Monday, May 16, 2022

ASSEMBLING GOTLAND

 I have been letting my exploration of churches and temples “follow the evidence” wherever it may lead.  When I research the background of one particular building, I never know what is going to pop up and grab my attention.  “Gee whiz, I sure would like to know a bit more about that!”

Topics ripple out in concentric circles, creating moiré patters as they intersect. So from Stonehenge I took a giant leap to an Expressionist icon of the early modern era, discovered two other churches by Jensen-Klint, bumped up against the “white churches” of medieval Denmark.  What next?  Maybe Sweden, Finland, Norway? 

 


It’s been fascinating to be drawn into a deeper knowledge of Denmark, helpful of course to have visited a few years ago and to weave new insights into the weft of those memories.  I had close friends from Sweden 35 years ago, (almost half a lifetime) when I was teaching at the University of Zimbabwe.  Sadly I have lost touch with them, as I have lost touch with so many others in my wanderings across planet earth. 

 



I have been using a technique where you find a church on Wikipedia (mobile version) scroll down to the bottom and see thumbnails of three other similar churches.  Click away, taking screenshots along the way and you soon have a collection of 20 or so churches.  It worked well for Denmark and I have started doing it for Sweden. 

 



 

Why not finish Denmark first? Well, like I said, I’m following my heart (is that what I said?) Go with the flow. Plus, none of these explorations will ever be finished.  I used to dream of founding a movement that would expand across the globe, a community building BIM models, for fun and for mutual learning, studying the history of built form, technologies, styles, “the way we build.”  There have been some great collaborations, but it hasn’t exactly gone viral, so I’m just plugging away, dabbling here and there, sharing whenever I can.

 


 


This Swedish detour was partly prompted by a comment on LinkedIn from a Blacksmith in the states.  This took me to the town of Torshalla which has a church that shares quite a lot, stylistically with the churches I have been studying in Denmark. It happens also to be a steel town with connections to the city of Sheffield which was a formative part of my young adulthood.  I used to have a ted brick terraced house, that sat on a hillside overlooking the Don Valley and it’s enormous steel mills, now mostly long demolished.

 

 

I’m rambling on.  The images interspersed with the text above document my attempts to add a couple of churches on the island of Gotland to my study series.  I could have chosen mainland churches that look much more like the Danish collection, but I was drawn to the spires on these, and the challenged they posed.

 

So I spent an afternoon setting up a parametric version of that geometry.  I used two swept blends.  They could have been just blends because the path is vertical, but I wanted to use loaded profiles.  Step one was a parametric octagon.  Uses a simple formula with “root 2” in it, there could be other approaches.  This is the top profile of the lower swept blend, which has a square base (a sketch)

 


The upper solid uses two types (sizes) of the octagon for top and bottom profiles.  Now we get to formulas that control the slope angle of both solids.  That’s a way of coordinating them.  Now we only need to link the top octagon of the lower solid to the base octagon of the second, resulting in a parametric base with three inputs.  The width of the base square, the angle of pitch, and a ratio to control how far up the transition happens.

It's nice addition to my collection of primitives with which I can build massing models of churches and temples.

Yeah, I know, the visuals are out of synch.  Need to post this and move on.  Haven’t even got around to talking about the sketch-over stuff: taking a screenshot from Enscape and freehanding detail on my new(ish) Surface.  In the end it’s just another way of “thinking aloud”

 




Sunday, May 15, 2022

MAPPING LUTHER

 

The title alludes to a site initiated by Andrew Tallon and Stephen Murray, art history academics in the USA.  I came to know about it while working on the model of Notre Dame that our group of BIM enthusiasts created shortly after the fire. 

https://mcid.mcah.columbia.edu/art-atlas/mapping-gothic/map

I have been experimenting with an approach to studying a group of related historical buildings, a “style” or “school” if you like.  In this case I’m looking at the “White Churches” of Denmark.  These are small village churches, dating from the early days of Christianity in Denmark.  The earliest churches would have been wooden structures, but during the 1100s simple naves with round arches began to appear.  

 


Those Romanesque “starter churches” were extended in various ways throughout the middle ages, adding chancels, apses, bell towers, entrance porches.  I visited Denmark in 2017, but I didn’t visit any of these churches.  These studies are an offshoot of recent work on the churches of P.V. Jensen Klint, who was clearly inspired by the stepped-gable tradition which is one of the distinguishing features of the white churches.

I have been working on a broad survey of Temples and Churches across the western world over the past two and a half millennia.  I’m kind of jumping back and forth as the fancy takes me and in response to interesting detours that pop into view as I gather reference material on the web.  It’s a labour of love: part of a plan for my twilight years, using BIM as a thinking tool to ponder “the meaning of life” and integrating the digital and manual approaches to exploring the world.

 



I posted a few images on Linked In as I was developing this study.  Text in italics is from those posts.

 

This morning's quest: to build a map of Denmark, using a metre to represent a kilometre. (because Revit doesn't like really big distances)

Into this I will insert my massing models of Danish churches. Let's not think much further ahead than that.

