The Flat Stone Vault, a Pioneering Interlocking Stone Ceiling

AAU Anastas

AAU Anastas have just completed a flat vault ceiling that is comprised of wedged stones to cover the new shop extension of St Mary of the Resurrection Abbey in Jerusalem.

The newly built flat stone vault is an extension of the monastery’s shop. Architecturally, it consists of a juxtaposed volume addition. However, the strategy of integration in the site does not rely on the formal aspect of the architectural element but rather on the construction techniques: the new shop is thought of as a stone structure. Just like most of the architecture of the monastery – including the church’s crypt – the soundness of the structure relies on a delicate work of stereotomy.

The columns of the new shop are made out of massive stone, and the ceiling is a flat stone vault composed of 169 interlocking voussoirs. The system is inspired by the invention of French engineer Joseph Abeille (1673-1756), who patented in 1699 a special system that allowed the building of flat vaults.

The design for the new shop is based on an innovative construction principle, literally weaving stones together to achieve the first reinforced flat stone vault of such scale.

The techniques used for the construction rely on new design and simulation techniques, as well as on fabrication and mounting methods allowing for the assembly of precise topological interlocking.

The extension of the monastery’s shop – in such a heavy historical context – is above all an attempt to adapt existing construction principles to novel design and fabrication methods as well as a specific local stonemasonry know-how.



The flat stone vault echoes stone construction techniques, inherent to the monastery’s architectural history and to the crusader’s architecture in Palestine, in a contemporary way.

The new shop is organized in a square plan inserted in the dedicated area of intervention. The plan is organized around a sequence of columns on its three facades. The massive stone columns create shelving spaces as presentoirs for the shop.

The stone columns act as structural elements bearing the load of the massive stone vault.


The St Mary of the Resurrection Abbey is one of Jerusalem’s most valuable witness of crusaders’ architecture. The site is one of the five French domains in Jerusalem including the Tombs of the Kings, the Pater Noster, Sainte Anne, and the French General Consulate.

The church was built in the 12th century by the Crusaders. Its architecture offers a complete example of what was the architecture of the Crusaders in Palestine; a combination of different architectural elements that they brought from abroad and local elements that they found in situ.

Drawings and diagrams

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Project info

Completion July 2018
Site area: 40 m2
Client: Abbaye Sainte-Marie de la Résurrection
Architects: AAU ANASTAS
Structural research Scales and Laboratoire: GSA-ENSA Paris Malaquais
Photography: Mikaela Burstow

About the Architect

The understanding of the project as a process underpins our thinking and approach. Positioning reciprocity as a founding principle, we work directly with factories and artisans from inception, collaborating on solutions and in the process, minimizing energy consumption between design and realization.

Emerging from a deep understanding of local know-how we work with makers to extrapolate artisanal know-how, subverting, adapting and widening the end result to new uses by casting these into new forms.

We firmly believe that sustainability should not be at the cost of ethical compromises. Instead, research is the synonym of ambition for a more sustainable, more comfortable, and more interactive design.

Recent awards include:

Middle East Top 50 by Architectural Digest (2018), Middle East Top 50 by Architectural Digest (2017), Best International Achievement by Harper’s Bazaar Arabia (2017), Hassib Sabbagh and Said Khoury Award (2016), 40 under 40 Award for young European architects (2014).

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