On the Road – Architectural History and Student Field Trips

DBHG MA Album Cover Country #1 smallIt’s the beginning of another exciting academic year with the Digital Building Heritage Group at De Montfort University and we have a great programme of field trips which is now under way for our LSA MArch Architecture students to historic houses and sites in the East Midlands of England and beyond. This term we have a late medieval and Tudor theme, examining great halls, brick-making, kitchens, moats and renaissance influences on early modern English architecture. A long day last week saw staff and students driving up to Lincolnshire with a morning stop at the National Trust’s Tattershall Castle to see the extraordinary early Flemish brickwork of the donjon and the sheer scale of Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell and Treasurer of England’s architectural ambition between 1430 and 1450. At a time when the English nobility were aspiring to more comfortable, continental modes of living but were still part of an unstable society where civil warfare was the norm, Tattersall was the epitome of a powerful noble house that was both more comfortable than an earlier medieval fortification and yet still defensible. Importing Flemish brick-makers and building techniques (but with English masons carving the fireplaces in stone) it was also fashionably advanced, and set a style that would be copied over the next 100 years. Brick had an aesthetic appeal but had practical advantages over stone in speed of construction and availability in areas where good building stone was in short supply. A brick kiln or clamp of the period could fire 100,000 bricks in a week, and a couple of months of firing over the winter could keep a summer crew of masons and bricklayers occupied for six months on a large project like this.

Tattershall Banner #1 smallIts real glory is the peristyle on the roof, which immediately suggets a very English version the cortille of an Itallian renaissance palazzo. Although very heavily restored in the 1920’s the possibilities of this are historically intriguing.

In the afternoon the destination was English Hertitage’s Gainsborough Old Hall, via the ancient city of Lincoln, to see the mid 15th century Great hall, original kitchens and private rooms in near as-built condition as it’s possible to experience in England. As with any survival of this kind Gainsborough Old Hall has been added to and changed over the years but its th fact that there is so much that has survived from its original form that is interesting, such that’s it’s relatively easy to appreciate how it would have looked in 1460 when it was built by Sir Thomas Burgh. This is particularly true of the kitchens which are a very rare survival, complete with roof, lantern, fireplaces and ovens. One of the nice things about English Heritage’s treatment is the furnishings and exhibition of clothing and tableware. This really does lend much to the atmosphere and makes it far easier to imagine the place inhabited. Of course accretions like this are never a snapshot in time but an amalgam of various periods but if one accepts this the overall impression is generally convincing, informative and dare one suggest, entertaining.

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The Newarke in Roman Leicester

R2 smallHere in Leicester UK we are fortunate in having a rich urban history, not least of which is the establishment of the city by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. Ratae Corieltauvorum as it was known was founded on the site of Iron Age settlement where the Roman Fosse Way connecting Lincoln and Exeter crossed the river Soar. Currently the Digital Building Heritage Group is working on a 3D digitally animated reconstruction of several key periods of Leicester History, focussing on the area called The Newarke where De Montfort University now has its campus including what it looked like in during the Roman period. The Newarke lay outside the Roman walls of the city and in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD was largely agricultural with some light industry / crafts like brick and tile making, a cemetery lining the road to the south gate and small trading craft plying the River Soar taking goods to and from the wharfs below the city walls on the river bank. The general layout of the city was as one might expect on grid and the city was surrounded by a stone wall with an embankment on the inside and ditches on the outside.Passing to the north of the Newark was a man-made water-course part of which still survives in a set of embankments called the Rawdykes. It seems likely that this supplied the city with fresh water and in particular the two Roman baths, one at Bath Lane near the river and the other much larger one at Jewry wall. How the water was directed past the high walls into the city is unclear but we have shown a water-wheel lift outside the walls to lift it up and over. This is not the only possibility but given the current evidence available is an option which would have been feasible.D4 smallBelow is a 1567 Latin edition of the 1st century AD Roman author Vitruvius’s book De Architectura published by Francesco De Franceschi and illustrated by the architect Andrea Palladio where Vitruvius describes in detail several types of water-lift including Archimedean screws. The knowledge of how to build these machines would have been widespread in the Roman world as water-lifting was common in mines, agriculture and other industrial processes as well as for domestic supply. They were often powered by slaves.vitruvius_screw_1567_p348 small


