Visitors to ECA's graduate show outside the Main Building at Lauriston Place.

Architectural History and Theory Seminar Series: James Hillson

Digital vs. Analogue: Analysing Creative Practices in Medieval Architecture (after 1190)

This event is hybrid and will take place in person and online.


James Hillson, Teaching Fellow in Architectural History, University of Edinburgh

Speaker bio

James Hillson is an architectural historian who studies medieval things, specifically the art and architecture of northwestern Europe between 1000 and 1600. His research focuses on Gothic architecture in England, France and Germany, with a particular emphasis on the roles of drawing, language and memory in communicating architectural designs over long distances.

Lecture abstract

For centuries, architectural historians of the Middle Ages have been gripped by the intractable problem of how medieval architects designed their buildings. Written sources regarding architectural practices are extremely scarce and while it is often assumed that drawings played a critical role in the design process, only a limited number survive before the fifteenth century. The advent of digital surveying and analytical techniques has resulted in a dramatic methodological transformation in the study of historical creative practices, in particular the use of 2D and 3D CAD to analyse the geometry of drawings and buildings. However, such approaches tend to treat geometry as an abstract problem rather than a practical reality, further distancing scholars from the physical processes through which designs were laid out by medieval masons. Focusing on the digital analysis of geometry in medieval creative practices, this talk presents a critical reassessment of the value of data-driven or quantitative approaches to architectural study. Highlighting the potentially dehumanising influence of digital methods, it instead proposes a new methodology which integrates analogue considerations into the analytical process, reframing architectural geometry as the concrete product of hands and minds. In the process, it aims to collapse the gap between modern (digital) and medieval (analogue) processes of conceptualising architectural design.

Image caption: Detail of Geometry on Tracing Floor, Wells Cathedral, England, c. 1420-3

Event details

30 Jan '24
5.15pm - 6.15pm
In-person and online, open to all
James Hillson