Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fifteenth century modular architecture

click photo to enlarge
When we think of modular architecture we think of the buildings of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Of glass curtain walls with standard sized windows, steel-framed structures with the same posts and beams repeated throughout the building or the same pre-cast concrete block stacked across walls. But modularity has always been a feature of architecture. From the sun-dried bricks of ancient Sumeria to the poles of the North American teepee, peoples across the world have appreciated the value and economy of building with multiples of a single form.

Standing in the market square at Newark, Nottinghamshire, the other day I saw another example of ancient modular building in the facade of the old White Hart Inn. What is now a branch of the Nottingham Building Society was once part of this old hostelry that still exists through the adjoining carriage arch. Dendrochronology shows the earliest parts of this timber-framed building to date from c.1312. However, it was added to and modified later that century, then again in the 1400s, a further extension was built around 1526, glazing dates from the mid seventeenth century, alterations were made around 1870 and restorations took place in 1983 and 1990.

The main photograph shows the close-studded, three-storey, jettied south range with wooden window bands, the head of each windows having tracery. Bressumers mark the floor level of the first and second storeys. These are decorated with billet moulding and above are canopies attached to each stud with a plaster figures in each one. The interesting feature here, as far as modularity goes is that there are only two models for the figures - one with a book and one with a palm - probably representing saints. Every other feature of the facade is also a single form multiplied many times. Replace plaster, wood and glass with concrete, steel and glass and you can see that the same motivations that lead today's architects to value modular building also appealed to those working 500, 600, even 700 years ago.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 25.6mm (69mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1 Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On