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Mobile Device Apps for Community Archaeology

Apps Banner (small)As part of the final output of our Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Grant AHL0132901 on the 29th June 2015 we released two new mobile device apps for community archaeologists. De Montfort University’s Digital Building Heritage Group has been collaborating with colleagues at the departments of archaeology at the University of Durham (Co-Investigator Dr David Petts) and the University of Nottingham (Co-Investigator Dr Chris King) and two community heritage groups, The Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland (Arc & Arc) and the Southwell Community Archaeology Group (SCAG) in this AHRC funded project. The objective has been to create two new, prototype mobile device apps which allow finds and other information to be uploaded by users to 3D representations of archaeological and historical sites and then explored in an intuitive way. The idea behind this was to give community heritage groups greater opportunities to interpret their own finds and present them in a way which would allow these groups to shape the stories about the archaeology they were involved with.

Binchester Banner #1There are two key new concepts in these prototype apps which make them different from other data-base archaeology apps that are available and which make a significant advance in the functionality and use-ability of apps on archaeological sites for heritage interpretation.

The first is the ability for registered users to upload finds data to an on-line Content Management System (CMS). This is done over the internet using a normal web-browser. Information about finds and the archaeology to upload can be text, images, video and audio. These finds data can be geo-located in three dimensions using a graphic x,y,z slider bar system in the app to very precise points in 3D on the archaeological site by the user during the upload. By pressing an update button on the app screen, the new finds data will be uploaded from the server and become clickable hot-spots in the app on the iPAD which will show the finds data in a new screen and also signal that there is new data for existing hot-spots. The hot spots move with the 3D model of the building as you rotate it around. There is also a Google Map view which allows you see the hot-spots in 2D in map form which is good for very large sites.

The second innovation in these apps is the use of 3D reconstructions of the buildings associated with the finds and the way they are presented. The hot-spots appear in three dimensions in the buildings. In order to reveal ones inside structures or in walls and floors or underground there is a clever section slider which allows the user to see inside the buildings and their walls and floors. In this way it really is like digging down and through the building to reveal the locations of finds so that you can click on them.

Why are this these innovations important? Public interest in archaeology has been increasingly rapidly in the UK and both professional and community archaeologists find it useful to present their work to public audiences, often on site, to show how exciting finds can inform the understanding of the communities and landscapes where we live. Presenting individual artefacts can help bring the past back to life but complex archaeological sites, with many artefacts, trenches, masonry, test pits and piles of earth can often make the ancient buildings in and around which they are found difficult to visualise for the non-expert. Furthermore recent finds are often processed and stored off-site and may not be available to the visitor so the connection between the artefact, the meaning behind where it was found and the process of archaeology may not be immediately self-evident. The prototype apps which we have co-produced with our academic and community heritage partners are intended to demonstrate a paradigm for presenting data and metadata about archaeological sites and ancient buildings in a way that meaningfully addresses these issues. It is now up to our community heritage partners to upload data to the apps and experiment with them to see how they work in practice, and how the concepts and ideas behind them may be improved in future.

The apps are free to download from Apple’s App Store and at present are available for Apple’s iPad only. Search for “Binchester” and for “Southwell” in the App Store.

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3D Printing a Medieval Chantry Chapel

StMary_02 smallIt’s easy to forget that some of the most long-lived and durable assets in heritage interpretation are traditional physical models. Architectural models have long been used to convey the appearance, spatial sequences, structure and other aspects of buildings and they can become historic artefacts in their own right, just as historic buildings do in reality. There’s a fine collection of gorgeous historic architectural models going back to the 17th century at the V&A RIBA gallery in London for example. A physical model has tangibility and permanence, aspects which give them a trusted place in museums and have ensured their popularity and longevity. However digital technologies do have an important role to play in making the next generation of architectural heritage models using 3D printing. With 3D printing architectural models can now be produced as part of a range of outputs (including digital only assets like flythroughs and mobile device apps) from the mainstream 3D digital documentation and CAD modelling process. What hasn’t changed is the high level of skill and craftsmanship at all the stages of the design and production process that’s required to make really good 3D printed models.

