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Working with my hands is liberating. By folding, cutting, pasting, and assembling, a creation emerges. From sheets of paper and with pen and knife in hand, I build something out of nothing. And in the end, a small box or building stands as testament to my miniature effort… (Inspired by the 1960s song Little Boxes on the Hillside)

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Columbia University

Columbia University

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Before my first day of college, I assembled a miniature model of Columbia’s campus out of folded paper and cardboard. This creation, featuring most of Columbia’s Morningside campus, folds out of a vintage cigar box that measures a mere 5 by 9 inches.

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Columbia Campus

Ink Drawing of Columbia University. Measures 26 by 40 inches.

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Morningside HeIghts Final

Watercolor of Columbia University. Measures 26 by 40 inches.

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Columbia University – my home, my tranquil place, my utopia of learning. I am grateful to be here for I know that each day will bring new revelations. I draw the little world I find at Columbia so that, years from now, I can look at this image and reflect on the formative four years I spent here.

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To read an interview and article about this project: click here.

The Hudson School

I constructed this model to commemorate my many years at The Hudson School in Hoboken, NJ. It shows the existing building with an addition planned by local Hoboken architect Ana Sanchez. I plan to give this model to the school for fundraising purposes…

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Space House

Space House is an exploration of 1950’s futurism and sustainable building practices. The house is round and domed to better maintain heat. Circles are the most cost effective forms because they contain the greatest volume with the least amount of surface area. The house features large, porthole windows to better profit from the view and passive solar heating. In the heat of summer, blinds roll down over the windows to protect from the sun’s glare. The domed cupola and high elevation permit air to better circulate, reducing the need for energy-consumptive air conditioning. The open floor plan permits occupants to design a home to suit their specific needs. Overall, Space House attempts to reconcile the modernism of Buckminster Fuller with current sustainability and environmental challenges.

 

 

space house 3

space house 2

fuller 6

 

Popup Park

Situated in front of New York City’s Flatiron Building is a triangular spit of land bordered by three major streets, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd. The currently underutilized space could become a vibrant public square. Such a park should reflect the vitality and dynamism of its neighborhood. Thousands of pedestrians pass through this highly visible intersection daily.

Popup Park creates a mixed use public space that adapts to its many users. Narrow metal panels measuring three by five meters roll out of a wedge-shaped storage container. Each panel serves a different function: bleachers, benches, bookshelf, public mural, basketball hoop, etc. When in use, the panels are alternated to adapt to multiple uses. When not in use, the panels slide back into their container, leaving an open communal space. Each panel is arranged according to the Fibonacci series or the golden rectangle. This permits for a both functional and aesthetically pleasing panel. The geometry of the rectangle partially determines its functional look. The square’s periphery is arrayed with trees to shade the communal area and to offer a respite from the hectic concrete jungle.

 

urban park 1

urban park 2

Containerized Living

Ubiquitous shipping containers measuring eight by eight by twenty feet carry goods from China to America. But, upon arrival, they are often emptied and disposed of. This project recycles the flexible frame of a shipping container as a building material. Each container is a component in the home: living room, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom. Like Lego bricks, these lightweight containers have limitless combinations, allowing the occupant to design his or her own residence. The container’s natural durability, cheapness, and transportability make for a cost-effective and adaptable home.

containerized living

Loft House

Loft House is a design concept for a modern studio apartment. Loft House incorporates elements of turn-of-the-century warehouse architecture with modern building practices. Traditional warehouse spaces are large and airy; they also feature thick retaining walls and intricate ornamentation. With Loft House, the heavy cornices and detailed brickwork of traditional loft spaces are reduced to their most basic and pure forms. The open floor plan and exposed structural beams hint at this structure’s historical precedents.

loft house 1

loft house 2

 

Unmanufactured Landscapes

Visiting China, I was shocked by the massive reach of globalization. On the train, I witnessed an endless treadmill of mile after mile of identical crops, villages, and cities. The polluted skies and downcast weather hinted at the relentless combine of economic growth. I swore to myself that such a sterile environment was fit for helpless ants.

Returning home, I earned greater appreciation for my own artistic creations. They seemed so much more innocent, smaller, and quainter. I had something independent of “the combine” I could call my own. No matter how much the volatile world changed, my art would forever remain the same, my Unmanufactured Landscapes locked in time.