Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Charleston Place

PRESS RELEASE - Haldensleben Germany, June 24, 2015

In the wake of the tragic shooting of nine members of the congregation of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on 17 June 2015, the community of Haldensleben in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, makes a gesture of solidarity with its sister-city in the United States.
A new monument which has been worked on over the past two years by students of the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) in the parkland between Haldensleben and Hundisburg will be named the Charleston Place.
Many people with family and work ties to Charleston live in Hundisburg, Haldensleben and the surrounding towns and cities. IFA Rotorion, which has a large plant in Charleston, is just one example.
In addition, since 2011, students of the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) in Charleston, South Carolina, have been spending their summers in Hundisburg-Haldensleben as part of Project CHARME, supporting the 20-year renovation of Schloss Hundisburg and the surrounding parkland.
The random-rubble masonry construction that ACBA students have been working on since 2014 is already taking firm shape. It is on the site of an old “ruin folly”, a wall that was intentionally left in a ruined state in the mid-nineteenth century, to imitate the ruins of antiquity, as was the fashion at that time. The wall was originally part of a glasshouse built by the then-owner of the Schloss and parkland, Johann Gottlob Nathusius. His intention was to grow in the glasshouse  an example of every known plant species on the entire planet. A particular source of specimens was America, a country he admired enormously for its political and social values.
This folly was later called the “Mackensenburg“ but the new construction will bear little resemblance to its predecessor,
Like Schloss Hundisburg, Charleston is an architectural gem which was almost entirely destroyed - in Charleston’s case, in the American Civil War and then again through earthquake and fire and through Hurricane Hugo in 1989 - but which rose again to become a site of great beauty.
Those of us who know Charleston well, recognize that this is a city which works constantly to heal the wounds of the past, including slavery and racial segregation, and secure a bright future. Horrific events like the killings at Emanuel AME do not divide the city, they are an opportunity for the community to unite more resolutely than ever.
We in Germany recognize that no society is perfect. Every community has scars from the past to deal with. Here in Haldensleben, we continue to wrestle with the ghosts of Nazism and Communism and the struggle to adapt to the reunification of Germany in 1990. Like Charleston, our region has risen from ruins many times over.
By naming the folly Charleston Place, we
  • thank the people of Charleston, South Carolina for their contribution to the beautification of our landscape
  • offer the community of Haldensleben a spot in which they can contemplate their relationship with the outside world, just as Johann Gottlob Nathusius did when he tried to show the entire planet’s flora in his gardens,
  • acknowledge, through the ruined appearance of the folly, that every society undergoes processes of change, renewal and rebirth and that perfection is unattainable, and
  • signify our love and support for the people of Charleston, South Carolina in this moment of tragedy.
Photo of the current status of the project. The structure will be close to finished by mid-July 2015. 

 Contributed by Caroline von Nathusius

Friday, June 19, 2015

Random Rubble Masonry

This summer, the partners and sponsors of Projekt CHARME have invited two stone carving students and myself from the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, SC to learn and practise the craft of random rubble masonry in the tradition of the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany. All of us having previous experience in coursed masonry in stone and brick, so we're expected to become quick learners of random rubble masonry, ambitiously entrusted with a project to re-erect two walls of a 19th century orangerie in the "Landschaft" or public nature park of Althaldensleben. The walls incorporates quoins, windows, door and cornice elements as well.

Building in Stone

Architecture utilizing this tradition of random rubble masonry is exceedingly durable and to my eyes conveys  a rustic sublimity. Several structures in Hundisburg including two medieval towers, the local church as well as the fortification walls of the old "Burg" or citadel how incorporated into the present "Schloss", castle date back 800 years. All of these charming, hand built structures are still in continuous use and fine condition with minimal maintenance requirements.

Neither was stone masonry reserved strictly for the church or castle. The entire town of Hundisburg below and the neighboring Haldensleben typically have ground floors of random rubble masonry, above which you'll find timber framing with lime plaster rendered stone infill on the first and sometimes second floors. This method of construction, also known as half timbering, keeps the oak timbers elevated and thus protected from rot. Many of the homes have the name of the "Holzman" or timber framer and date of construction carved directly into the wood. Apparently there was a building boom here in the early 17th century with many residences dating from that period.