StMary_Banner #1 smallThe Digital Building Heritage Group has for a number of years been producing 3D printed architectural models for heritage interpretation and exhibition. Recently we were asked to produce a relatively large and very detailed 3D printed sectional model of the Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin of St Mary of the Annunciation in the Newarke for De Montfort University’s new heritage centre, a now lost historic royal chantry chapel which’ve blogged about before here. The model had to be sectional (down its long axis) so that visitors to the heritage centre could see the interior of the church and it had to be relatively large (0.5m / 1.6ft long and the same height) in order to adequately convey the architectural detail. The overall form of the church was pieced together digitally in 3D from available evidence using a quality control and authentication process which we recently presented at the Computer Applications in Archaeology 2015 (CAA2015) conference in Sienna in April this year. It then went through a preparation process where it was engineered to minimise the amount of material required and allow accurate jointing of its various components. The finished model is made out of resin bonded powdered gypsum with many of the detailed parts produced in 3D printed nylon. Presented in a custom made acrylic case with an American white oak base, we hope this model will be a useful and attractive asset in De Montfort University’s new Heritage Centre which will help to better explain an important, lost medieval building from the beginning of the University’s history.


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Archaeology at Bradgate House

Left – Roofing slate from the un-stratified demolition rubble on the “stables” site at Bradgate House. Right -Dr Douglas Cawthorne, De Montfort University and Dr Richard Thomas, University of Leicester.

Left – Roofing slate from the un-stratified demolition rubble in Trench 6 at Bradgate House. Right -Dr Douglas Cawthorne, De Montfort University and Dr Richard Thomas, University of Leicester.

It was a pleasure to be invited by Dr Richard Thomas of the University of Leicester’s (UoL) School of Archaeology and Ancient History to their site at Bradgate House in Leicestershire this week to have a preliminary look at the evidence for buildings emerging from his team’s excavations there. UoL have embarked on the first of five season’s planned archaeological exploration in Bradgate Park and Bradgate House to investigate a range of sites and features ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Early Modern. Of particular interest to the Digital Building Heritage Group is the possibility that Dr Thomas and his team could turn up new evidence for now lost buildings which appear in several historic documents associated with Bradgate House and which have links to events in its history. An example is a building recorded by Leonard Knyff and Jan Kip, two Dutch draftsmen and engravers who in 1707 published in London their “Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates.” The volume is among the most important English topographical publications of the 18th century and shows a number of now lost or much altered great houses as they were at the beginning of the eighteenth century, often using the then recently developed method of the aerial perspective.

Left – Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford PC (c. 1654 – 1720) master of Bradgate House. Right – Bradgate House in Leonard Knyff and Jan Kip’s, “Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates”, London 1709. The unknown building is outlined in red.

Left – Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford PC (c. 1654 – 1720) master of Bradgate House. Right – Bradgate House in Leonard Knyff and Jan Kip’s, “Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates”, London 1709. The unknown building is outlined in red.

One of these engravings is of Bradgate House (see above) and in addition to the easily recognisable main house itself it clearly shows a very large additional building of two and half stories behind it. This mystery building is of a considerable size, possibly even bigger than the main hall itself. Looking at the fenestration and storey heights it could be up to fifty meters long and appears to have a central aedicule or entrance porch. It appears to be south east of the main house but its exact distance from it is unclear. Whether it is north or south of the road which runs past Bradgate House cannot be determined from the drawing but there appear to be smaller, possibly single storied, pitched roof buildings between it and wall of the garden or orchard to the north of it. There are a number of possible candidate buildings available from the historical record, one of the most interesting is a large stable block that was reported to have been built in advance of the visit of King William III In 1696 and was designed to accommodate 100 horses. Andrew Bloxham in “A Description of Bradgate Park and the Adjacent County” (1829) notes that these stables “…were erected in the short space of nineteen days … [and] … are built in a very massive and substantial manner; they serve at the present time as shelter for the deer in the winter, and during the summer months, when numerous parties visit the place, as receptacles for their horses“.

