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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amiensThe following is a work in progress and is in need of revision before completion. As 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, this 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. When complete, this project could be used in the instruction of these students.

My objective is to recreate Amiens Cathedral as it appeared in the 13th 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 will be a 20 minute trilogy with each part part focusing on one aspect of the digital cathedral: its original appearance, its construction sequence, and a guided tour of the interior. 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. I hope to add audio narration to these three videos.

At the end of each video, viewers are given the link to view, in person and at their own pace, the digital cathedral featured in the trilogy. 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 model 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 to Amiens. Through virtual reality, we can encourage new ways of engaging with this 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 digital trilogy below, followed by links to explore this model in virtual reality.

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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.

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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. Subtitles from the animation 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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Newark Celebrates 350

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As Newark celebrates the 350th anniversary of its founding in 1666, I created this series of drawings based on historical images and maps of Newark’s downtown. The above video briefly summarizes 350 years of Newark’s history in two minutes.

The sound track accompanying this video was assembled via free audio clips from Freesound. As Newark develops from a small town to a bustling industrial metropolis, the sound track shifts from recordings of quiet woodlands to the din of the vibrant city. And as time passes, the skyscrapers we now see in Newark’s downtown gradually rise.

History is learned textually through reading books, newspapers, and original documents. But, history is experienced visually and acoustically in a way that engages all the senses. History is dynamic, vibrant and three-dimensional, but it is recorded via two dimensional means. This brief history of Newark aims to visually and acoustically represent history as a living and fluid process of transition and change. My aim is not to comprehensively represent Newark’s history but to offer insight into the scope of feel of this storied city’s history.

As Newark looks forward to the future, it stands on 350 years of history that shape the social, economic, and political forces that drive this city forward.

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New York Chinatown: Time Lapse

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A 60  hour time lapse of New York City’s Chinatown, accompanied by the Chinese song: Feng Yang (The Flower Drum).

The original watercolor measures 26 by 40 inches with the tenements of Chinatown in the foreground and the skyscraper canyons of Lower Manhattan rising above.

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Chinatown

View of Chinatown bounded by the Bowery, Canal Street, and Columbus Park.

Jane’s Carousel

A wind-up music box featuring Jane’s Carousel along the Brooklyn Waterfront. When closed, the antique cigar box measures a mere 7 by 7 by 3 inches deep. When open, the Brooklyn Bridge and historic Jane’s Carousel fold out. The carousel spins to the tune of the music while the moon gently slides across the night sky. Materials: $4 cigar box, $5 wind-up music box, electrical wire (for trees), plastic lids for wheels, string (for motion), tape measure (for spring), tin foil (for water), and thick paper.

Jane’s Carousel with my hand and a pen for scale. Dimensions: 7 by 7 by 3 inches.

Pictures of Newark

As a proud, lifelong Newarker, I’ve spent much of the past few years painting and photographing my changing city. Pictures features a selection of my work, complemented by Mussorgsky’s seminal composition: Pictures at an Exhibition. Five movements out of an original fifteen are selected, each of which represents the feel of a certain part of Newark. The following five locations are featured:

THE PASSAIC RIVER – Promenade (1)
ESSEX COUNTY JAIL – With the Dead in the Language of Death (13)
MOUNT PLEASANT CEMETERY – Promenade (8)
DOWNTOWN NEWARK – Two Jews: One Rich and One Poor (10)
PORT NEWARK – Promenade (3)

 

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 Featured work from the above film

Renaissance City

Growing up in Newark, I was inspired and saddened by my inner city environment. I am inspired by Newark’s hope of renewal after decades of white flight, under-investment, and urban neglect. But I am saddened by the loss of my city’s historic architecture and urban fabric to the wrecking ball of ostensible progress. “Renaissance City” depicts the Newark of my childhood with garish signage and decayed structures blanketing my city’s architecture in a medley of color and consumerism.

Urban decay in Newark to the tune of Mozart’s death march (k 453a)

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.

New York Walks

The following video lecture contains paintings and photos I compiled while walking in New York

(Dedicated to Professor Brendan O’Flaherty)

Strolling in New York City is a world tour. The street fairs of Spanish Harlem mesh into college town Columbia. Columbia gives way to the shabby chic of the Upper West Side. A few blocks farther and I am drowned by the tourists of Times Square. Even further, and I reach the mindless bustle of Wall Street brokers. There could be no more fitting a place for the United Nations

I stroll and try to identify  the passing languages. Spanish in the outer boroughs. Polish in Greenpoint. Russian in Brighton Beach. Cantonese in Chinatown. French and German in SoHo.

Reading “Here is New York” by E.B. White, I realize how little New York has changed in the past 60 odd years. Sure, the streets, cars, and tenements are different. But the essential spirit of dynamic and diverse urbanism remains. Here is New York.

To read more about my walks in New York, click here.

A Tale of Two Places: City & Suburb

Growing up in inner-city Newark and attending school in suburbia, I have always wondered how these two environments were so distinctly different. How could so many cultural and socioeconomic differences exist in communities only a few miles apart? Furthermore, how did the suburban environment of my school effect the urban environment of my home?

Between the Streets: A Story of the New York Grid

I have spent much of my life walking around New York City. And, the layout of this metropolis’ streets has always interested me. I relish in discovering new ways to walk between two places and in finding new streets I have never seen before. Inevitably, I ended up asking myself the following question: How does the layout of New York City streets reflect its history and heritage?

 

Full Version:

(36 minutes)

 

Abridged Version:

(18 minutes)

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.