Just because you’re a monk doesn’t mean you can’t use CAD. The Carmelite monks of Wyoming are building a grandiose Gothic Monastery, and it’s awe inspiring how they are managing to build it.
The Carmelite monks needed a new, larger monastery to house their growing numbers, and found a parcel of land near Meeteetse Creek in Wyoming. The design of their new Gothic monastery was outsourced to an architectural firm. Gothic architecture is characterised by key architectural elements such as pointed arches, large stained glass windows, rib vaults, flying buttresses, pinnacles and spires, elaborate entry portals, and ornate decoration.
After some research, the monks settled on using Kansas Silverdale limestone for the monastery. Cutting and carving the elaborate stone pieces required for such a project, within time and cost constraints, could only be achieved using CNC machines. Hand carving was ruled out as it was a very slow process, would cost a whole lot more, and it wouldn’t be easy to find the artisans for the job. So when it came to shortlisting vendors for the vast amount of stone cutting and carving required for construction, the monks found themselves alarmed at how prohibitively expensive it would turn out to be.
Since stone carving and installation were the most expensive items for the overall project, the monks decided to tackle that job themselves. This meant learning the whole CNC stone-carving workflow, all about stone cutting machinery, operating CNC machines, CAD modelling, CAM programming, stone masonry and construction techniques. Planning for the project started in 2010. In 2013, they purchased their first CNC machine from Prussiani Engineering S.p.A., who specialise in stone cutting machines, integrated with stone cutting CAD/CAM software from Pegasus CAD-CAM. Prussiani also provided support to the monks as they embarked on their CNC journey. After spending time learning all the skills and some trial-and-error later, actual construction on the project started in 2014 and continues till date. Their early days were not without a few disasters. In their own words –
“A few months after we started carving stone, we left our first CNC machine running overnight on several 7 foot long window sills. We woke to a shocking surprise the following morning. The huge stones, weighing several hundred pounds each, had been thrown about as if a tornado had ripped through the machine. Stones were snapped and shattered, the fragments scattered about the inside of the CNC milling area. After the shock settled, we proceeded to analyse what had happened. It turns out there was a mistake in the particular batch of code the machine had read and followed that night. At the very end of each window sill, after it had completely finished carving, the code told the CNC machine to repeatedly pound down into the top of the sill, almost as if it was a giant fist. The stones didn’t stand a chance, but that same machine is still carving stones to this day, almost a decade later.”
Their website has a crash-course like coverage of Gothic architecture, and details on the various sub-structures that comprise the monastery. It is still work in progress, and many years to go before they finish it. So far, they have managed to complete the Chapter House, see video embedded, and they keep posting updates on their website and YouTube channel.