On first inspection one might look at the building in Knyff and Kip’s engraving and quickly assume that it does not look like a stable building, it looks far too elaborate, more like the central façade of a great house of the period. But this would be to misunderstand the role of stables and their architecture in the social status of the aristocracy of the period. Horses were an ultimate status symbol of power and prestige, the nobility would celebrate their wealth by ownership and their expertise in horsemanship by creating lavish accommodation for their household’s horses. Excellent examples of this exist not least by the Smythsons, a famous family of early English architects. John Smysthon (d. 1634), son of Robert Smythson (1535 – 1614), designed a riding school in 1622 and new stables in 1625 at Wellbeck Abbey, about sixty miles north of Bradgate and a few years later at nearby Bolsover Castle William Cavendish (Duke of Newcastle) had John’s eldest son, Huntingdon Smythson (d. 1648), design and build an elaborate range of stable buildings in the 1630’s including an indoor riding school and farriers to accommodate, train and show off his horses. The stable building for Wellbeck Abbey is not dissimilar in size and overall form (2–2½ storeys and a central entrance) to the building shown in Knyff and Kip’s engraving, although as one would expect after 70 years of architectural development in England the ornamental enrichment is somewhat different.

Left - A 1622-25 design for a stable building and riding house at Wellbeck Abbey by John Smythson. Right – Riding School and stables at Bolsover castle designed by Huntingdon Smythson.

Left – A 1622-25 design for a stable building and riding house at Wellbeck Abbey by John Smythson. Right – Riding School and stables at Bolsover castle designed by Huntingdon Smythson.

A tradition of elaborate and large stable buildings was therefore well established in England at least seventy years before William III’s visit to Bradgate House in 1696 and it is conceivable that the same motivations exhibited by Cavendish at Bolsover and Wellbeck drove Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford (c. 1654 – 1720) to invest very heavily in an impressive status building like a stables and other alterations to his house to impress King William III in order to gain political favour. King William III had made him a Privy Counsellor in 1694 when he ascended the English throne and then made Grey Lord Lieutenant of Devon in 1696 – the year of his visit to Bradgate. Later in 1697 Grey became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1697 and King William appointed him President of the Board of Trade in 1699, a highly lucrative position. So there is clear circumstantial evidence for Thomas Grey’s wish to curry favour from King William and a demonstration of his erudition and wealth through architectural patronage would have been one method of doing so.

Apart from the Knyff and Kip engraving there is as far as we know to date only one other pictorial representation of Bradgate House before it was finally abandoned and fell into ruin and that is a 1746 estate map drawn by Nicholas Kiddiar. Amongst other structures on the estate it shows a small two-story building occupying a very roughly level site immediately between the south side of Bradgate House and the road, roughly where the mystery building in the Knyff and Kip engraving appears to be. The function of this building remains unknown, it could be stables, or another possibility is that the building shown in Kiddiar’s map is a kennels, which are noted in 1790 by Nicholas Throsby in his “Supplementary Volume to the Leicestershire Views, containing a Series of Excursions to the Villages and Places of Note in that County.” Clearly there was something on this site, possibly a sequence of buildings and it is in fact one of the sites in Bradgate Park which Dr Thomas and his colleagues are digging (see images below). During our visit we looked closely at what was emerging on this site. There is evidence for paved / cobbled surfaces, well-formed drainage channels on the south of the structure, masonry and lath and plaster walls and large amounts of demolition rubble including lime plaster and mortar (see below) and Swithland slate roof tiles (see above) and a stirrup. All of this is consistent with stables buildings but does not exclude other possible building types. It is hoped that as excavations progress, the size, extent and possible layout of the structure will become clearer so that we can see whether or not it bears any relationship to the clues in the documentary evidence. We remain open to the possibility that if the great stables building of 1696 do exist, they may be elsewhere, perhaps further to the south on the other side of the road and the river. Bradgate Banner #1

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Bradgate – Laser Scanning a Tudor Country House

