Computer Animation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon

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“To say all in one word, [the panopticon] will be found applicable, I think,
without exception, to all establishments whatsoever”

– Jeremy Bentham

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Since the 1780s, hundreds of articles discuss Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. But, no structure was ever built to the exact dimensions Bentham gives in his panopticon letters. Seeking to translate Bentham into the digital age, I followed his directions and descriptions to create an open source, virtual reality computer model of the panopticon.

Below, you can view the animation about this structure. Visit this link to view the panopticon in virtual reality. Or click here to download and edit my model (requires Sketchup).

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Transcription of audio narration:

The panopticon is the form of the ideal prison, designed around 1787 by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Over 300 prisons around the world follow this model:

  1. A circle of diameter 100 feet
  2. Around the perimeter of this circle stretch cells
  3. Each cell is 9 feet deep
  4. And 48 per floor
  5. Each cell has a toilet, a bed, and space to work
  6. The cells rise six floors

On every other floor, there is a surveillance corridor, in which a guard may survey two floors of prisoners. The guard watches the prisoners. But the prisoners do not see the guard and do not know when they are watched. And must therefore act as if they were always watched. Three guards each see 96 prisoners, which makes 288 prisoners total.

In the center of the space, there is an auditorium, in which the prisoners may assemble to be lectured. A wall of screens may rise surrounding the chapel. And separating the prisoners from seeing into it, or from seeing each other from across the void of the empty space in middle.

Spiral staircases ascend through the space. And an iron and glass frame rises through the space and vaults over the chapel.

This completes the panopticon, the form of the ideal prison.

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Related Projects

– Computer Animation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon
Essay on Problems with the Panopticon Design
View Panopticon Model in Virtual Reality

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Credits:

Supervised by Max Sternberg
Audio narration by Tamsin Morton
Audio credits from Freesound
panopticon interior ambiance
panopticon exterior ambiance
prison door closing
low-pitched bell sound
high-pitched bell sound
The archives and publications of the UCL special collections

The Panopticon: A Problem of Definition

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A total institution may be defined as a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life. Prisons serve as a clear example.

Erving Goffman, Asylums1

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1. Introduction and Method

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The panopticon is now a theoretical design, a symbol of surveillance and state power. The building’s inventor, Jeremy Bentham, claims it is a perfect building and a total institution that cares for and controls all aspects of its inhabitants’ lives. No panopticon was built to Bentham’s exact instructions. We have little evidence from Bentham to verify or falsify the architecture’s claim to total vision and total power. However, Eastern State Penitentiary, built 1829 in Philadelphia, follows Bentham’s model and is the prototype for over three hundred radial prisons around the world. By analyzing the shortcomings of the panopticon as proposed (by Bentham) and as realized (in Philadelphia), and by situating the panopticon in the broader critique of total institutions and the virtual Internet we can, indirectly, assess how the panopticon’s form (and means of attaining power) evolved to the present-day. We can also use this historical lens to assess the strength of the contemporary analogy that the Internet perfects the panopticon’s surveillance mechanism.

Seeking to translate Bentham into the digital age, I followed his directions and descriptions to create an open source, virtual reality computer model of the panopticon. Essay illustrations are from this model. This model allows us to interrogate this total institution’s design.

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Computer Animation of the Panopticon

Play the video below. Or click here to view more details about this model and to download it to your computer.

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The Panopticon in Virtual Reality

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Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) designed the panopticon c.1789. Panopticon comes from Greek: pan (all) + opticon (seeing) = all-seeing. Bentham describes how this architecture monitors and reforms souls in his series of 21 letters entitled Panopticon: The Inspection House. He commissioned architect Willey Reveley c.1791 to draw the panopticon’s plan and section (fig.1-2).2 These images still circulate. Today, the panopticon has evolved from prison design to symbol of the surveillance state. No structure was ever built to Bentham’s exact instructions. It remains a perverse, dream building.

Bentham’s proposal is simple: a 100-foot-diameter round room. There are perimeter cells (H in fig.2). Each cell is for one prisoner. Each cell is identical to all others with toilet, bed, sink, and workspace. By day, natural light filters through the window behind each prisoner. By night, searchlights illuminate the interior. In the centre, there is a tower from which guards (standing in corridors marked D) survey all surrounding cells (marked H). The tower’s one-way blinds allow guards to look out (fig.3), but prohibit prisoners from looking in (fig.4). Bentham claims one guard can survey everything with one sweep of the eye. One-way visibility allows guards watch inmates without their knowledge. Thus, the prisoner must always guard his actions because he does not know when he is watched. Lateral walls between cells are supposed to prohibit prisoners from seeing each other and planning a joint escape.3

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The panopticon, this incident in the social history of architecture, is a philosopher’s utopian project. The panopticon workhouse reflects Bentham’s philosophy of Utilitarianism and efficient labour. Each prisoner, working in his cell, is monitored from a distance. Prisons are, more than many structures, inseparable from systems of justice, power, and punishment. The panopticon also reflects a larger historic event. Bentham wrote his panopticon letters in 1789. This was the same year French revolutionaries were dreaming of a new nation and new political system to rationally structure society, based on equality instead of privilege.4 Bentham advertised his building as a prison and educational institution, as noble in its ends as the hospitals and schools he also designed on the circular surveillance model. Bentham had every intention to build an actual panopticon. To this end, “a proposal made to the newly established Paris National Assembly, through Brissot, was warmly and gratefully received. Bentham suggested that the revolutionary government hand the management of the enormous Bicêtre Hôpital Genéral with its 3,850 patients and prisoners over to him.”5 After trying and failing for twenty years to receive funding from the English Parliament to build his panopticon for 288 prisoners and at least three guards in Battersea, London, Bentham abandoned the project.

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2. Design Flaws with Proposed Panopticon

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We must question whether Bentham’s architecture functions as he claims. Prisoners must be visible in Bentham’s plan. Although the panopticon is six floors high, a guard standing at the ground floor could not see six stories up (fig.5). The photo at left shows the guard’s point of view standing at the ground floor. The photo is from my computer simulation. The guard sees into the ground floor cells. But above the second floor, the passages, stairways, and steep angle obscures all visibility of prisoners.