Rubble and Randomness

As the name might imply, the stones used are rubble indeed. "Bruchstein" is the name used locally, literally meaning broken stone. And you can see why! The stones are extremely hard, practically impossible to dress or shape by hand tools. I've been informed that they are igneous stones, clearly of the "plutonic" or extrusive type, having cooled rapidly they manifest no crystallization. That does not diminish their density or hardness, however. The most effective way to get them down to usable sizes in the past was to "break" them against each other.

The rubble is random as can be with a gradation of sizes or small boulders to small flat stones one might skip across a lake. All of these come in a variety of shapes and sizes that must fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Our particular stones come from the Schloss Hundisburg grounds of which the Lanschaft was formerly a part. They in turn were originally quarried from a nearby hill. The quarry long abandoned has filled up into a scenic little lake that serves as a pleasant public summer destination for the locals.

Mise en Œuvre

Dry stack or mortarless random rubble masonry is a big tradition in Scotland and many other places.
Nevertheless, in the Saxony-Anhalt, regional German tradition mortar is used. Traditionally is was always lime mortars; however, on our project the lime is gauged with cement to give an early setting and corresponding compressive strength so that we can work a little faster. As the Bruchstein has a higher degree of impermeability and compressive strength than the blended mortar, neither I nor the local "Steinmetz" or masons see any long term issue with the change in formula.

There are some differences in working with Bruchstein than in my experience. The most obvious is the random nature of the placement of the stones. Although we continue to string lines and use levels to assure the walls are plumb, I have had to forcibly resist the tendency to seek out stones that would result in a regular "coursing" or horizontal banding that is typical of the English and American traditions. Just to imagine how one piece of rubble could fit into another was at first a real challenge. The first week I was practically blind, very slow at selecting pieces but my vision has rapidly sharpened since. One truly has to let oneself go, allowing the stones to arrange themselves in an irregular tapestry. The single conscious decision that you must keep in mind is to make sure you are consistently using stones oriented to tie back into the middle of the wall. If not you might end up with essentially a veneer of stones at the face that would result in long term structural instability.

Another adjustment I've had to accustom myself to was not pre-wetting the stones beforehand. This is typically done with most stone types so that the mortar achieves a better bond. The Bruchstein is so impervious that even dampening them will result in your stones "swimming", sliding out of position. A stiff mortar we've learned is the best mix.

In addition to Bruchstein  we are incorporating "Braunstein", a rosy coloured brownstone. The Braunstein is comparatively much softer and workable with mallet and chisel. Students last year dressed several pieces into orthotopes or extruded rectangular units, edges tooled and centres punched to serves as both structural and decorative quoining. Additionally, we're utilizing odds and ends found in the castle boneyard of tooled "Sandstein" the local yellowish sandstone to cobble together a door and couple of windows. Again, students last year carved a couple of pieces needed to complete the ensemble. The German tradition of tooling is much rougher than what I'm accustomed to from the English tradition. However, I'm quite impressed with it as it reads very well from a distance and allows more room for error, increasing the speed of working significantly.

At the time of this writing we're about half way into our stay and likewise about at the midpoint of our project. The door and windows are taking shape, the castle masons have been impressed with us, now providing us every support and the local folks walking through the park have warmed up as well, taking the time to converse in my broken but improving German. It feels good to know that there is still so much to learn, I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to do so and work with brother craftsmen who despite language barriers are generous enough to share.

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Projekt CHARME

Schloss Hundisburg
So for the summer of 2015 I'm working at Schloss Hundisburg, an ostensibly Baroque era castle complex and parkland estate adjoined by a small village situated in the pastoral German countryside about a 2 hours drive west of Berlin. However, I'll save the specifics of my work for a subsequent post and first discuss a little about how I arrived here with a brief history of Haldensleben-Hundisburg and the fascinating project called CHARME.


The area of Haldensleben and Hundisburg have evidence of established human occupation dating back some 5,000 years. However, the "modern" period of continuous occupation with the associated names for the towns date back a millennia, to the establishment of what is now known the Straße der Romanik or "Romanesque Road" along which many medieval communities were first introduced to Christianity and a vibrant culture of trade ensued.

A fortification was established in Hundisburg, a walled enclosure and tower keep overseen by knights  swearing fealty to the archbishop of nearby Magdeburg. The left tower of the current castle is original to this medieval period. In 1452, ownership transferred into private hands of the Alvensleben family who continued to develop the grounds, first as a Renaissance castle and subsequent to the 30 years war, greatly expanded them into a majestic Baroque castle and gardens by the early 18th century.