The Digital Building Heritage Group have been gathering data on one of Britain’s earliest unfortified brick historic country houses including carrying out a series of up-to-date, high resolution, wide area laser scans. A ruin since the late 18th century, Bradgate House in Leicestershire (first completed circa 1520) rests within its original medieval parkland setting but also sits at a vitally important historical transition point between late medieval and early renaissance architecture in England. Bradgate was the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey, a talented humanist scholar who was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII and after the death of Edward VI became the de-facto monarch of England from 10 July until 19 July 1553. She was the so called “nine day queen”. Eventually imprisoned and sentenced to death for treason by England’s Privy Council, she was executed along with her husband Lord Guildford Dudley at Tower Hill in London on 12 February 1554 in the reign of Queen Mary Tudor. Historical associations such as these aside, the buildings of Bradgate House are also an important part of British architectural history since they were erected in the period of the decline of the fortified castle and the rise of the unfortified Elizabethan aristocratic house. This transition happened for several reasons, the first was the introduction of gunpowder into Western Europe in the late thirteenth century. This and its wider use in the fourteenth meant that heavy masonry fortifications like castles which relied upon curtain walls to resist siege from conventional, early medieval weapons were largely ineffective against a sustained artillery assault. By the late 15th century in England this was being compounded by three other factors; new Renaissance ideas were arriving from the continent by way of France and the Netherlands about how noble families should live in more genteel and open accommodation; there was an associated introduction of the classical language of architecture and art to accompany and express those ideals in built form; and there was a comparatively stable internal social order within England that meant that expensive castle fortifications inteded for full scale war were less necessary. Restrictions on the domestic accommodation and facilities that could be provided within castles meant they were abandoned as places of continuous habitation by noble families in favour of adapted or entirely new houses which could be more open to the grounds which surrounded them, had large glazed windows and sport newly fashionable architectural features. Bradgate House was one of these and was even more innovative in that the builders employed brick as the main construction material with Flemish brick-makers being brought from the Low Countries to produce bricks from clay deposits nearby at Groby. For these reasons Bradgate is an interesting and important architectural monument but its development after 1520 makes it much more complex than would at first appear. Substantial built additions were made to it and some demolitions were carried out and it’s very probable that during these changes the whole orientation of the house was reversed from south to north, for reasons which are at present unclear. There are also a number of important associated buildings like a large stable block built for the visit of William III in 1796 that no longer exist and for which locations are uncertain but which may have substantially changed the appearance of the house. There are a small number of etchings and paintings of Bradgate House, carried out while it was still standing and which provide some indication of aspects of its design but none of these predate the very early 18th century (circa 1709), nearly two hundred years after it was first built and after substantial modifications were made. The House is now very ruinous, and it is difficult for the visitor to appreciate the scale, architectural detail and very deliberate magnificence of the appearance it would have had in the early sixteenth century. These early and unillustrated phases of Bradgate house, when it was occupied by Lady Jane Grey and when it would have been at the cutting edge of architectural innovation in the early Tudor period are of interest to architectural historians because their close examination using the latest digital techniques may cast new light on aspects of the development of early English renaissance architecture in relation to other, more well-known English aristocratic buildings of the period such as Richmond Palace completed by Henry VII around 1501 and Hampton Court begun by Cardinal Wolsey in 1515 and finished by Henry VIII around 1529. Seen within this historical context, study of the architectural development of Bradgate House using the latest digital techniques, archival research and authenticated, evidence based reconstructions will, we believe, bring useful new insights to the understanding of some aspects of sixteenth century English architecture.

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Chairman of Leicestershire County Council Praises DMU Architecture Students’ Designs for Village School

