In prevision of the November stone vault that will be built in Jericho, Scales (research department of AAU Anastas) and GSA research laboratory (Paris Malaquais) are finishing a two-year research programme – funded by Campus France and the French consulate in Jerusalem through the al-Maqdissi grant – and in partnership with the el-Atlal residency project, on the construction of stone vaults in Palestine.
Palestine suffers of a misuse of stone as a structural material: while it was an abundant material used for structural purposes in the past, it is now used as a cladding material only.
From the sustainable point of view, stone has a life cycle assessment (LCA) that is interesting especially in regards to the numerous and nearby stone quarries in Palestine. Every point in Palestine is, at most, 50km far from the closest stone quarry.
The research aims at including stone stereotomy– the processes of cutting stones – construction processes in contemporary architecture. In that sense, the research includes a more global concern.
Stone has, however, some constraints linked to its physical properties. Vaulted systems are typically solicited in compression imposing morphological limitations related to the transmission of forces through the surfaces of contact of stone voussoirs. Furthermore, the stone vault typologies require a scaffolding structure for the mounting process. The scaffolding may be a laborious and time-consuming phase of the construction of stone vaults. In this regards, we have a lot to learn and still to discover form master builders of stone-construction periods.
The church of Sainte Anne is one of Jerusalem old city’s most valuable witness of crusaders’ architecture.The church has been built in the 12th century by the Crusaders. The church of Saint Anne offers a complete example of what was the architecture of the Crusaders in Palestine; a combination of different architectural elements that they brought from abroad and indigenous elements that they found in situ.
The nave’s cupola is one of the most well preserved crusaders cupola’s of Jerusalem. Restored in 1866 by Mauss and in 1967 after a shell landed on the cupola, it is still standing today and says a lot about the master builders’ understanding of the materials and their construction techniques.
The two-year research programme highlighted the use of stone vaults in Palestinian architecture. Unlike neighboring countries – like Lebanon or Syria – where stone vaults were reserved to noble monuments, stone vaults in Palestine are part of a common architectural language. As such, stone vaults are manifold widespread, yet more difficult to notice and identify.
SCALES and GSA are preparing the launching of a community-based vault atlas of Palestine. The easiest and quickest way to locate the greatest number of widespread vaults is to involve the greatest number of people. Through this web-based platform, AAU and GSA aim to automatically classify and search for vaults corresponding to different criteria, including size, period of construction, vault typology, location etc.
Construction techniques are a key concern that we aim to better understand through stone stereotomy combined with structural analysis.By working on stone stereotomy and interlocking geometrical systems, the research aims at proposing relatively easy processes of building stone vaults.
The November vault prototype is part of a larger project for the el-Atlal project, a residency for artists and writers in Jericho.It is the first large-scale prototype of the current research. The shape of the structure, its geometrical paving based on geodesic curves, and the definition of each voussoir’s stereotomy are all part of an established workflow to design large-scale free-form stone vaults.
Based on geometrical parameters as the overall shape, the density of the paving, the inclination of contact surfaces, the size of the voussoirs, and number of voussoirs types, a specific structural criteria can be improved. Manufacturing layouts are then generated and construction processes – especially involving formwork and scaffolding – are then specified and efficiency-measured. The whole process is an in-progress workflow which will aim at using computational design and advanced fabrication techniques in order to present a modern stone construction technique as part of a local and global architectural language.