Recognising this problem, Bentham placed surveillance corridors at every other floor. This produced three, independent areas. Figure 6 shows each guard’s cone of vision. But, this solution is self-defeating. If the panopticon is round to permit everything to be seen from the centre, and there is no centre, then why continue to have a round structure?

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Figure 7 is a 180° panorama from the guard’s viewpoint. From any angle, the guard can see into no more than eight cells. The rest are made invisible by odd angles and poor optics (fig.8). To survey, the guard must walk circles (fig.9). Bentham describes three guards surveying 288 prisoners. If each of the three guards only sees eight cells at a time and is continuously walking, then only 24 inmates (3×8) out of 288 are visible at any inmates, about 8% of inmates.

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Fig.7: Panorama from Surveillance Corridor

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The circle implies forceful vision from centre to perimeter. But blind spots and poorly angled blinds might allow prisoners to guess when they were watched, defeating the architecture’s self-regulatory mechanism.6 According to Ivan Manokha:

Bentham’s Panopticon had an important flaw, namely, the possibility that the watched might one day try to find out whether they are indeed being watched. An inmate could hazard, entirely at random, a minor pardonable transgression; if this transgression goes unnoticed, then he could commit another, this time more serious, transgression.7

The leading English prison reformer John Howard also disliked the panopticon’s poor ventilation, “By condensing the prison back into a single enclosed volume, salubrity had been sacrificed to surveillance.”8 During this time, reformers discouraged self- contained and compact prison design (like the panopticon) in favour of spreading the cells over a larger area for better ventilation and light. Another, more serious flaw, is that Bentham provides no way to stop sound from travelling. He opens the interior to light, air, and visibility, but at the expense of sound. Circular interiors have echoing qualities that permit sound to travel farther. Unless prisoners cannot speak, sound will travel; they will communicate. Bentham rarely mentions in his 21 letters over 50 pages any means to muffle sound. The panopticon seems to sacrifice acoustics for visual surveillance.

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3. Design Flaws with Panopticon as Built

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Bentham’s ideas, however flawed, influenced the American Quakers, who were among America’s first prison reformers and shared Bentham’s belief in the redemptive power of solitary confinement. The first (or at least the first popular) translation of Bentham’s ideas into architecture was Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. This model proved popular in Europe and influenced numerous English prisons, starting with HMP Pentonville in 1842 and lasting until WWI. Three hundred prisons built between 1800 and 1880 followed this plan.

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Fig.109

ACCESS CORRIDORS          CELLS          INDIVIDUAL EXERCISE YARDS

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In response to observations that the panopticon lacked good ventilation, Haviland converted Bentham’s circle into the radial prison. He displaced the cells into corridors, and then arranged corridors around a central point, like spokes on a wheel. This system improved circulation and gave each prisoner more space (fig.10). Central heating and internal plumbing in each cell ensured prisoners never needed to leave solitary confinement. This new system allowed prisoners to be “inserted in a fixed placed,”10 to borrow a phrase from Foucault.

In the centre, stood a guard tower, analogous to Bentham’s tower. From this place, guards observed some of the exercise yards. Only the tops of the cells and roofs were visible, but never prisoners in their cells and exercise yards. Figure 11 shows the tower’s limited cone of vision. Invisible areas are shaded black. Years later, due to blind spots, this tower was rebuilt ~30 feet higher to command a better view.

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Fig.11: Guard Tower Blind Spots

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Perhaps, the guard is symbolically but not actually all-seeing. Guards later installed a clock on the tower, as if to remind prisoners of who gave and took time from their lives. Bentham’s guard tower seems analogous to Eastern State Penitentiary’s, both visually commanding yet both incapable of actual, all-powerful vision.

Despite the circular form, surveillance was not continuous. The guards had to walk through the corridor, with padded shoes to muffle footsteps, and open the peephole into each cell, one by one, to check on prisoners. Surveillance was discontinuous. But, it was the isolation that controlled. Thick walls muffled sound and sight, but at the expense of total vision of each prisoner from a central point. Bentham’s visual surveillance and Foucault’s concept of inmate self-regulation were not quite as visible here as in the original panopticon. Instead, “it was the isolation of the person, the total distance from others, that would serve to control.”11

The similarities between the panopticon as proposed and as built are limited. The general circular form survives, but the hundreds of details Bentham describes are not followed: none of the cell dimensions he gives, the staircases, surveillance corridors, the edifice’s size, and prisoner numbers. It is the theory of inmate self-regulation and the circular form that survive more than Bentham’s particularities. Unlike the panopticon, which aspired to be a prototype for all manner of institutions, Eastern State Penitentiary operated as the model prison but not as a model for other institutions like hospitals. The panopticons as built, in other words, are scaled-down and less culturally ambitious versions of the original proposal.

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Eastern State Penitentiary in Virtual Reality

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Bentham and Haviland were trying to imagine a form of prison architecture fit for this new democracy. If the punishment must fit the prisoner, if the system makes no distinctions for prisoner class and wealth, if guards must know at every moment the activity of every inmate, then the architecture must breathe the principle that the law is “the same for all.” Each cell in Bentham and Haviland’s world was identical to all others: 6 feet wide, 9 feet deep, and 8 feet high.