Banner 1De Montfort University architecture students held an exhibition of their 2nd year design projects for an extension to a Victorian village school in the Leicestershire village of Swannington on Saturday 16th May 2015. This co-production project with Swannington C of E Primary School was built into these 2nd year architecture student’s curriculum and has very effectively introduced them to the challenges and potential of community heritage design. Hosted by the school the exhibition was timed to coincide with the School’s Summer Fayre and was also the launch of the school’s SPACE campaign to raise funds for a new classroom and multi-purpose building for the increasing number of children attending the school.  It was a great pleasure to welcome Mr Bill Boulter Chairman of Leicestershire County Council to see the exhibition and he spent a considerable amount of time talking with the architecture students about their designs. Speaking about their work Mr Boulter praised the students’ designs saying that they had lots of excellent ideas which should be considered for incorporation into the final plans of the new school building. he also said that the project’s emphasis on designing to fit sympathetically into the heart of this historic village using traditional materials and building forms was very welcome. This is an important aspect of the Digital Building Heritage Group’s philosophy in dealing with historic contexts – where new buildings are necessary they should be highly sensitive to the existing architecture – and architecture students should be taught how to develop imaginative designs with this as a leading principle. The event was a great opportunity for residents of Swannington and people further afield in north-west Leicestershire to see the designs that the students had produced and discuss how these might influence the new building. We have blogged before about this initiative  here but what was remarkable about the event on the day was all the positive comments from local people, parents and the school’s staff and governors about how the student’s work really brought home the fact that their campaign for a new school building was under-way and how the student’s designs were inspiring the parents and children. For their part the students enjoyed a great lunch provided by the school and spent the afternoon explaining their designs to the many parents and county visitors who came to the school’s Fayre. We’re delighted with the way this project has been successfully completed and have enjoyed enormously working with our community partners at Swannington C of E Primary School. We’ll bring further updates on the school’s SPACE campaign as it develops.

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Pop-Up Digital Heritage Cinema at Greyfriars THI Launch

Banner 9The Digital Building Heritage Group (DBHG) had their AHRC funded show-stand and a pop-up “digital heritage cinema” at the launch event on Thursday 14th May 2015 for the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) in Leicester, held in the covered courtyard of the Boot Room “bar and eaterie” on Millstone Lane. This was an opportunity for the public to find out about this exciting £1.5M Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Leicester City Council (LCC) funded scheme to preserve and enhance the Greyfriars area of the city. There was the opportunity to see an exhibition covering the area’s historic development, get involved in hands-on activities like lime pointing brickwork with the Lincoln Heritage Skills Center and go on walking tours to see the very fine Georgian buildings which make up this historic part of the city. De Montfort University (DMU) is one of the six institutional partners working with Leicester City Council (LCC) in this five year project and as a founder member of the initiative DMU’s DBHG was showing a range of digital technologies, including laser scanning, fly-throughs of 3D digital models, 3D printed models and design projects which can be used to better understand and sensitively develop historic parts of cities. Until the day before the space had been a car-park for local businesses but with the owner’s consent it was appropriated for the day to allow the launch to take place in the heart of the Greyfriars area. Exhibitors used the car parking bays for a range of displays and in our case this was for the pop-up cinema – which proved to be a great hit (standing room only at times!). A quick (and very unscientific) audience pole put our “Virtual Roman Leicester” fly-through as the favorite screening. The “found” aspects of these semi-outdoor industrial spaces gave the event a uniquely rugged, workshop feel, with people walking in off the street just to see what was happening. Later in the evening there was the formal launch event for the project by the City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby who encouraged building owners in the area to apply for the HLF grants available under this THI scheme and by doing so support the ongoing and highly successful regeneration of the city center. Banner 4

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New Digital Designs for Victorian Village School

