If dozing in the dark in front of a slide show is your idea of a class in architecture, then you probably haven't studied with Michael Davis.
Take Davis's course, and you may find yourself outdoors on Skinner Green — taking measurements, working out dimensions, staking string, and generally gaining firsthand experience with the genesis of a cathedral's design. Or, back inside the classroom, you may learn how a computer-assisted design program (CAD) can help bring to light the intentions and methods of master masons whose plans have not survived.
Davis has used these same nontraditional methods in his own innovative research. Supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Davis has taken exhaustive measurements of two French Gothic structures — the church of Saint-Urbain in Troyes and the abbey of Saint-Ouen in Rouen, France. After compiling those measurements into ground plans, Davis used CAD to uncover geometric relationships, religiously significant design elements, and architectural plans previously hidden to art historians.
Davis has published work on Altenberg Abbey, the Cathedral of Limoges, Saint-Urbain in Troyes and Notre-Dame, Paris. His most recent publications include articles on drawing and design of the Cathedral of Clermont as well as a 14th-century sculptural cycle at Notre-Dame. He has served as chair of the Medieval Studies program and the Department of Art and has collaborated with Professor Margaret Switten of the French department to teach a course on the art, literature and politics of 14th-century Paris. Currently, he is writing a book on the work of Jean Deschamps, master mason of the Cathedral of Clermont. His aim: to “understand Gothic structures as human products, the results of the dynamic interaction of traditional craft training and the inventive decisions of individual masters.”