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Site Location: Canterbury Cathedral

Module Title: Dissertation

Date: Winter 2020

For my dissertation, I was given the option of a purely written document or to submit a written element alongside an artefact in the form of a 3d object, installation or movie. My choice was to study Late Medieval architecture, design for an eclectic Contemporary-Gothic spire (specifically a Fléche) and  produce a scale model for presentation in front of a panel of academic critics. My 4000-word report included research and analysis into High Gothic tracery, medieval building techniques and spire design and proportion.

1-100 Scale Model (MDF/PLA)

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Fléche rendered in Vray to show how it could be lit.

Designing the fléche

The first part of the design process was a decision on the dimensions and proportions. The height is somewhat arbitrary, as the spire can be scaled up or down to suit the building it sits on, but for this experiment, it was taken to be around 50m from the top of the ridge to the tip of the spire. The width therefore is restricted to be between 7m and 11.5m to meet the criteria.

Once the design intentions had been determined, a series of trials were sketched out to test different orientations of popular motifs to meet the set requirements. The chosen iteration was a homage to the evolution of tracery through the development of the Gothic period. The overall height was split up into 4 sections, the bottom section being the smallest and each section above being 1.618 times larger than its predecessor.

The bottom section (marked A in Figure above) was the base of the spire – only required to elevate the spire above the rest of the roof. The next section (B) is internally enclosed to suggest a central stair column and externally made up from 8 panels of geometric tracery. This pattern includes two lancet openings topped with a pointed trefoil. The penultimate section (C) is in the flamboyant style and exhibits an ogee arch below a steep triangular gable, capped with a fleuron finial. The space between these members are filled in a compact filigree fashion with mouchettes, daggers and trefoils in Reuleaux triangles or circles. Between the panels of tracery are the vertical buttresses which start at the bottom of the spire and continue up to the crocketed pinnacles half way up the design (top of C).  These take the load of the flying buttresses which orbit around the centre of the fléche.

The top section of the spire (D) is the most contemporary interpretation within the piece. It plays on multiple facets of the themes: scale, reticulation, verticality and organic form. The section can be broken into two intertwining, yet juxtaposing forms: one (highlighted in orange) starts from the centre point at the intersection of flying buttresses and terminates two thirds up the top section; the other emerges at a tangent to the pitch from the four alternating flying buttresses and stretches up to the top of the spire. The two weave in opposing oscillating motions to each other in a way which produces a silhouette of vesical piscis (shown in figure X). The points where these curved members almost intersect, is recognised with a dagger motif which surrounds the incident opposing member as a visual statement on the deliberate separation of these elements. In contrast, they both converge and meet at the midpoint of the previously mentioned points and this congregation is recognised a third of the way up section D with a sphere.

Constructing the scale model:

The artefact is at 1:100 scale and comprises of 3 types of modelling. Hand worked 4mm MDF at the base, laser cut 2mm MDF and 0.8mm white card in the middle and 3D printed PLA at the top of the model. The base of the product is designed to represent the roof over a nave and transept – i.e. two perpendicular ridges - that the fléche would be found on. This part was hand cut on a bandsaw and then had the edges hand sanded to a bevel to allow each piece to create the desired angles once all pieces were glued together.

The main bulk of the spire was drawn on CAD and send to a laser cut out of a single A2 sheet of MDF. The 8 vertical members were doubled up to create 8mm thick buttress-like pieces and were cut to slot into the upper floor of the spire for accuracy and stability of the model. The 8 intricate flamboyant tracery panels in the upper layer were laser cut out of thinner 0.8mm card. The thinner/ denser profile of this material allowed for the intricate design to be formed without the bars breaking or burning under the hot temperatures of the laser beam. The top section of the spire was 3d printed in 4 sections and superglued together. The design was sculpted digitally and exported to a slicing software which converts the STL file to a GCode file to tell the printer which X, Y and Z movements to make to build up the layers of melted PLA to form the pieces.