ArchDoc 2011(2.0) are my team ploughing still?

I have been self employed for nearly 2 years now. I am 52. I often wonder how my old team are getting on and the lines of A E Housmans’ A Shropshire Lad echo in my mind.

‘Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?’

I’m in considerably better condition that the lad in question and I got the chance to find out how the ploughing is going over a Metric Survey Team get-together week befeore last: to see things come to an end is sad. The news is all bad. What’s left of English Heritage’s world class Metric Survey Team is being trashed in another cost cutting exercise.  Can this really be the end of a skills heritage that goes back as far as the Office of the Kings Buildings?

No. For the last 10 years I have been privileged to join a teaching team of documentation specialists to teach practical survey at Kastel Arenberg, Leuven. This is a very special group who through their unceasing enthusiasm always gives me hope that our skills will live on.

It’s not far from my desk to St.Pancras and I’m off to Flanders again.

Over the years we have trained about 250 students to make best use of basic survey tools, have no fear of the ‘total-a-station’, take some first steps in 3D CAD survey and get the most out of their cameras. It’s fun and the interplay between historians, conservators and architects always amazes me: the students at the Raymond Lemare Centre are special and they are every bit as enthusiastic as the instructors.

This session is different, the programme has been brought forward from January so the course director is able lead for the last time before he moves from Belgium to Canada to begin a new phase of life there. We are sure going to miss Mario at Leuven! It’s a bit sad but we all know our time spent in the streets of Leuven once hallowed by Frisius and Mercator has not been wasted.

We get off to a flying start: at last I’m going to get a camera over Kastel Arenberg. It’s dead calm and we have 9 cubic metres of helium and a 3m balloon thanks to Rand Eppich. This will be his 2nd and my 3rd attempt to get some low level aerials. It’s a cold misty start and the mist is already burning off….revealing a deep blue sky: perfect.

Rand and I duck out of survey 101 and drag the heavy gas tank out on the lawn, the balloon is filled…
I hitch my rig onto the line …check the radio, give Chris a 2 minute ‘how to’ on the controller and Ona and I  pay out line together.

Image by Bill Blake and Rand Eppich

Image by Bill Blake and Rand Eppich

Image by Bill Blake and Rand Eppich

It’s my first BAP experience and it’s lovely! I’m surprised at how difficult it is to get the camera where we want it, even with video link there always seems to be a tree in the way of where we want to go. We fly until the wind builds up and the balloon starts to wobble too much. I’m using a pendulum rig and keeping the line taught enough is a bit strange as there is no ‘pull’ at all.

The survey is a bit tricky but the students work hard, a new feature is the addition of an historic advisor to the team and the group take more than a superficial interest in the historic aspects of the building. There is much to ponder as we are working in the heart of the castle: the kitchen.

The Kastel still surprises me, this year we have access to the  East Tower ground floor for the first time and it has a 16th cent painted vault: a real challenge and a thing of rare beauty! The Kastel was first built as a hunting lodge in a deer park and the hunt is here on the ceiling.

Panoramic photogrammetry by Gabriella Fangi demonstates the utility of convergent photography but the vault is a tough challenge.

As the students present their work its satisfying to know they carry on a tradition of architectural survey that was taught to me in the ’80s and in turn taught to those that taught me in the ’60s and so on back to the golden age of architectural draughtmanship: we have continuity through practice.

The trip home is smooth, SNCB on a Sunday morning is pretty quiet.

But Kings Cross has a novel departures indictaor in action: at least he has only a Sunday shedule to keep up with!ArchDoc 2012 will be different but the message will be the same, if we care about our skills we need to teach them.

With much thanks to all at RLICC and the teaching team: Mario Santana, Christian Quimet, Joe Elliot,Gabriele Fangi, Ardrea Geogopoulosi, Guido Kips, David Andrews, Krista de Jonge, Raffaella Brumana, Ana Almargo Vidal,Rand Eppich, Branka Cuca,Belen Jimenez Fernandez Palacios, Danai Konstantinidu, Daniela Oreni,Grazia Tucci, Bjorn van Genechten, Ona Vileikis…special thanks go to Krista de Jonge for the historic analysis and to Carressa Cornellis for looking afer us all.

About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
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