As of 1829, the most expensive structure built, the most technically complex, and the largest in America’s 200 year history was not a palace, senate house, or theatre. It was a prison. It was Eastern State Penitentiary. This fact speaks to the builders’ aspiration to embed symbolism into the prison. The Philadelphia Prison Society describes: “This penitentiary is the only edifice in this country, which is calculated to convey to our citizens the external appearance of those magnificent and picturesque castles of the middle ages, which contribute so eminently to embellish the scenery of Europe.”12

Among tourists and schoolchildren who visited after the opening, the usual response was admiration and support for solitary confinement. Among the supporters was Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831, where he spent two weeks interviewing prisoners.13 In his resulting report On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application to France, he describes the supposed benefits of total isolation on prisoners’ health and preparation to rejoin society.14

Not all visitors saw solitude as a positive. Charles Dickens visited America for six months in 1842. In 1850, he published American Notes for General Circulation. Judging by the number of pages he spends describing Eastern State Penitentiary, what impressed him most during his travels was not this democracy’s government, cities, or landscapes, but its largest prison. Dickens condemns solitary confinement:

Very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers. […] I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.15

In the job of making prisons feel penitence through isolation, Eastern State Penitentiary failed. By depriving convicts of all human contact, the solitary system did not address the antisocial personality that brought him to prison. Prison reports estimate upwards of 10% of the inmates went “insane” during their confinement. About a quarter of black inmates died during confinement, and the architecture proved unhealthy due to poor ventilation, fumes from the coal furnace entering cells, and malnutrition.16 Dickens mourns released prisoners. The ex-convict stumbles down the street, blinded by all sensory activity and sound. From years in confinement, he has trouble speaking. His words become stunted and halting; his eyes glaze over and become windows into unspoken pain.

Ideally, the effects of solitary should be so permanent, so debilitating, and so forceful that the inmate retains feelings of “permanent visibility” long after leaving prison. In the free world, they continue to act as if they were watched, even though they are no longer watched. However, 1960s sociologist Erving Goffman catalogued the relationship between inmates and medics over three years he worked in an asylum. He concluded the effects of rehabilitation were only limited and passing. The institution may reset the inmate’s personality and teach the inmate behaviour that aligns to socially acceptable norms. But, once they leave and are re-exposed to the comforts, temptations, and randomness of the outside world, the asylum’s lessons are soon lost.17 The “perfection of power” within the total institution might cause the inmate to self-regulate his behaviour, but only so long as he is in the institution. Alternatively, even permanent change might not be of the kind intended by staff. Think of Dicken’s inmates stumbling down the street. In contrast to Goffman’s empirical observations of actual inmates, Foucault dubiously claims the panopticon’s effects are permanent:

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The major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary.18

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James Scott pushes the critique of total institutions, like prisons, still further, when he writes: “No administrative system is capable of representing any existing social community except through a heroic and greatly schematised process of abstraction and simplification. […] State agents have no interest—nor should they—in describing an entire social reality.”19 Scott’s hypothesis is that states, throughout history, tried to control their people through large-scale architectural, legal, and social institutions. These efforts included, for instance, land collectivization under Communism, urban renewal projects in American cities, and scientific forestry in Germany. In each instance, Scott identifies how, despite different geography, time, and political systems, these efforts always fail and for the same reason: Reality is too complex, too diverse, and too evolving for man-made systems to capture and control. Scott never mentions prisons or failed state efforts to control through prisons. But, we can apply this theme to prison design. For instance, a recent literature review of the panopticon cites how we should neither speak of the panopticon in generalities nor take Bentham at face value when he claims his structure has universal use:

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Theoretical accounts often talk in abstract entities (‘institutions’, ‘the government’, ‘networks’, ‘the market’). These entities are described as invisible forces exercising power over subjects. This perspective often ignores any form of situatedness, context or the specificities of surveillance technologies and practices.20

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As an example of this failure to ground the panopticon in specifics, Bentham speaks of schools, hospitals, and asylums as abstract entities, where watching people, instead of caring for their mental and physical health, is of primary importance. This is problematic because both prisons and hospitals are concerned with different kinds of surveillance. Foucault and Bentham are right these are “disciplinary” institutions. Both doctors and jailers must establish “security.” Doctors keep the patients secure from disease. Jailers keep the public secure from the inmates. As applied to prisons and hospitals, security has in fact two opposite, even conflicting, meanings.

Although Bentham claims the panopticon is equally suited for prisons and asylums, the architectural form of prisons and asylum did not converge in the nineteenth century. They diverged. Most prisons followed Eastern State Penitentiary with radiating wings from central point (fig.12). Windows improved circulation but encouraged escape and communication with outsiders. So, in the interest of security over comfort, cell windows were small and inaccessible. By contrast, most asylums and hospitals followed the Kirkbride Plan for better views and air circulation (fig.13). Thomas Kirkbride, a doctor turned architect, invented the architectural template most nineteenth century American hospitals follow. The hospital wings, instead of clustered around a single point like radial prisons, were distributed over larger areas. This maximized airflow and inmate views of nature. As part of the “rest cure” and tuberculosis treatment, patients were placed on open terraces with good views.21

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After the French and American Revolution, these new democracies required new institutions: the congress hall, records office, hospital, prison, asylum, and university. Institutions, formerly the responsibility of private initiative and charity, were increasingly seen as democracy’s duty to care for the poor, educate the middle class, and regulate trade. Industrialists built railroads and factories; both required custom and highly specific architectural typologies. All these institutions, no matter how varied in purpose, share one quality in common: specific and niche institutional demands. The nineteenth century witnessed an explosion in buildings of diverse function, style, and appearance.22 Bentham’s panopticon sits at the edge of this moment. There is tension here. Bentham speaks of the panopticon as the ideal architectural form applicable “to all establishments whatsoever” at the very moment in time institutional forms were splintering away from a single prototype.

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4. Evolution of the Panopticon’s Meaning

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Early prison designers like Bentham and contemporary philosophers both speak of panopticons. However, contemporary use this word in an abstract and symbolic way that Bentham and his contemporaries did not.

Although the panopticon is now a theoretical design and symbol of surveillance, it began as a proposal for an actual prison. Bentham had every intention to build it with himself as prison master. So, when Bentham writes that:

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The panopticon will be found applicable, I think, without exception, to all establishments whatsoever, in which, within a space not too large to be covered or commanded by buildings, a number of persons are meant to be kept under inspection. […] No matter how different, or even opposite the purpose: whether it be that of punishing the incorrigible, guarding the insane, reforming the vicious, confining the suspected, employing the idle, maintaining the helpless, curing the sick, instructing the willing in any branch of industry.23

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He means this literally. The panopticon could physically be employed in all manner of circular buildings: prisons, hospitals, asylums, workhouses, and schools. And, for most of its 200-year history, the panopticon operated as physical model for prisons. Only in the late twentieth century was the panopticon re-interpreted from physical model for actual buildings into theoretical model for the surveillance state. I consulted several hundred papers on panopticons. And I have found none from before the 1970s that speaks of the panopticon as an analogy and symbol for something other than institutional architecture.

