Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Beaulieu Abbey Project

Today is the official start of the Beaulieu Abbey project. It has seemed a long month with quite a bit happening including the final event of the Digital Horizons year long programme of masterclass seminars (more about this later). This day has been long awaited, the first day of working on a real TW project which will culminate in a fully working Talking Walls application showing how a site changed over the years, with the lives of the people who lived and worked there - a form of architectural, digital storytelling with animated visually-rich timeslices.

The prototype was of Dunster Castle, a National Trust property, near Minehead in Somerset, this pilot will be of Beaulieu Abbey, in Hampshire. The Abbey was a Cistercian monastry, the largest built in the UK, and provided a working life for many people as well as the monks that were based there, during and after it had been built, a process that took several years. Pontigny Abbey in France is the closest example in size and style, and is luckily, still standing in most of it's glory.

The 3D model will be based on sketches, floorplates and images found in the very few books written about Beaulieu Abbey. They are:

The Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu, in the County of Southampton, by W.H. St John Hope Esq., M.A. and Harold Brakspear Esq., F.S.A.

Beaulieu King John's Abbey, by Dom Frederick Hockey O.S.B., F.R.Hist.S.

A History of Beaulieu Abbey A.D. 1204 - 1539, by Sir James K. Fowler K.C.V.O., M.A.

Studies in Cistercian Art and Architecture Vol 2, ed Meredith Parsons Lillich

The Barns of the Abbey of Beaulieu at its Granges of Great Coxwell & Beaulieu St. Leonards, by Walter Horn and Ernest Born

Some of these books have been very kindly loaned by John Pemberton of Ipley Manor, which once was an outlying farm of Beaulieu Abbey, and others recommended by Susan Tomkins, the archivist at Beaulieu.

Other resources to aid the rebuild are photos of the site and the remaining artifacts, maps and paintings by various artists over the years. Obviously the accuracy of the 3D rebuild will depend on the information available, but it is hoped that the final outcome will be a true example of the Abbey, how it was placed and how it came to be what it is now.

The application will also tell the story of the Cistercian monks, what they farmed, how they lived their lives and their interaction with the community that grew with the Abbey. This will become a rich resource for students and pupils for their studies and history projects, as well as monastic societies.

As King John's Abbey, Beaulieu saw a lot of royal visitors and these will become some of the characters that the user will be able to choose to tell their story whilst being guided around the site.

There will be educational quizzes and various other elements to entice the visitor to explore further, and learn more about the Abbey, it's inhabitants and surroundings.

The visitor will initially be able to explore and view this information via a kiosk, a handheld application will also be available, along with a fantastic new Talking Walls website in which people will be able to delve deeper.

It is just as well I love history, architecture, and research, as it is going to be a busy seven months. If anyone reading this has stories about Beaulieu Abbey, or knows of other books or websites that might be relevant, please contact me.

I will post images of it's progress, meanwhile please wish me luck for the start of this very exciting project.