Westminster Abbey 1045-1050
Timber Interpretation by James Johnson and Dean Ho See Swan
The form of the mediaeval gothic cathedral is the result of its execution in a single material, stone. Buttresses, weighted down with pinnacles resist the massive lateral thrusts of the interior vaults. Ribs and their responds trace the compressive forces as they pass down through the building.
The interpretation of Westminster Abbey in a material whose structural properties are almost diametrically opposed to stone presented for us a number of problems. Our timber interpretation was therefore conceived of as an ephemeral structure – a positively incomplete system.
The vast masonry columns become slender, open trussed members, braced against tensile forces with slim steel tension rings mechanically fixed to the timber ‘ribs’, and the column design will allow some movement in the wind. The fan vault, without the masonry spandrels required to stabilise the voussoir arches, becomes a delicate, tree-like canopy.