This shift toward abstraction began with Michel Foucault’s 1975 book, Discipline and Punish. In the chapter entitled “Panopticism,” he compares the surveillance schemes of medieval towns under quarantine against disease, with Bentham’s panopticon, and then with the modern nation state, tracing analogous control mechanisms across time. Foucault applies Bentham’s line that the panopticon is “applicable…to all institutions whatsoever” to institutions that were not fully formed at the time of Bentham’s writing, such as the modern hospital, police station, and modern prison. At the same, the Internet was introduced and spread rapidly in the 1980s. At time of writing, Foucault seems unaware of this technology, or its latent possibility to perfect surveillance. Discipline and Punish does not mention platforms, like Facebook, that give news, information, and entertainment while harvesting users’ personal information and using this information to manipulate user behaviour for profit. Both Goffman and Foucault were writing before the Internet revolution, and could not have factored in the Internet’s effects into their critique.

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Fig.14: A few stock photo representations of the Internet.

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Yet, for all the Internet’s power, the public cannot visualise: What does the Internet look like? People frequently represent the Internet as a series of connected dots, or speak of this abstract and ethereal thing called “the cloud.” The stock photos above are a few from online. The variety of things the Internet could be (connected dots, clouds, circles, a spider’s web) encompass a range of forms which begs the question: How can the Internet be all this at once? In this information and knowledge vacuum, Bentham’s building seems to represent and visualize this network in more concrete terms than “the cloud.” While the visual representations above are vapid and not politically charged, the panoticon image is a more powerful metaphor and hints at the darker possibilities of Facebook’s mission statement: “Bring the world closer together.”

Foucault’s writings and the rise of the Internet prompted a renewed interest in the panopticon. They also signal this linguistic shift from panopticon (a physical space) to panopticism (a philosophy, theory, and –ism). The word panopticism does not appear in any printed text before Discipline and Punish in 1975. When we speak of panopticons, we need to speak of two waves in thinking: the first wave was from 1787 to c.1870 and the second from 1975 to the present. During this first period, the panopticon operated as a physical institution and prototype for designing actual structures. In the second and contemporary period, the panopticon operates more as theory and abstraction of power relationships. Figure 15 is from Google Ngram, an online search engine that charts the frequency by year (x-axis) of word use (y-axis) in the 30 million books Google Books scanned from 1800 to 2008. This is not an entirely scientific measurement as not all books were scanned, but the general sweep of the graph loosely follows what I observe in the literature.

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Fig.15

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5. Conclusion

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The panopticon sits on an uncomfortable edge between dream and reality. The structure is now a dream. But this dream was powerful enough to influence prison reformers and actual buildings. Yet, not one of these buildings follow Bentham’s exact instructions, allowing their shortcomings to be chalked up to a failure to follow Bentham closely enough rather than innate flaws in total institutions. The moment total institutions are built, they become victim to decay due to design, materials, and time. Foucault can claim the panopticon “makes it possible to perfect the exercise of power”24 so long as he ignores problems with actual panopticons: complaints from prison wardens, records from frustrated Parliament, or evidence of prisoner escapes from supposedly perfect and all-seeing radial prisons.

The constant threat facing total institutions, like prisons and asylums, is that inmates will try to subvert, undermine, destroy, or escape from the architecture of their confinement. Total institutions are designed with walls and bars to be difficult to destroy and attack. The Internet is also a total institution; it is total in the sense that it is mobile bank, department store, library, television, movie theatre, and social space wrapped into one device.

For all its power, the Internet relies on visible architecture. When we store data on “the cloud,” what we are really doing is storing our information on someone else’s server. The data from my laptop travels by WiFi signal to the nearest router, and from there it is whisked along at light speed through buried cables to a data centre that could be thousands of miles away. The data centre is a room full of servers, small computers stacked on each other like shelves in a warehouse. The space can be as small or as large as the number of clients it serves. Servers can fit into almost any type of building shape and size, as long as the location is secure, free from floods, and has reliable electricity. In contrast to the non-descript architecture of a data centre, driving by a prison or hospital, the exterior looks like a prison or hospital and conforms to certain expectations we have.25 The server, this backbone of the Internet and its control mechanism, is malleable and usually safely distanced from the people whose lives it effects. While a local jail and hospital must be near the catchment area in which inmates are caught, the Internet’s infrastructure can be anywhere. The U.S. government can, for instance, record people’s phone activity in Iraq, store and process the information in its Utah Data Center, and then pass judgments on whom to arrest in Washington D.C. In this distancing of server architecture from victim might exist the Internet’s strength, and by extension the panopticon’s strength. Unlike other total institutions, the Internet seems less “architectural.” Does this immunize it from the blind spots and design problems plaguing other types of institutional architecture?

Panopticon is a problematic word. In theory, scholars use the term, beyond prisons, to describe a diverse range of buildings, institutions, governments, and now the Internet. These are all “panopticons.” But, in practice, these different and so-called “panopticons” do not have much in common beyond their general circular form. Both prisons and hospitals are concerned with power relations, surveillance, and control. But “panopticon” does not articulate specific institutional demands or the fact that control (and control mechanisms) look different across institutions.

The guiding principle of Foucault’s panopticism is as follows: Because inmates do not know when they are watched, they must act as if they were always watched. They therefore self-regulate their activity and follow rules, even if there is nobody watches them and punishes them for breaking rules. But on visual analysis of how the panopticon would have appeared if built, the built panopticon does not perfectly embody the principles of panopticism. Firstly, inmates are not passive objects and will communicate with each other across Bentham’s open spaces. Secondly, inmates can and will try to find out when they are watched by exploiting blind spots and faults in the architecture. Thirdly, there is no guarantee inmates will continue to self-regulate behaviour after they leave prison and are no longer under fear of surveillance.