Ownership of the castle transferred once again in 1811 to Johann Gottlob Nathusius, a most successful early German industrialist. Johann acquired about the same time the nearby Althaldensleben Monastery as his personal residence and over the course of the 19th century he and his sons developed the land between the castle and monastery into a 271 acre country park.

During WWII occupying Russian troops accidentally set fire to the castle, causing significant though not total destruction. During the period of the communist East Germany the castle lay abandoned; however, upon German unification ownership transferred to the public realm, the city of Haldensleben, its current trustee. With municipal funds and support from the European Union the castle was largely restored in the 1990's with smaller projects ongoing.


CHARME stands for "Charleston Haldensleben-Hundisburg - American Restoration Art Meets Europe". As the name implies the emerging non-profit it is a vehicle for cultural collaboration, specifically in the area of hand craftsmanship between citizens of Charleston, SC and the towns of Haldensleben-Hundisburg, Germany.

After German unification, the Nathusius family returned to Haldesleben and local industrial production with the acquisition/merger of IFA Rotorion, growing it into one of the world leaders in the automotive supply industry. While establishing an additional production facility in Charleston, SC current CEO of IFA Rotorion, Felix von Nathusius and his wife Caroline, befriended John Paul Huguley, founder of the American College of the Building Arts and the idea of cultural collaboration between the communities of Charleston and Haldensleben-Hundisburg through the medium of architectural craft blossomed.

An initial project in the summer of 2012 had then recent ACBA graduate Emily Fairchild Gillett creating pilaster bases in plaster as part of the interior castle restoration. In the summer of 2014 a more ambitious project was taken on, to construct a folly in traditional german rubble masonry upon the foundations of a 19th century orangerie that had fallen to ruin. Under the guidance of ACBA Professor Simeon Warren, Juniors Samuel Friedman and Charles Shuler proposed designs and carved quoins and door surround pieces for the folly using traditional German stone tooling techniques. Now in the summer of 2015 it is up to rising Junior student Jackie Urgo, recent graduate Cody James and myself to build the structure using traditional German methods of rubble masonry construction.

The CHARME project has been getting notable press in the German news with a number of articles in print, radio and television broadcasts. We look to take the results of our summer effort back to Charleston and ensure we get a similar recognition of this burgeoning collaboration stateside. Could this be the start of Charleston and Haldensleben-Hundisburg establishing a sister city relationship complete with an annual festival of craft, music, art and culinary delights? We would like to think so!

Next steps for Projekt CHARME are to establish perhaps an even more ambitious restoration project for the summer of 2016 as well as creating internship opportunities for German students in Charleston to fully reciprocate the cultural exchange.

2015 participants, advisors and sponsors of Project CHARME

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I'm Sinking!

This week was all about "sinking", going down to a surface that does not have an accessible edge. I found the process much like traditional plastering but inverted as stone is not an additive rather a reductive medium.

First we use a combination square to set a desired depth. In my case I had a total depth of 3/8" to my surface so I set my square to 1/4" for the first pass. This allowed me to carefully chisel out a number of "dots" across the surface. I used my claw chisel to "connect the dots" forming a type of screed. This provided a visual guide and physical breadcrumbs that prevented me from striking the punch too deeply as I efficiently removed the majority of mass.

I followed up my punching with a claw chiseling of the surface. The first go round was good pratise with minimal risk. I misjudged the depth the of one of the dots but didn't have to pay the penalty. Finally I was ready to go for my surface depth. These next dots had to be perfect. They were deliberately larger, enough to fit the bolster (2 inch chisel) in both directions. Also, I worked the line of the pointed arch that was available to me at the bottom as well as center edge of the mantle piece. Next steps will be to form "screeds" connecting these dots of each other and the worked edge below, then working the plane surface between.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Block Out and Template

It took the better part of this week's allotted time just to block out the mantle piece. At 40", the top and bottom are the longest runs I've carved to date. The repetition is helping my efficiency. Knowing when to switch from a claw to a bolster, how much is safe to remove per layer is permitting me to reach the surface in an economy of runs. My partner Sam is at about the same stage.

With everything straight and plumb we can begin applying our templates. Next week some serious carving begins as we go down, extruding profiles into the piece.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Go Big or Go Home

This week saw me undertaking the last and largest piece of the fireplace: the mantle piece. A spinner with a 9" diametre diamond blade was used to remove mass quickly. However, as usual all work gets finished with mallet and chisels. The limestone piece is big and heavy and requires at least two people to move position.

