Agile cathedral development

Sat, 2010-09-25 14:55
25. September 2010
Modern structures may dwarf them in many ways, but they were created in a time without mechanized support, knowledge about statics or modern logistics.
Gothic cathedrals are among the greatest works man ever has accomplished. In their times they were gigantic enterprises which devoured the resources of whole cities, and literally took centuries to build - Cologne cathedral, started in 1248, was only completed in 1880. Only a few lucky builders would see their church started and finished within their lifetime. Successions of builders had to work on one single building, victims of changing fashion, taste and technologies, financial shortages, epidemics, lack of documented building plans. And in addition they may have been tempted to leave some individual mark with the building, a personal legacy. So in most cases a cathedral was not built using a detailed master plan. Most of the time the original plans were changed in later times, and sometimes completely discarded, together with the demolition of already existing structures. Many details were only developed as the building went along, and sometimes the original plans could not be implemented at all. The original plans for Strasbourg envisioned two symmetric Gothic towers, but building ground and structure were not able to support them. So only the north tower was finished, and a central block was added to the facade to cover the ugly stump of the south tower.
In Regensburg the cathedral was not erected in sections, but along the outer walls. After one side of the portal had been finished the plans for the other side were completely revamped in high Gothic style, which led to a visible asymmetry in ornaments and decoration. In Cologne the portal and towers were erected in the 19th century, inspired by the rediscovered original plans, but in an untypical Neo-Gothic style. A general design without details, periodical revamping of the plans, frequent scope changes caused by new user requirements or budget issues, the need to adapt to new technology or user interface trends, all in a managed and target-oriented process - sounds familiar. It seems that agile processes, one of the latest trends in software development, is not new. In fact, it may have been here during the centuries.