Both terms – panopticon (the building) and panopticism (the theory) – seem to describe total institutions like prison and the Internet. But, both the building and the theory are too broad and too expansive. Panopticism ignores specific institutional needs and habits. Saying panopticism describes modern surveillance is like saying “connectivity, power relations, or fear of punishment describe modern life.” This statement does not push for any specific positive outcome and could imply all manner of surveillance and nastiness. Panopticism does not offer insight unique to a particular era or to a specific total institution. In the Middle Ages, God-fearing people self-regulated sinful thoughts and behaviour, too. The panopticon building, from which panopticism originates, is too broad as a general template for almost every institutional building. The fact that, 200 years later, the only structures to consciously follow this architectural model are prisons (and a few hospitals) might speak to this template’s more limited application in practice.26

How does the Internet change our critique of total institutions? As the internet becomes more complex and more invasive, is it time for a new paradigm to visualize and describe surveillance?

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Bibliography

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  • Bentham, Jeremy. Panopticon: The Inspection House. Whithorn: Anodos Books (2017).
  • Comte Gustave de Beaumont, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Francis Lieber (translator). “Inquiry into the Penitentiary of Philadelphia” and “Penitentiary System of Pennsylvania.” In On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application to France. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, & Blanchard (1833), 187-198 and 287-301.
  • Dickens, Charles. “Chapter VII: Philadelphia and its Solitary Prison.” In American Notes for General Circulation. London: Chapman and Hall (1850), 67-77.
  • Evans, Robin. “A way of obtaining power.” In The fabrication of virtue: English prison architecture, 1750-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1982), 195-235.
  • Evans, Robin. “Bentham’s Panopticon: An Incident in the Social History of Architecture.” Architecture Association Quarterly, no. 3, spring 1971.
  • Furlong, Gillian. “Designs for a Panopticon Prison by Jeremy Bentham: Section of an Inspection House; Plan of Houses of Inspection; Section Plan, c.1791.” In Treasures from UCL (2015), 136-39.
  • Galič, Maša, Tjerk Tima, and Bert-Jaap Koops. “Bentham, Deleuze and Beyond: An Overview of Surveillance Theories from the Panopticon to Participation.” Philosophy & Technology 1, no. 30 (2017), 9-37.
  • Goffman, Erving. “Characteristics of Total Institutions” in Asylums. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company (1962), 1-124.
  • Greer, Dave. “The Internet I.R.L.” The New York Times Magazine. 5 June 2015. Photo gallery of the architecture of server warehouses and data transmission. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/05/magazine/the-internet-irl.html.
  • Haw, Alex. “CCTV London: Internment, Entertainment and Other Optical Fortifications.” AA Files, no. 52 (2005), 55-61. www.jstor.org/stable/29544801.
  • Kirkbride, Thomas S. On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston (1854).
  • Knight, John. “Inquiry into the Penitentiary in Philadelphia.” Mechanics’ Magazine, and Journal of the Mechanics’ Institute, vol. 5 (1835).
  • Foucault, Michel (author) and Alan Sheridan (translator). “Panopticism.” In Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage Books, (1977), 195-228.
  • Manokha, Ivan. “Surveillance, Panopticism, and Self-Discipline in the Digital Age.” Surveillance and Society, vol. 16, no. 2 (2018), 219-237.
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus. A History of Building Types. London: Thames and Hudson (1976).
  • “Plan of Eastern State Penitentiary. ”Paris: Demetz and Blouet (1836). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eastern_State_Penitentiary_Floor_Plan_1836.png.
  • Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven: Yale University Press (1998).
  • Thibaut, Jacqueline. “‘To Pave the Way to Penitence’: Prisoners and Discipline at the Eastern State Penitentiary 1829-1835.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 106, no. 2 (1982), 187-222. www.jstor.org/stable/20091663.
  • Yanni, Carla. “Transforming the Treatment: Architecture and Moral Management at Eastern State.” In The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2007), 49. www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt2gd.

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List of Figures

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* indicates image created by author from computer model

  1. Willey Reveley’s Floor Plan of Panopticon,c.1791
  2. Willey Reveley’s Cross Section of Panopticon,c.1791
  3. View from guard tower to cells: VISIBILITY*
  4. View from cells to guard tower: INVISIBILITY*
  5. Guard’s view on ground floor*
  6. Guard’s cone of vision from surveillance corridors (annotated from Reveley)
  7. Panorama of cells from guard’s viewpoint in surveillance corridor*
  8. Guard’s cone of vision (annotated from Reveley)
  9. Guard’s walking circuit (annotated from Reveley)
  10. Plan of Eastern State Penitentiary, c.1836 (with author’s colour annotations)
  11. Guard tower blind spots *
  12. General shape of radial prison
  13. General shape of hospitals on Kirkbride Plan
  14. A few stock photo representations of the Internet
  15. Google Ngram search results for the term “panopticon” and “panopticism.