Banner 6For the past four months 2nd year architecture students at De Montfort University have been involved in an exciting community project to design a new multi-purpose classroom building for a Victorian primary school in the village of Swannington in Leicestershire. The existing school was built in 1825 originally as a Baptist chapel (‘Bethel Chapel’) and it retains many of the architectural details you would expect to see in this kind of building at this date. The governors and head teacher of Swannington CoE Primary School approached the Digital Building heritage Group at DMU in 2014 for help with their SPACE project, to raise funds for the new building which was to occupy a site beside the existing school and is to provide improved facilities for Early Years Children; a universal teaching space to enhance ICT provision; before and after school care and a quality venue for use by the community. It quickly became apparent that the DMU architecture students could really help drive the project forward by using their design skills and knowledge of English architectural history to create innovative design proposals for discussion. Through a series of structured consultations (happily often involving tea and cake) the architecture students worked with teachers, parents and pupils (their “Clients”) to develop a range of designs which showed how new architecture can fit sensitively and meaningfully alongside historic domestic 19th century buildings in a village setting. Banner 7All over the country there is an urgent need to develop architectural designs in this way to preserve the character and heritage of our villages and small towns. Pressure to expand has made it more important than ever that young architects and building design professionals understand the techniques to do this and develop an informed, knowledgeable and sympathetic outlook towards smaller regional communities and their built environment and heritage. The benefits the DMU students have gained through this “live” project have been enormous but their creative approach has also helped the school’s parents teachers and governors reflect on how the new building can enhance the learning experience of the children by creating a positive, safe and engaging indoor and outdoor environment. Innovative practical features have also been developed for all the designs from special child sized window seats to clever internal storage cupboards for learning and play equipment. All the building proposals have been designed so that they can be built using normal, readily available construction methods and some have included a community build option which could potentially allow the school’s parent volunteers to carry out aspects of the construction themselves. Banner 8The students made extensive use of digital technologies to both develop and present their designs, creating accurate 3D digital models of the existing site and its surrounding buildings which were then used to visualise the new design proposals. The student’s design projects form a major part of their 2nd year work for their BA(Hons) Architecture degree so it’s doubly rewarding that Swannington CofE Primary School has invited them to exhibit their designs towards the end of the academic year at the School’s Summer Fair on Saturday 16th May 2015. Hosted by the school’s Head Teacher Mr. Andrew Mawdsley and the school’s governors in the existing Victorian schoolhouse, this hugely enjoyable annual event involves the whole village of Swannington and will be the first pubic exhibition of the De Montfort students’ designs for the new multi-purpose classroom building. It is hoped that the designs will spark real debate and discussion – as they are intended to do – about how the school might move forward in developing its new classroom building. The Digital Building Heritage Group at DMU is delighted to have been able to extend its experience and expertise in AHRC funded community co-production of digital heritage to this exciting educational project and to introduce undergraduate architecture students to the really great experiences that can be gained by working on built heritage and design projects with community organisations like Swannington CofE Primary School

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Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative

Plan Doors Banner JPGAfter a lot of hard work and collaboration the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative £1.5M  five year heritage led regeneration programme, jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Leicester City Council starts on the 14th May 2015 with a launch event in the city. De Montfort University’s Digital Building Heritage Group has supported and contributed to this initiative since its inception with student projects which have systematically analysed for the first time the architectural styles and forms of the buildings which make up this important but somewhat neglected quarter of the city and proposed new buildings that are in keeping with the old. The DBHG  is set to play a continuing role as this major architectural and cultural project develops with further initiatives to better understand the existing urban fabric and future potential of this area. The aim is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the historic Greyfriars area of Leicester by preserving, restoring and enhancing its buildings and its public realm. The project, administered and led by Leicester City Council will offer grants to help pay for repair and restoration to building frontages, reinstating lost architectural features like original windows and doors, fencing and decorative masonry and bringing empty floor space back into use. Grants will pay up to 80% of the eligible project costs for eligible buildings. More information and a downloadable leaflet is available here. In addition to this there will a substantial programme of hands-on activities and training events to enable a wide range of stakeholders and the public to gain a much better understanding of the historic environment.

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The Digital Building Heritage Group will be making its skills available during the project to help stakeholders visualise, interpret and work with the development of their individual properties and the public realm and with community groups to better understand the history of the Greyfriars area specifically and more generally the importance of historic urban fabrics to society and people’s lives. As well as working with De Montfort University, Leicester City Council is working alongside The University of Leicester, Leicester College and Leicester Civic Society as well as a range of local community groups to bring the benefits of this major project to as wide an audience as possible. There are plans for pop-up shops and events, training in heritage skills, advice on how to look after historic buildings and opportunities to share stories and memories of the area. Greyfriars may have come to worldwide attention since the discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a car park at the back of the council buildings which occupy the northern section of the area but the area has always been of special architectural interest because of the pressure for development and the fact that a large part of Georgian Leicester is preserved in the central part of the Greyfriars conservation area. It was in fact one of the first three conservation areas established in Leicester. It is a key part of the wider fabric of the city linking the De Montfort University campus to city center. 

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