Weser sandstone as a global cultural asset

The interdisciplinary project “Weser Sandstone as a Global Cultural Asset – Innovation in the Construction Industry in Pre-Industrial Times (WESA)” was carried out under the leadership of the University of Paderborn and in association with the Digital Design Unit between 2013 and 2016. The aim was to investigate the prefabrication of buildings in the pre-industrial age in close interdisciplinary cooperation between art and economic history, architecture and computer science. The core question was to what extent one can speak of standardised stones in building projects with sandstone façades and how the process from stone quarrying to transport to the building site was organised. The starting point was a spectacular find off the Western Australian coast: the wreck of the merchant ship Batavia of the Dutch trading organisation VOC, which sank in 1629. On board was a prefabricated construction kit of a portal with 137 individual parts made of Bentheim sandstone – destined to a VOC building in Jakarta. The Digital Design Unit carried out building analyses of large buildings in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany by means of photogrammetry, examined the construction set of the portal of the Batavia and simulated loading hypotheses, spatial hypotheses as well as transport routes and process chains. In constant exchange with art and economic history, the understanding emerged that due to the frequency of occurrence of apparently standardised stones of a certain length and size, a coordinated prefabrication and logistics in the stone trade can be assumed with some certainty.