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Endnotes

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  1. Goffman, Asylums, xiii.
  2. Furlong, “Designs for a Panopticon,” Treasures from UCL.
  3. Author’s illustrations from his computer model.
  4. Evans, “Bentham’s Panopticon: An Incident in the Social History of Architecture,” Architecture Association Quarterly, no.3.
  5. Evans, The fabrication of virtue, 197.
  6. Haw, “CCTV London: Internment, Entertainment and Other Optical Fortifications,” AA Files, no.52.
  7. Ivan Manokha, “Surveillance, Panopticism, and Self-Discipline in the Digital Age,” Surveillance and Society, vol.16, no.2.
  8. Robin Evans, The fabrication of virtue, 224.
  9. Colour-coding added by author to 1835 plan.
  10. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 197.
  11. Yanni, “Transforming the Treatment,” in The Architecture of Madness, 49.
  12. de Tocqueville, et al., On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application to France, 74.
  13. Knight, “Inquiry into the Penitentiary in Philadelphia,” vol.5.
  14. de Tocqueville, 189.
  15. Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation, 68-69.
  16. Thibaut, “’To Pave the Way to Penitence,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 106, no.2.
  17. Goffman, Asylums, 71.
  18. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 201.
  19. Scott, Seeing Like a State, 22.
  20. Maša Galič et al., “Bentham, Deleuze and Beyond,” Philosophy & Technology 1, no.30.
  21. Kirkbride, On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane. Incidentally, the templates for most American prisons and asylums emerged from Philadelphia within twenty years of each other.
  22. Pevsner, A History of Building Types.
  23. Bentham, Panopticon: The Inspection House, 5.
  24. Foucault, 206.
  25. Greer, “The Internet I.R.L., The New York Times Magazine (photo gallery).
  26. There are city plans (Paris) and buildings (stadiums) that seem to resemble panopticons. These similarities are purely formal and accidental rather than intentional. Not every circular building you can stand in the middle of is a panopticon, or rises to the level of panopticism.

New York City in a Box

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This pop up model in a recycled metal box (measuring 8 inches wide by 15.5 long and 2.5 deep) reveals a miniature world of New York City architecture and landmarks when opened. About 30 buildings made from hand cut paper and tin are spread across a flat ground of painted streets. Each building is made from a single sheet of paper that is cut and folded like origami to create different shapes and sizes. A hand cranked lever operates a hidden mechanism of chains and gears hidden beneath. These gears move the magnetized trains and airplanes through the city. The video below shows this mechanism exposed.

Click here to read an article featuring this project.

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Hand-crank and music box recording courtesy of Freesound.

Northeast Corridor Drone Flight

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The Northeast Corridor is the busiest railroad in North America by passenger traffic. This drone flight follows a high-speed Acela train making this 456 mile journey from Washington D.C. to Boston via Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, New York City, Stamford, New Haven, and Providence.

This animation was created using the Google Earth Pro desktop application. We began by tracing the full route of the Northeast Corridor onto three-dimensional satellite imagery of the world. We then programmed our computer to follow this route while running a screen-recording to capture the progress. Finishing edits were then made in Final Cut Pro, including the addition of the inset map at bottom, the speedometer and clock at upper left, and edits to the pacing and sound effects. The time and distance markers are calculated using Google Maps.

The above animation is annotated, click here to view the uncut 28 minute drone flight.

Audio effects are courtesy of Freesound.org.
Piano accompaniment is Metamorphosis by Philip Glass
performed by YouTube user: “Coversart”

Oxford University in a Box

 

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This is a paper architectural model of the University of Oxford. The model folds out of a re-purposed, antique leather box measuring 7 by 14 inches with a depth of only 1.5 inches.

One half of the model features the historic university buildings: The Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre, Church of Saint Virgin the Mary, and the Clarendon Building. The other half features the campus of Saint Catherine’s College.

This model is made from paper cutouts, measured and folded to form the shape of various buildings. Below is the image of one of these cutouts before assembly, and the groundplan of the campus before the paper buildings were mounted on cardboard.

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This model in a suitcase will be a souvenir of my study abroad experience. Below is a view of this model with my hand for scale. Attaining this amount of precision in so small a model is difficult, but it is possible. This model represents about two weeks (or 100 hours) labor.

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Computer Models of World Heritage

Beginning in 2016, I became involved in building interactive computer models of world architecture and heritage. Through computer modelling, there is the possibility to broaden the audience of a work of architecture beyond the small number that may actually visit the building in person. World heritage sites or buildings of cultural importance are of particular aesthetic and research value as computer models can reveal qualities of their construction and design that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. A few of these models I created are featured below:

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Amiens Cathedral in France and the Kaaba in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) are two of the most cogent examples of the technical possibilities of computer models. By building a model that is accurate to the measured foot, one can then view the building from beneath, above, or from unique angles that are otherwise impossible for the public to view in person. The view of the Kaaba from directly above is one such view that is possible to simulate through computer models, but is impossible to view from in person. This is due to religious and legal sanctions against flying above the Kaaba. The view of Amiens Cathedral from directly below is another example. The computer model strips away the layers of earth beneath the foundation, thereby suspending the cathedral in mid-air and permitting an imaginary view which, while theoretically existing, is humanly impossible to view.

These same models also allow us to strip away unnecessary or obstructive additions to better appreciate specific aesthetic qualities of the building. Such details include people, street furniture, and neighboring buildings that block certain angles of view. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem (which are surrounded by trees and ancient Roman-era walls on all sides) or Amiens Cathedral (surrounded by the medieval and mostly modern urban fabric of the city) are two examples of this phenomenon. Similarly, models permit us to restore structure to their original appearance as originally intended to be viewed by patron and mason, such as this model of the restored Parthenon.

Overall, the possibilities and applications for modelling are growing, and the state of the field today is by no means static. Future developments in computing, internet speeds, virtual reality, and photogrammetry will certainly permit further advancements in this field of technical and academic research.

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A Few Theoretical Views of Architecture

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The Kaaba from Above

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Al-Aqsa Mosque from Beneath

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Amiens Cathedral from Below

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Hypothetical Cross-Section of Amiens Cathedral, based on a drawing by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

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Columbia University

A Map of Campus

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This drawing depicts every building, window, tree, and architectural detail on campus as visible from a perspective 500 feet above the intersection of 110th and Amsterdam and looking northwest toward campus. The number of windows on each facade and details are faithful to reality. There are about 2,000 windows in this image and at least 50,000 individual lines. The image measures 26 by 40 inches and is framed in my room on campus. The personal objective of this project was to create a souvenir through which to remember my formative experiences and time at Columbia. I draw the world I find at Columbia so that, years from my graduation, I can look at this image and reflect on the four formative years I spent here.

The perspective in this image was formed by using Google Earth satellite photos combined with information extracted from Google Maps street view. To read an interview and article about this project, click here.

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Ink Drawing of Columbia University. Measures 26 by 40 inches. Click image to launch full resolution.