At 40" wide the top of the mantle is the longest run I've carved thus far. Keeping the surface flat and square over that distance requires focus and frequent checks with my combination square.

Most of my effort this week is just removing mass and blocking out the form. Next week the real work begins of applying and extruding profiles. Eventually, I'll be carving out the inset panels, a new skill to be learned.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Plinth and Jamb Complete

Hooray! The weather here in Charleston has finally broke. We've went from layers of thermals doing our best to keep warm indoors prior to spring break, to t-shirts and shorts working under our timber framed stone shed. Picking up speed and quality on our fireplace project as well.

First up was "tooling" all of the previously carved surfaces. For this we chose a bolster, 2" chisel to be struck with a "dummy", a very lightweight hammer that doesn't give much of an impact, allowing optimum control without risk of damage.

Next us was the last remaining profile the cavetto. I find convex shapes most challenging as it requires a instinctive feel for the precise angle of your chisel to assure you don't dig in to deeply. The process is carve a row top and bottom, carve out the mass in the middle, repeat with increasing caution. Repeating this when the profile is itself extruded on a curve is a real challenge to be faced in the next piece to be carved, the mantle.

I was able to borrow a 1" "bullnose" that was a tremendous help. Unlike a gouge which blade itself if curved, the bullnose is a straight chisel with the edges rounded. This one was the perfect size and I was able to carve out the cavetto quickly and accurately. Finally with jamb and plinth complete I was able to mount one atop the other. Exciting to see our design coming to realisation!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Getting Into and Out of a Jamb

Having my correctly dimensioned orthotope or extruded rectangle prepared, my first step is to remove a good deal of mass. This is accomplished by a chamfer carved across a diagonal line just above the details of the profile. With the chamfer is in place and the surface flat I can connect my applied profiles across the face of the stone giving me a guide to extrude the moulding elements.

The first step in approaching the profile is carving out a series of straight steps, leaving the curvilinear work for last. The step pyramid effect removes mass quickly allowing the approach to the curved surfaces with reduced risk of a blowout.

Finally, very carefully I begin working on the curves, really treating them as a series of straight extrusions, step by step removing small triangular masses of stone along its length until it is safe to clean up along the face.

With just one more concave element to carve, the concave cavetto, and a bit of surface tooling to give a unified pleasing surface the jamb should be complete early next week. Next step if the mantle, a massive complex piece that will likely take me the balance of the semester to complete.

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Making Architecture

"What the mind conceives, the eyes see, we come to truly understand when the hands make"

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Whispers of Lincoln

Dean's eye, Lincoln Cathedral
The past couple of weeks I've begun a secondary project in addition to the Jacobean fire surround. This time I'm assisting one of our seniors in carving a gothic rose window. Very exciting for me as it introduces to me new concepts in carving as extruding profiles in curvilinear fashion and ornamentation.

Professor Simeon Warren did his carving internship at Lincoln cathedral so it was decided to use the rose windows of the north and south transepts, the dean's and bishop's "eye" respectively, as inspiration for the design. Of course our version is far more simplified. Even so, it will measure 5 feet in diametre and weigh several hundred pounds. The finished work will be installed in the oculus window of the historic Trolley Barn, the "new" location of the American College of the Building Arts for the 2016/2017 academic year.

After spending some time in the yard rough cutting the Indiana limestone, I had my two pieces for the window ready to begin. After applying a template, the goal is to square up the three ends the tracery so that the template can be drawn through and applied to the reverse side. Fortunately, we had a lovely visit from post graduate students matriculated in the traditional architecture design studio of Judson University to whom I was able to demonstrate this process. We went out to a local brewery afterwards where the students had tons of questions and expressed their excitement from experiencing the craft of stone carving firsthand.

Whereas I'm just getting started, my senior colleague is much further along. He has two of the tracery pieces completed awaiting ornamentation.

This afternoon, Professor Warren spent some time with us demonstrating techniques for carving ornamentation in limestone. A scrolling floriated vine was decided upon to enrich the cavetto profile of the tracery. Local floral varieties of a four petal dogwood and a five petal jasmine, the South Carolina state flower, were selected. Indiana limestone is a bit "plucky" or coarse grained so we're still working to simplify the details accordingly. Looking forward to truly concentrating on this project in earnest as a senior myself next semester!

Dean Emeritus, Professor Simeon Warren

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reggae and Rockstone: We're Jammin

Rough block and template
Pretty exciting week all things considered. Perhaps a wee bit too much excitement truth be told. With the plinths completed, work begins on the jambs. After using a grinder to rough out two blocks in the yard I'm left with a piece that will need to be plumbed and flattened on four sides.

