A Lady in Waiting

Guest post by Andy Milburn, Associate at Godwin Austen Johnson.

I have been to Paris once in my life, and that was 40 years ago. Notre Dame doesn’t have any special symbolic meaning to me, but it’s an interesting example of French Gothic and an opportunity for me to explore a different period of architectural history after so long on Project Soane. And of course my spirit is moved. This is a breathtaking space, even in crudely modelled, virtual form. So I guess she is my lady from one point of view, and yours from a slightly different point of view. The more we engage with her, the more she becomes “our lady.”

While it seems half the world wants to jump on this project in some way to offer advice and direction, realistically speaking, my model is not going to be used for the remedial work (not sure why the press likes to call it “reconstruction. Our Lady is still largely intact, as far as I know.)

Notre Dame starts off as a nave with double aisles down each side. Then you add a row of hefty buttresses to resist the thrust of the vaults above. Eventually the spaces between these buttresses become roofed over and incorporated in to the main space, almost like a third aisle.

I came to realise that the triforium gallery turns the corner where it meets the crossing. This allows a connection to the spiral stairs that rise from the ends of the transepts. Some of the impressively detailed models you see on the Web have missed this subtlety. There are some benefits to using a BIM authoring tool. It forces you to think in holistic terms about a real building made from buildable elements.

At some point, that generic arch I began with needs to be differentiated into a series of more specialised families. The first of these is an archway perching on round columns. Usually each arch needs just one column, but sometimes at the end of the row you might need two, and at right angles, a type with no columns to connect between two rows.

I also realised that the flying buttresses around the East end have a different shape from those along the nave. The angle is somewhat steeper, for example.

It’s a valuable learning exercise for me, and potentially for others who may wish to join in. In a sense, Notre Dame belongs to the whole world and for many of us, the best way to express our concern is by making something.
Humans have amazing cognitive abilities, but it’s all built off the “learning by doing” machinery we inherit from distant ancestors. Drawing and making are incredibly powerful ways of understanding the world.

Moving forward I can either allow Notre Dame to dominate my life for the next three years or tackle other similar models of Gothic Cathedrals for a comparative study? Either way, I am certainly looking forward to seeing where this project takes me.

You can read more from Andy Milburn at http://grevity.blogspot.com/