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reims cathedral interior detail    For the 2012 New Year’s Eve celebrations I visited Reims, in the Champagne region of France. Reims has an awe-inspiring Cathedral, which celebrated its 800th anniversary last year, as the centrepiece of the city. The cathedral is one of the masterpieces of early Gothic architecture, acting as a blueprint for much that followed in France, the United Kingdom and beyond. It exhibits intricate carved detail both externally and internally, has an incredible lightness to its stone structure owing to its flying buttresses and includes some spectacular stained glass including a number of refreshing 20th Century windows designed by the artist Marc Chagall.

As part of the 800 year celebrations the cathedral put on a sound and light show, or ‘son et lumière’, which rivalled anything I have previously seen; including the Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace which have previously been covered on this blog by Geoff Rich (link).

The show, which lasted 20 minutes, attempted to tell some of the stories of the history of the Cathedral and highlighted beautifully the intricate statuary on its facade. As an architect it was great to see the facade come alive by being ‘sketched’ onto. The sketches highlighted unique building elements and proportions, reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s sketches from “Vers Une Architecture” coming alive in front of your eyes. Other highlights included the silhouettes of workers moving large stone elements into place and the building melting away to reveal the magnificent interior and stained glass windows coming towards you. My photos do not do justice to the complexity of the effect however these series of YouTube videos, not taken by me, show the entire display (link).

The effect is created by a process called 3D projection mapping. A 3D computer model of the facade is created which is then coloured up using special programmes. Set back from the facade were two stacks of projectors which project the video onto the building creating the three-dimensional effect. There are many great things about 3D projection mapping: there are no limits to what can be projected, it can help with the educational understanding of the building, it does no harm to the building and most of all it is a great spectacle. The possibilities are really endless and I expect to see a lot more of this in the future as awareness grows, the technology improves and, hopefully, it becomes cheaper.

I sincerely hope that this technology has further uses outside the sphere of advertising where many of the good examples are currently found. As a resident of Bath, UK, I would love to see it applied to the west facade of Bath Abbey, helping to bring alive and interpret Jacob’s ladder and other features.

Click images below for high-resolution.

Jonathan Bassindale

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4 thoughts on “‘Son et lumière’ at Reims Cathedral

  1. Sounds like an excellent way to see in the New Year! I think there is great potential with this in fundraising and increasing awareness of goals and ambitions at early stages of projects, especially when putting together grant bids or on contentious sites. As long as a site is safe enough to stand in, invite the community and stakeholders in for a big free event, and wow them with 1:1 images of what could be. What a tool!

  2. York minster has this done annually now- though it is little more than fancy colouring in, is still very impressive, bringing the intricate facade to life. something i take for granted and hardly glance at anymore had me mesmerised. http://www.york360.co.uk/whats-on/illuminating-york (sorry to keep harping on about york!) With the added interest of peeling back/building up the layers and telling the story of the building, that show must have been a real treat.

    Charles’ idea about the 1:1 image proposed modifications/interventions sounds brilliant. I wonder how long it be before that is as normal as a 3d flythrough.

  3. Tom – I think that is a very interesting point about this technique making you look at things that you had not noticed before. I spent much more time, and learnt much more looking at the facade in the dark than I did when I visited earlier in the day.

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