skip to main content

Michael Fielding Garber

Art, Architecture & Design

» 2011 » June


Engaging the Ruins of English and Welsh Cistercian Abbeys

As my Thesis project draws to a close, my architecture site ( will be updated with an electronic portfolio shortly.

My project, along with others at the University of Nottingham can be seen at “Exhibit 11: Made in the Middle Ground” 16 June 2011.  For more details, contact the Department: 0115 951 3134.

A synopsis of my Thesis is available below:

Thesis Synopsis:

This thesis addresses the Cistercian Abbeys of England and Wales – their historical  social, and architectural development and their remains today. A series of interventions,  created within the extant ruins – Pilgrims’ Shelter, Lodge and Retreat – add a new layer which restores  the ancient monastic role of hospitality.

The thesis began with an exploration of the nature of ruins:  their standing in the landscape and their place in our hearts and minds. The debate from Ruskin and Morris : how to protect,  and display these ruins, or even restore them continues today.  Strictly cropped lawns and austere ruins – an image expected by the public – contrasts with restoration, intervention or simply allowing the ruin to gracefully decay.  In visiting  multiple sites, a multi-faceted picture emerges of the Cistercian monastic heritage which supports the proposed interventions, whilst addressing the restoration debate.

A comparative exploration of Cistercian Abbey sites led to three sites being selected for their particular suitability  to demonstrate  each scale of intervention. The site of the former Guesthouse was chosen as a universal key to the ruins, enabling a comparison to support the importance of the plan of a Cistercian Abbey.

The interventions themselves are composed of a series of elements that reflect  the architecture of the Cistercian architecture and society. A standardised timber frame, the interventions are assembled with sheeps-wool insulated timber-board-clad panels. A series of bronze details evoke the solein Cistercian ornamentation, and are found in the window surrounds, furniture and fittings. The interventions further engage with the ruins through ‘extruded edifices’ and portals which define their entrances. The portals in turn connect with a series of ‘interpretation points’, constructed in oak with traditional timber joinery, which interspersed around the site re-construct lost features, provide viewing points, and create a form of mini-pilgrimage within the sites.

With these interventions, visitors will have the support to engage directly with  the ruins through a simple act of shelter or the ability to retreat. Supported with minimum impact in the ruins,  this new layer, whilst being reversible, will foster a new engagement.  In On Altering Architecture, Fred Scott writes, “The ruin is the means by which a building addresses its past, present and future.” If we are to address the past, present and future of the Cistercian abbeys, we must encourage a closer examination of and relationship to the ruins for the public. In order to do this, a bold, yet sympathetic language of intervention must be created, which provides a dignified contrast to the ruins.

Welcome to the refreshed! My home site is now up-and-running and will be updated with new features and content shortly.