Restore civilisations through monuments

Filed on May 1, 2017

Using technology to restore ancient architecture destroyed by conflicts and natural disasters is crucial in helping people reconnect

Using technology to restore ancient architecture destroyed by conflicts and natural disasters is crucial in helping people reconnect with their identity, an expert has said.

Speaking at the Arab Media Forum, Dr Alexy Karenowska, a physicist and a research fellow at Oxford's department of physics and a Director of Technology at the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), stressed that using technology is successful when it sparks civil dialogue.

"The success of any project is measured not only by the technical prowess of the engineering, but in the extent to which the process of reconstruction enables people to reclaim the sense of individual and community identity invested in what is being rebuilt," said Karenowska.

The institute recently teamed up with the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) to restore Palmyra's Arch of Triumph of Syria using the application of architectural 3D printing.

The partnership between both entities resulted in developing an international public installation of a replica taken to different places around the world starting with London's Trafalgar Square, going to New York and Dubai.

The original structure, built in the third century while Palmyra was under Roman rule, was reduced to rubble by the Daesh group in October 2015.

Karenowska noted that the process of restoring monuments goes deeply into reconstructing a civilisation or community that has suffered as a result of cultural cleansing or devastation of its physical heritage.

She said such displays of the monumental reconstruction of the arch has sparked conversations among more than 100,000 people who have visited the structure in person, and tens of millions who have seen it in media.

"When familiar places, buildings and landscapes are scarred by conflict or natural disaster, this creates a twofold problem: One of both engineering and human wellbeing and identity," said Karenowska.

"Contact with our physical cultural heritage plays an important role in defining us as individuals, as members of a community. And, mostly importantly, the pan-generational longevity of heritage objects inspires us to contemplate our relationship with our own past, present, and future."

The arch was produced through advanced photogrammetric techniques and 3D machining process that allowed digital computer models to be translated into physical reconstructions using original materials like marble.

The photogrammetry, which is the creation of a digital model of the arch, was undertaken using crowd-sourced photographs of the structure prior to its destruction.

Designed over third scale for ease of transport and installation, it weighs 12 tonnes and standing around 20 feet high.

In this context, Karenowska added that the arch created is more than a technological proof of concept for a new way of building things. "It has started a conversation which has brought people together in support of a shared understanding of humanity, history, and heritage, and of a common desire for a peaceful world."

"It has become a global symbol of the triumph of cooperation over conflict, optimism over despair, and human ingenuity over destruction."

The institute will expand its activities in summer to build full-scale reconstruction of more objects in Palmyra in Syria.

In February, DFF launched the Future Design Center in collaboration with the institute at the World Government Summit. The centre is part of the long-term partnership to secure funding for research and projects revolving around 3D technology.


Sherouk Zakaria

"Born and raised in UAE, Sherouk Zakaria is a Senior Correspondent at Khaleej Times. Joined since May 2016, she covers Dubai Municipality, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), special events and humanitarian issues. Her choice of journalism as a career stems from her passion of telling people's stories and writing to inspire or make a difference. In her free time, she's an occasional theater and film actress. Sherouk received her BA in Mass Communications from the American University in Sharjah in 2013. Before joining Khaleej Times, she was a senior lifestyle/entertainment editor for a magazine in Dubai."

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