Using a steel rule an arbitrary line is drawn along the length of the stone near the edge. The two sides are flattened enough to accurately pull the measurement around the narrow face to complete the line on the other side.

A Tragedy Averted

Blow out below the line
I learned an important lesson regarding pitching. When the stone has a relatively small thickness such as the five inch stone we are using it is best practise not to pitch with the force of the strike into the banker. In my case the impact reverberated back into the stone creating a massive cleaving of the stone that went underneath my surface line.

Too close for comfort
It was hard to tell initially whether my stone would be unusable for the jamb. So first thing I did was walked away for about 20 minutes. Came back, put on some Bob Marley and carved back towards the line until I was confident that the material removed in carving the profile would include the blown out mass. Yah man! No problem, erytin irie!

My comfort with the tools is beginning to manifest itself and I've gotten very adept at creating a flat surface. Professor Warren is now working closely with me on efficiency, the minimum amount of steps it takes to achieve the end result. I'll need those skills to pick up the pace. It is really sinking in how large a fireplace this really is. A lot of carving ahead this semester.

Ready to Rock!
Mission accomplished for the week. My stone is squared up, profile applied and the lines for the chamfer, the first large of mass to be removed, is set up for carving.

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Charrette and a Plinth Block

The Charrette
This week the design for the Jacobean fireplace surround underwent a few final revisions regarding details. Two versions, each representing one half of the surround were presented full scale as a charrette. The one on the right was universally decided upon as having better proportions and more amenable to carving in limestone. At full scale, it is evident this is a large fireplace surround and a sizeable project for two students to take on for a semester.

Knowing what we are going to do allows the work to begin in earnest. The approved conceptual drawing is drafted unto heavy duty card stock and cut out for use as templates.

Carving a Plinth Block
Rough cut block

Best to start off with something easy. The plinth block provides a good way to warm up with a simple geometric form. After locating an appropriately sized leftover block in the yard, I cut it first in two using a mechanical grinder, as well as some additional waste. To the right is the raw block that has only two flat, parallel sides.
Establishing the lines

Using a combination square, a tungsten carbide tipped scribe and a 6H pencil, lines are used to delineate an orthotope (3 dimenstional rectangle) in successive steps. Tungsten carbide is about twice as hard as steel and is used as tips for many of the carving tools. Limestone has a relatively coarse grain. Without a hard lead, we would go through pencils rather quickly.

Pitch and Hammer

Once you have established a trustworthy line the first step is pitching. The "pitch" is a heavy chisel with an outwardly angled chamfered edge, designed to remove copious quantities of stone with a heavy blow. That blow is delivered with a steel hammer that transfers maximum impact into the pitch.
1/2" Chisel and Mallet

The next step that is repeated again and again is to "protect the line". This is done with the 1/2" chisel, an ideal size for controlled line working. By carving above the line in this way there is protection from heavier strikes creating fractures that reach the edge of the stone. Stone will almost always consistently fracture at the point of least resistance. You'll notice many of the tools are struck with a nylon mallet that absorbs much of the impact, offering greater control.

Punch and Hammer

The other "power" tool used to remove large quantities of material at a time is the "punch". Whereas the pitch has a flat surface and removes material from the edge, the punch digs in and removes stone directly from the face. Like the pitch, a steel hammer is used with the punch to transfer maximum force. This is done in rows so as to provide an unrestricted side to fracture towards.
Claw and Mallet

Once the surface is roughly evened out, a series of tools are used to approach the line. The first of these is often the "claw".  The heavy impact is distributed across a row of "teeth" and further softened by the use of a mallet. Claws are generally considered medium impact tools. The texture they create can be intentional and a finish unto itself.
Bolster and Mallet

A broad 2" chisel, the "bolster" is the tool used for the fine removal of material approaching and eventually reaching the finish surface. The bolster was the bane of my existence last year. Stone carving like a lot of craft skills require practice to "dial in", to feel the connection between yourself, the material and the tools. Almost like magic, it has clicked for me recently and I feel totally comfortable with the bolster.
Applying the Template

With my dimensionally correct orthotope completed I'm ready to apply my template. The profile of this plinth is simply a rectangle cut by a chamfer. The next few images show the template applied, a progress photo and the final result:

Progress on the Chamfer
The completed Plinth Block

Contributed by Patrick Webb