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Columbia Campus

Ink Drawing of Columbia University. Measures 26 by 40 inches. Click image to launch full resolution.

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Columbia in a Box

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Before my first day as a Columbia College first-year, I assembled a miniature model of Columbia’s campus out of painted, folded, and glued paper. This creation, featuring most of Columbia’s Morningside Campus, folds out of a vintage cigar-box that measures a mere 5 inches wide by 9 inches long, and 3 inches deep. The model was made by taking flat sheets of paper, etching the silhouettes of the campus structures onto each sheet, decorating these sheets with windows and architectural details, and then cutting out the silhouettes and folding each into the shape of the structure. Each building is made with no more than one sheet of folded paper.

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Timelapses of Morningside

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This project features six time-lapse sequences of Columbia University’s Morningside Campus. I placed a camera horizontally above my desk as I drew and painted each watercolor.

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Ink Sketches of Campus

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Eiffel Tower – Animated Construction Sequence

This animation illustrates the Eiffel Tower’s construction from August 1887 to May 1889. Music from Festival of the Animals by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns accompanies the animation for dramatic effect.

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The Eiffel Tower was built over 18 months – from August 1887 to March 1889. This film shows the construction sequence, starting with the foundations and ending with the cupola. Model editing and animation in Sketchup; post-production and effects in iMovie.

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Sources:
– Model source file: free download from 3D Warehouse
– Virtual reality computer model: view on Sketchfab
– I consulted this 2002 reprint of the Eiffel Tower structural plans to make the model.

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Burford Church – Two Minute History

This project is also featured on Buford Church’s official website.

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Beautiful Burford Church in Summer

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Construction Sequence

At the conclusion of my year as an art history student at Oxford University, I chose to base my final research project on Burford Church in Oxfordshire County, England. This is a Grade I listed structure by English Heritage, roughly constructed between 1175 and 1475, with continued modifications in the Victorian era. With the generous supervision of my art history tutor, Cathy Oakes, I visited this humble parish church and constructed a computer model that documents the structure’s gradual construction and expansion over nearly 300 years work. I converted the finished model into a short, two-minute film, featured below. The original source files for this project can also be freely downloaded here from the “3D Warehouse“, a database of architectural models for the use of designers, historians, and researchers. The subtitles of this sequence are transcribed here:

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Around 1175, work begins on the Norman church – a simple structure with choir, nave, and tower between. Here we see the structure being erected from east to west. Notice the round Norman windows.

By 1200, a small side chapel is added to the south of the tower. An aisle and entrance foyer on the south are also added. These changes require demolishing part of the existing structure.

By 1250, the side chapel is demolished and replaced by a north transept, south transept and expanded chancel.

By 1400, a crypt is added and the tower extended up. At this point, the architectural style changes from Norman to Gothic – from round arches to pointed.

The local cloth merchants also construct a guild chapel – detached from the main church and built at a slight angle.

By 1475, the guild chapel is partially demolished. On its foundations the Lady Chapel is built.

Meanwhile, most of the remaining nave is demolished to construct two aisles on either side of the nave, a larger west window, and new clerestory-level windows.

Two chapels are added on either side of the choir as well as a 3-story entrance tower. Neither of these additions are visible from this angle.

This completes the construction sequence of Burford Church.

We are now circling around the church – working our way clockwise.

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Visual Analysis

The film below is a brief visual analysis of the church’s architectural fabric. Through my analysis, I seek to understand the following: What is the visual language of Burford Church? What aspects of medieval social and cultural history can be deduced from the church’s decoration? And, in the absence of a written historical record, how can we detect the sequence in which the church was erected on the basis of architectural fragments alone?

 

 

 

 

Image Gallery

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The Digital Cathedral of Amiens

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Cross Section of Choir

Cross Section from the Southeast Side of Cathedral

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Research Abstract

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amiensAs the apotheosis of Gothic architecture built during the 13th century, Amiens Cathedral is a dynamic and living structure. As the ninth largest Gothic cathedral in the world and one built in relatively short span of time, Amiens Cathedral exhibits remarkable stylistic unity throughout. Alongside the Parthenon, Amiens is taught each semester to several hundred students in Art Humanities. This has been a course required since 1947 of all undergraduate students in Columbia University’s Core Curriculum. This cathedral and the animations I created are currently used in classroom instruction of 1,300 students per year.

My objective is to recreate Amiens Cathedral as it appeared in the 15th century. My method is to build an accurate computer model of the entire cathedral, accurate to the inch, photo-realistic, and fully interactive. My hope is to find new and creative ways to engage students and visitors with this work of architecture.

The final video sequence is in two parts. One, a three minute construction sequence of the cathedral’s erection between 1220 and 15th century, which has been viewed over 30,000 times on YouTube. Two, an eight minute fly-through of the finished work of art. Viewers approach the cathedral through the narrow medieval city streets and circumnavigate the exterior from bird’s eye and ground level. Viewers then enter the cathedral and are guided through the complex interior spaces. This trilogy is complemented by historically appropriate music from 13th century French composer, Pérotin and 15th century composer Josquin des Prés, who is incidentally also featured on the Music Humanities component of Columbia’s Core Curriculum.

Amiens has undergone significant revisions and the destruction of almost all its original stained glass windows and large parts of its nave. Through digital modeling, it is possible to restore the structure to its idealized appearance as its initial architect intended. Through video, we can recreate and expand the intended audience of this building, recreating digitally the experience of pilgrimage. Through virtual reality, we can encourage new ways of engaging with art and architecture.

A building is dynamically experienced as a sequence of sights and rooms. A research text about such a building, however, can only capture a limited amount of a structure. Photography, computer simulations, and film are, by comparison, dynamic and sometimes stronger mediums to communicate the visual and engineering complexity of a building. This project seeks to capture that dynamism through a visual, auditory, and user interactive product.