 



 

 

 

 

Yesterday afternoon I created a "legend view" in Revit for my first six massing models of Danish churches. Had to change the category to "Furniture" to force a "Roof Plan". This snapshot is from a sheet with 6 camera views placed on the grid "as if" they are part of the Legend.

I think this has some merit as a way to take an overview of these massing models and think about similarities and differences of form.

 



 

Today I have been setting up sheets for the individual churches in my current study of medieval white churches in Denmark. This is the tradition on which P.V. Jensen-Klint drew when designing his 3 remarkable churches in Copenhagen.

I'm working on six churches in the first place, to develop a method. Here are the two sheets which have progressed furthest. Very different locations. One is still in a rural, island setting. The other has been absorbed into urban expansion.

 



 

This whole series is a “view from 10 thousand feet “ or you could call it a “broad brush“ approach. Hence the use of massing models, masquerading as RFA files. I’m trying to be agile, in current parlance.

Choosing the right level of abstraction is always a critical factor in BIM, as in any other artistic medium. Keep it simple. Focus on essentials.

 

 

I don’t have any special words of wisdom or startlingly new insights arising from these studies (yet), but I've definitely acquired a broader understanding of Danish history and geography. Seems to me that Lutheran National Churches played a major role in defining the Nordic identity. How this differs from the Church of England is an open question. At first I had the impression that the Church of Denmark had retained more vitality and relevance, but perhaps if I looked at the websites of medieval village churches in the UK (through the eyes of a naïve outsider) I would come to similar conclusions.

One thing that does pique my interest is the style of Danish graveyards, neatly divided up by low, trimmed hedges. I've represented this in a very coarse way, but it would be good to take the LOD up a notch.  Interesting challenge.

 

 



 

 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

EXPRESS YOURSELF (ISM)

 Grundtvigs church is generally classified as an example of Expressionist Architecture which itself is conceived as part of a trend within Modernist Art of the early 20th century.  Think of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, the early buildings of Erich Mendelsohn, the music of Arnold Schoenberg.  Here’s and interesting extract from Wikipedia.  Theodor Adorno describes expressionism as concerned with the unconscious, and states that “the depiction of fear lies a the centre” of expressionist music, with dissonance predominating, so that the “harmonious affirmative element of art is banished.”

 



Seems like a telling analysis of the trap of modernism into which our art (and perhaps our whole society) has fallen.  The impulse to shock, to rebel, to feed on outrage … sound familiar?  I’m not at all sure that this has anything to do with the work and thought of the father & son team which built three churches in Copenhagen.



Denmark has a national Lutheran church which seems to remain remarkably vital, though I am far from an authority on this.  My working hypothesis is that the ability of this national church to remain relevant to ordinary people is an important factor in the success of the brand of free-market social democracy that seems to have worked better in Denmark than in many other contexts around the world.



Klint the elder is an interesting character. Born Peder Vilhelm Jensen, he added “Klint” to his name at the age of 37.  This translates to “Cliff” but I have never seen an explanation for the name change.  He trained as a building engineer, whatever that means.  Perhaps it was a kind of architecture course which emphasized practical knowledge over artistic expression, maybe what we would call an Architectural Technologist today.  If so, it’s interesting that he veered off this course after graduation hoping to pursue a career as a painter, but earning a living by teaching Mathematics. 




He was in his 40s when he started to design villas for friends and gradually became recognized as an architect.  He also designed ceramics and furniture.  Throughout he seems to have been determined to remain rooted in the vernacular traditions of Danish craftsman, but not afraid of expressing these in a “modern” way.




Was he deeply religious?  I have no way of knowing, but the architectural output I can access is mostly church design, with some associated residential.  Indeed the three churches I am studying here are profoundly interested by their residential context.

 


N.F.S. Grundtvig is an interesting character in his own right.  Described as a pastor, poet, historian & politician, He died when Peder Klint was still a boy.  Perhaps his greatest legacy is the “Folk High School” tradition in Scandinavia and German-speaking countries.  The key idea seems to be to offer an education that is equal in status to the “academic stream” but which takes a more practical approach and values lifelong learning.




There are parallels here with the “Education With Production” experiment that I participated in during the first decade of independence in Zimbabwe.  I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the European version has been much more successful.

The three churches are recognizably part of the same series, but respond to their contexts in very different ways.  Grundtvig's church is embedded in a substantial social housing scheme.  It’s West Front is on axis to the main entry street into that development, and it sits in a large courtyard with a kind of village green on the northern side.  My visit was plagued by dreary conditions: light but steady rain.  My photos have rain spots and condensation on the lens.  Indeed my shoes were thoroughly drenched and I spent a miserable time walking after messing up my bus connections.  

 



All the same it was definitely worth the effort.  There is no substitute for taking your own physical body to experience a building in its context.  VR is fascinating and I’m sure the metaverse will have some kind of a positive side, but human thought is an embodied phenomenon.  We learn by doing.  We understand the world by acting things out. 

Let’s close with a sneak peek.  My next little exploration will venture into the world of small white churches, that lie dotted around Denmark.  In part they are the inspiration behind Grundtvig’s architecture, and his extension of tradition into the world of twentieth century Copenhagen.