Tuesday, February 11, 2020


We see what we expect to see.  There are lots of psychology experiments that play off this reality.  The famous gorilla suit guy waltzing through the basketball players is particularly dramatic.  I’ve been reading and watching discussions in the world of neuroscience and cognition.  We are engaged in a “learning by doing” exercise as we recreate Notre Dame.  The “embodied mind” and “predictive cognition” are academic variations on this theme.  We understand the world by acting upon it.  We act by predicting what will happen when we do X, noting any prediction errors and adjusting our actions accordingly.  

All our ideas are metaphors deriving from the ways our bodies interact with the world.  I am “falling behind” with my blog posts.  This weekend, Francois shared images from a book he had acquired.  It’s full of drawings of Notre Dame, but it’s not altogether clear who made the drawings and how accurate they are.  This is discussed in the foreword of the book.  Certainly, there are many discrepancies between the drawings and the cathedral as it was a year ago.  

Difficult to interpret.
  • Mistakes by the artist?  
  • Changes made to the building by Viollet le Duc and others?  
  • How will we ever know? 

The only way I know is to “do stuff”.  If you want to understand something, try to draw it.  That was my mantra as I was growing up.  We learn by acting upon the world and picking up on anomalies.  

Among the drawings are the two end elevations of the transepts: North and South.  Every time we have set about making a family for these locations, we have quickly discovered that they are quite different.  And yet, at a glance we see them as twins.  This delusion persists despite the discovery of multiple differences.  This weekend I realized that the horizontal elements on the North façade are systematically lower than those on the South.  

There are fascinating little flights of steps leading “nowhere” at the ends of the Triforium galleries where they meet the transepts and turn the corner.  I have looked at these on the TruView site many, many times.  Actually, they don’t go nowhere, one of them leads to an access door.  Maybe they both did, originally.  There are small access doors below the steps in both cases.  

Looking is not seeing.  As soon as I thought about “making” these steps I noticed something new.  There is a zig-zag pattern.  It’s almost as if they are straight versions of the spiral stairs that lead up to the roof.

This is a fascinating variation on the “cantilever stair” beloved by Soane, and more correctly called a Torsion Stair because each tread is supported on two edges, although the whole stair appears to cantilever from the wall.  It also reminds me of those kinds of ladder that have different rungs for left and right legs.  Clearly you have to predict which step is intended for which leg before attempting to climb these stepping-stones.  I imagine that most of us would do this quite subconsciously.  

Amazing how often our body does the thinking for us, and our brains just go along for the ride.

It has been a weekend of small insights.  We started to unravel the access routes that weave their way through gothic cathedrals quite early on in our modelling activities, but they are very complex and varied.  I had assumed that there were spiral stairs at all four corners of the transepts, simply because there are external projections that climb all the way up to the eaves.  I knew that those to the west didn’t extend to ground level, but so what?

Well it seems that they don’t exist at all.  Why then the splayed projections?  As far as I can tell these allow for narrow passageways within the thickness of the wall, leading to the “bridges” that cross below the rose windows.  There must be small flights of steps within these passages to handle the different levels, but not continuous spirals like there are on the East side.

When I first tackled the Bell Towers, I tried to make them square. Couldn’t quite manage it, and it’s clear now that it was a mistake. They are markedly rectangular in plain. Wider in the North – South direction. So I’ve started to correct this.  On the right a sketch that I did on my phone while mulling over how the stepping-stones worked.  It’s quite staggering the extent to which the Note 8 has become an extension of my brain-body amalgam.  I guess it started with clay tablets and cuneiform, invaded my childhood in the form of pencil & paper, then mutated into this all-purpose device that allows me to collect and/or originate dozens of images per day.

It connects me to hundreds of people around the world who share an interest in buildings.  We exchange selected items from our daily encounters with this domain.  Recent among these was drone captured geometry of a rose window.  Alfredo commented on this and I was motivate to find the source, a private school in West Sussex, not far from where my parents once lived.  

This got me thinking about a comparative study of Rose Window Geometry.  Revit’s drafting tools suit this task better than hand sketching.  I need at least another 5 of these to make it worthy of the name “study”.

Nader joined our team recently and has been looking at stained glass material textures.  I think it may be difficult to create materials that render equally well in different applications, but some good progress is being made.  There are at least three different styles of stained glass:  
  • Richly coloured medieval style pictures, 
  • “grisaille” patterns in more muted colours and 
  • “modern” abstract designs created in the 1960s … which is what I am showing below.

Project Notre Dame is quite an intense group experience, with a common goal and regular interactions.   More diffusely this interweaves with other networks, notably LinkedIn and YouTube.  There are seemingly endless communities of enthusiasts out there.  Last weekend I watched some time-lapse drawings of decorative scroll-work and foliage.  

This reminded me of work I was doing just before Notre Dame invaded my consciousness.  I was working through classical motifs (rosettes, acanthus leaves) with a combination of Revit modelling and digital sketching.  At that stage I was just mostly sketching over photographic images, often simplifying and abstracting, but not inventing from scratch.  The videos helped me to believe that freestyle improvisation was achievable.  

My first attempt is very loose and quirky, but quite lively.  No guides or source, I just started drawing and made it up as I went along.  I am loving the contrast between this quick flight of fancy, and the long haul of recreating a cathedral.  Geometrical precision of the rose window geometry versus free-flowing lines and wash effects.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andy - Mouncey Ferguson here with Autodesk University. Just wanted to confirm that you received my email 2 days ago with a draft of the article we're working on. There are a few questions we'd like to get answered, we want you to approve all your quotes, and we'd like to include some renders from your Notre Dame project if that's okay. You can find me at mouncey.ferguson@autodesk.com as before. Thanks! - M


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