Digital Patina

Someone touching St. John of Nepomuk's statue on Prague's Charles Bridge which is held to bring good fortune, Photo @ Paul van Dijk

Someone touching St. John of Nepomuk’s statue on Prague’s Charles Bridge which is held to bring good fortune, Photo @ Paul van Dijk

On march 2001 a terrible news spreads in the media of the whole world. The Taliban government in Afghanistan blew up the two colossal statues of Buddha, known as Buddhas of  Bamiyan. I clearly remember a video showing a huge cloud of dust, a scream from an unknown Taliban and a feeling of pain in my chest. I don’t want to debate here the reasons and the political and religious background of this awful act. I’m more interested in to the destruction of a precious remain of mankind.

One year before this episode Ben and Barbara Kacyra founded The Kacyra Family Foundation and they were so touched by this terrorist act that they decided to expand the mission of their foundation to include digital heritage preservation of world sites. they called the project CyArk, which stands for cyber archive. A few years before, Ben Kacyra started a company that brought to the world its first 3d scanning system, so the project CyArk is using this advanced technology to scan and digitally preserve cultural heritage sites. (1) Theoretically they could have preserved the digital data of the Buddhas and now we could have rebuilt them with an impressive precision. Theoretically.

Let’s see how a 3d scan works. The 3d scan is using a laser system to return points cloud, every second from 10,000~100,000 points, representing the scanned surface’s morphology within a resolution of 1 point every 2 or 3 millimeters. (2) So the scan is a geometrically correct representation of an object or scene, but what constitutes a monument? Is it just about its shape? Even if we scan every single detail with an astonishing precision is a monument just its 3d presence into the World? I doubt it.

I’m an architect and I still remember all the reading I did in the restoration course at the University and the concept of patina by John Ruskin is still in my thoughts. (3) Patina is a natural sign of aging and time and the greatest value of an ancient monument lies in the sign of their ages or as Ruskin was more poetically saying: “the golden stain of time”. Patina is a physical manifestation of time, but also of the use during time. It is a wonderful degeneration. One problem of digital data is that they are digital and they can’t really deteriorate, they are 1 or they are 0, or they aren’t there. Is it possible to simulate the patina in a 3d virtual model? (4) Can we create living digital model instead of a cold and dead bunch of data? In some way I feel than an object, building, statue or monument is more a sophisticated creature than just a cloud of points. The points have secret relationships one with each others. Even if I really appreciate the work of this digital archivists, i still think that something is missing and what is missing is the history and the concept of memory. Memory is an ongoing concept, we constantly make up, rebuild, elaborate our memory as well as our past.

I hope in the future creative minds are going to explore the fabulous Cyark archive to build new visions on the existing data. Maybe the patina will always just remain in our vision, or the digital avatar will be  so sophisticated to have the option to deteriorate them. For sure we will see cyber terrorists that will try to destroy those data, so its better to incapsulate them in our memory as amazing achievements of this fragile human existence.

(1) CyArk  has created digital copies of almost 100 sites around the world and it has recently launched the campaign CyArk 500 Challenge to 3D scan and digital preserve 500 world heritage sites within a period of 5 years.

(2) For a more detaileded information read here 

(3) The lamp of memory, The seven Lamps of Architecture

(4) Check my thesis project documentation

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