VAULTING SPACE: ANALOG PRECISION vs DIGITAL ACCURACY

DoArch Building Shop & History of Construction Conference Submission 

 





 

Throughout History, the representation and construction of the Gothic Vault has shifted with the evolution of media. While the material used to construct the vault remained the same - masonry construction - the evolution of its representation has changed. The first Gothic Vaults matured between the 11th and 14th centuries when Stereotomy, the art and science of carving solids1 was practiced by the master masons, geometers, carpenters, and stonecutters who designed and constructed these Gothic Vaults. In the 1760’s, Descriptive Geometry gave graphic representation to Stereotomy. Representation further advanced with funicular form finding, a process made famous by Antoni Gaudí in the 19th and 20th centuries with his hanging structural models for the Sagrada Familia. While all of these types of media allowed for precision, they did not allow for accuracy. With the onset of the digital age in the late 20th century, new tools and technologies emerged. How can digital tools allow us to use make the translation from media to construction more accurate? 

 

To draw or to model with precision is to allow for tolerances in the system. During the height of the Gothic Era, drawings were less relied upon as the constructed vault eventually steered away from the initial drawing or model. Voussoirs, the main building unit of the Gothic Vault, were not always cut perfectly. These mistakes could be masked by the infill of mortar, making the Gothic system slightly forgiving.

 

To draw or model with accuracy is to represent a system as close to the true measurements as possible. Digital tools have allowed drawings and models to become more accurate by increasing the fidelity among drawing, model, and building. Digital fabrication tools, such as 3d printers, allow for the component of the Gothic Vault, the voussoir, to be modeled in a digital environment and to be printed as an accurate representation of the 3d model. These components can then be dry-stacked and assembled into a system. 

This project stems from an approach implemented as part of undergraduate architecture coursework. Using Rhino software, students were given parameters to digitally model a Gothic Vault and to construct the vault using digital fabrication tools such as a laser cutter or 3d printer. Students translated this Vault using funicular form finding through RhinoVault and once again constructed a vault using digital fabrication tools. The course has initiated exploration into an accurate digital representation that can be sequenced and documented. By implementing digital tools and technologies, this process initiates a pedagogical approach to bridging historical media that is precise to contemporary media that is accurate and the potential impact of these media on building construction.