Fonthill Abbey in its romantic landscape setting 1823.
Fonthill Abbey was the most extraordinary private house ever created in Britain; yet only a tiny fragment of its once fantastical architecture survives. Magnificent in form, set in a cultivated landscape of breath-taking beauty, its spectacular collapse in 1825 still resonates as the epitome of romantic folly and architectural hubris. Sadly, the building itself, and its complicated process of creation, has been lost to the modern imagination.
The objective of the research project is to recover the memory of this awe-inspiring building, its landscape, the men who made it, and the romance of its creation, and make it accessible to a wide audience. Using new technology, backed by extensive archival research and critical architectural analysis, we will re-envision this lost masterpiece of British Architecture, offering new interpretations of its historic significance and displaying for the first time in two hundred years the broad vision of its creator, William Beckford, and his architect, James Wyatt.
- Examine all the archival material (letters, diaries, accounts, architectural drawings, catalogues, guides, topographical sketches, paintings and prints) relating to the design, construction, and decoration of Fonthill Abbey, and the formation and planting of its surrounding landscape, between 1793, when Beckford built the circumferential Barrier Wall, and 1846, when the ruins were finally cleared away.
- Elucidate the convoluted design and construction history of the building and landscape between 1793 and their abandonment in 1822, relating both to their precedents in England, Switzerland, Portugal and elsewhere.
- Relate the evolution of the design to the intellectual and aesthetic climate of the 1890s: the displacement of classical Augustan ideals by Romanticism in the aftermath of the French revolution, the beginnings of the Gothic novel in literature, the early secular phase of the Gothic revival in architecture, the sublime and the naturalistic in landscape gardening and painting.
- Deduce an authoritative architectural reconstruction of the most complete state of the Abbey (interior, exterior and setting) as they were prior to their abandonment by Beckford in 1822, and document as an architectural “Critical Edition” - plans, sections and elevations- cross-referenced to a comprehensive critical apparatus.
- Use the latest computer game technology to reconstruct a virtual Fonthill in three dimensions as a high-impact immersive interactive environment.
- Use the facilities of the University of Westminster fablab to produce an exhibition quality 3D-printed cut-away model of the Abbey.