Once upon a flat vault: topicality of building with natural stone in Jerusalem

Once upon a flat vault: topicality of building with natural stone in Jerusalem

Research and construction.

In pursuit of constant dialogue between research and construction, architects Elias and Yousef Anastas – Palestinians who also trained in Paris – experimented in the extension of the shop for visitors to St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey in Jerusalem with an innovative constructive principle that gave rise to a flat stone vault of dimensions never achieved before.

The architecture of the place

St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey is one of the most precious testimonies of Crusader architecture in Jerusalem. The site is one of the five French domains in the Holy City and the church dates back to XII century. In such a delicate context, the extension of the monastery’s shop above all attempts to adapt traditional building principles to contemporary design and construction methods, while also promoting local stone processing expertise. The additional volume is entirely in stone in accordance with the principles of stereotomy – the technique of cutting and assembling stone ashlars – in harmony with most of the monastery’s architecture, including the church crypt.

The stone vault

The construction techniques used are based on new principles of design and simulation of the behaviour of the structure, as well as a prefabrication and assembly method that ensures precise topological connections. The columns are in solid stone and the ceiling is a flat stone vault made up of 169 interlocking ashlars. The system is inspired by the invention of French engineer Joseph Abeille (1673-1756) who, in 1699, patented a special system that permitted the construction of flat vaults reinterpreted by the two designers on this occasion. The regular layout of the shop, with a square ground plan, is marked off by the rhythm of the perimeter columns and the coffered intrados of the vault, which gives depth to the very small cross-section of the roof.

Stone material research

Experimentation into the potential of construction in natural stone is a constant feature of the Aau Anastas studio: research as a synonym of ambition for a more sustainable and pleasing design. Starting with the Edward Said Conservatory in Bethlehem – the project that made their work known – in-depth knowledge of the local artisan production reality together with theoretical aspects of parametric design culminated in 2017 with the development of Stone Matters in Jericho, a geodesic vault installed thanks to the assembly of 300 unique stone pieces demonstrating the structural use of stone material even in contemporary architecture.

Project: AAU Anastas
Structural research and modelling: GSA ENSA Paris Malaquais
Location: St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey, Jerusalem
Completion: 2018
Images: Mikaela Burstow – www.aauuanastas.com

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