Students can download this model and freely edit, revise, and explore from their personal computer. Over 2,000 students and scholars have downloaded and 3d printed this model, which is currently being used by students at Reading University (UK) to study acoustic archaeology. This model of Amiens Cathedral is built with free computer modeling software called Sketchup. Sketchup has a wide range of drawing applications, architecture, interior design, and civil engineering. And, for computer modeling software, it is easy to use. With just a few commands, such as draw, pull, animate, and toggle, students and teachers unfamiliar with the program can build their own models in minutes.

Watch the two films below, followed by links to explore this model in virtual reality. I am further expanding upon this work for my senior thesis and by building computer models for Columbia’s Media Center for Art History. I have also created computer simulations for the Eiffel Tower’s construction sequence and of a small parish church in Burford, England.

This project would be impossible without the invaluable and expert guidance of my faculty mentor and medievalist Stephen Murray, who taught me in the Fall 2016 Bridge Seminar Life of a Cathedral. This project is also featured here on Columbia University’s website. My video lecture about how I created these animation is published here.

 

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Part One

Amiens Cathedral: A Guided tour

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A guided tour of Amiens with music composed by Perotin: Viderunt Omnes, most likely composed in 1198, twenty-two years before construction started on Amiens. Viewers approach the cathedral from the west, as pilgrims would have in the Middle Ages. Viewers then circle above and through the complex system of flying buttresses that support the cathedral. The animation finishes by visualizing the cathedral from below the foundations in an abstract fashion. Starting from the concrete ground-level view of the pilgrim, the animation becomes increasingly abstract.

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Part Two

Amiens Cathedral: Construction Sequence

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The construction sequence of Amiens Cathedral with music by Pérotin: Beata Viscera written circa 1200. A text from Stephen Murray is transcribed below:

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1220-c1225
Master Robert de Luzarches began work on the foundations
and lower wall. He may have been assisted by Thomas de Cormont

1225-30
Master Robert de Luzarches and Thomas de Cormont constructed the south nave aisle
rapidly to provide space for liturgical celebrations

1230-1235
Master Robert de Luzarches and Thomas de Cormont built the north nave aisle
soon afterwards

1240s-c1250
Master Thomas de Cormont constructed the upper nave
and belfries of western towers

c1250
Master Thomas de Cormont died having completed the upper nave,
begun the upper transept and laid out the lower choir

1250s-1260s
Master Renaud de Cormont completed the upper transept and upper choir. The axial
window of the choir clerestory was installed in 1269

1280s-c1310
Main roof installed from east to west

1360s-c1400
Construction of west towers

1528
Old steeple destroyed by lightning; construction of the grand clocher doré
completed c1533

 

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Part Three

Amiens Cathedral: In Cross Section

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The third video is the most abstract in the trilogy. Here, I juxtaposed interior and exterior views of the cathedral, exploring the relationship between interior and exterior spaces. The sequence opens and closes with an abstract cross section of the cathedral from below. Music is by Josquin des Prés: Mille Regretz.

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Section from South Façade of Cathedral

Section from Above

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The Cathedral from your Computer

An Interactive Animated Glossary of Amiens Cathedral

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In addition to viewing digital cathedral in film, visitors can explore the cathedral for themselves in virtual reality.

Here is a model of a single bay of the nave of Amiens Cathedral, with labyrinth below. I imported actual images and textures into the model to create a photo-realistic effect. Click on individual numbers to see the names of the corresponding components of a medieval cathedral. Or orbit around this model to view from different angles. To learn more about this animated glossary of Amiens Cathedral, click here.

Please be patient while this model loads. Click and drag mouse to navigate around structure. Shift click to pan. Click the cube icon on the lower left hand corner of window to view in full screen. If you are on your tablet or smart phone, click the optical icon to view this model in virtual reality.

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Interactive Model of the Exterior of Amiens Cathedral

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I have uploaded just the exterior of Amiens for online viewers. Unfortunately, due to file size, it is not possible to view the entire model online. But, it is possible, to download this model to one’s computer and then edit in greater detail. Please be patient while this model loads.

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Section of the Nave Roof

Section of West Façade

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The Exterior Sequence

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Below are a few film stills taken from the animation sequence of Amiens Cathedral’s exterior. Hover over image to display caption. Click thumbnail to view high resolution image in gallery.

South Side of Choir

The Buttresses and Rear of West Façade

Amiens Cathedral from Above

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The Interior Sequence

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Film stills of Amien’s interior. Hover over image to display caption. Click thumbnail to view full size in gallery. Gallery is organized linearly to evoke the sequence of walking through the interior spaces.

The Nave at Amiens, looking toward the choir.

Nave Aisles

Clerestory Level of Apse

Bracing and Joists Supporting the Roof

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Dynamic Angles

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Computer modeling allows one to explore angles of view not possible in reality. Of particular beauty are the view of Amiens from below. With the layers of earth and foundation removed, one looks up the grid of vaults and the forest of columns. The view is simultaneously a plan of the cathedral and a worm’s eye view, simultaneously of a real cathedral and an imagined world.

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Cross Sections

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Development of the Gothic Cathedral: An Evolution

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Amiens is at an apex in the development of Gothic cathedrals. The earliest cathedrals were modeled after Roman basilicas with two narrow aisles on either side of a long, rectangular open space spanned with wood trusses. This is best exemplified in the plan of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Later Gothic cathedrals in following centuries modified this simple model. The dimensions and height of the cathedral grew, alongside the complexity of its vaults, columns, and ornaments. In short, the form and floor plan of the medieval cathedral evolved in response to changes in the use of the church and the rituals of the Mass.

Below are two animated videos illustrating the evolution of the Gothic cathedral: In cross section at left and in plan at right.

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Development of a cathedral nave from Early Christian to High Gothic. A process of evolution and synthesis.

Development of the cathedral floor-plan over 1,000 years. Animation courtesy of Columbia University.

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Many Thanks

This project would not have been possible without the generous help and expertise of Professor Stephen Murray at Columbia University’s Department of Art History & Archaeology. I am also indebted to Center for Career Education for funding this project through its Work Exemption Program. This project was inspired by a similar video trilogy from the 1990s about Amiens Cathedral: Revelations.

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