Posts tagged with "Palmyra":

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A French startup is using drones and AI to save the world's architectural heritage

Now active in over 30 countries around the world, French startup Iconem is working to preserve global architectural and urban heritage one photograph at a time. Leveraging complex modeling algorithms, drone technology, cloud computing, and, increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI), the firm has documented major sites like Palmyra and Leptis Magna, producing digital versions of at-risk sites at resolutions never seen, and sharing their many-terabyte models with researchers and with the public in the form of exhibitions, augmented reality experiences, and 1:1 projection installations across the globe. AN spoke with founder and CEO Yves Ubelmann, a trained architect, and CFO Etienne Tellier, who also works closely on exhibition development, about Iconem’s work, technology, and plans for the future. The Architect's Newspaper: Tell me a bit about how Iconem got started and what you do. Yves Ubelmann: I founded Iconem six years ago. At the time I was an architect working in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iran, in Syria. In the field, I was seeing the disappearance of archeological sites and I was concerned by that. I wanted to find a new way to record these sites and to preserve them even if the sites themselves might disappear in the future. The idea behind Iconem was to use new technology like drones and artificial intelligence, as well as more standard digital photography, in order to create a digital copy or model of the site along with partner researchers in these different countries. AN: You mentioned drones and AI; what technology are you using? YU: We have a partnership with a lab in France, the INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique/National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation). They discovered an algorithm that could transform a 2D picture into a 3D point cloud, which is a projection of every pixel of the picture into space. These points in the point cloud in turn reproduce the shape and the color of the environment, the building and so on. It takes billions of points that reproduce the complexity of a place in a photorealistic manner, but because the points are so tiny and so huge a number that you cannot see the point, but you see only the shape on the building in 3D. Etienne Tellier: The generic term for the technology that converts the big datasets of pictures into 3D models is photogrammetry. YU: Which is just one process. Even still, photogrammetry was invented more than 100 years ago…Before it was a manual process and we were only able to reproduce just a part of the wall or something like that. Big data processing has led us to be able to reproduce a huge part of the real environment. It’s a very new way of doing things. Just in the last two years, we’ve become able to make a copy of an entire city—like Mosul or Aleppo—something not even possible before. We also have a platform to manage this huge amount of data and we’re working with cloud computing. In the future we want to open this platform to the public. AN: All of this technology has already grown so quickly. What do you see coming next? YU: Drone technology is becoming more and more efficient. Drones will go farther and farther, because batteries last longer, so we can imagine documenting sites that are not accessible to us, because they're in a rebel zone, for example. Cameras also continue to become better and better. Today we can produce a model with one point for one millimeter and I think in the future we will be able to have ten points for one millimeter. That will enable us to see every detail of something like small writing on a stone. ET: Another possible evolution, and we are already beginning to see this happen thanks to artificial intelligence, is automatic recognition of what is shown by a 3D model. That's something you can already have with 2D pictures. There are algorithms that can analyze a 2D picture and say, "Oh okay, this is a cat. This is a car." Soon there will probably also be the same thing for 3D models, where algorithms will be able to detect the architectural components and features of your 3D model and say, "Okay, this is a Corinthian column. This dates back to the second century BC." And one of the technologies we are working on is the technology to create beautiful images from 3D models. We’ve had difficulties to overcome because our 3D models are huge. As Yves said before, they are composed of billions of points. And for the moment there is no 3D software available on the market that makes it possible to easily manipulate a very big 3D model in order to create computer-generated videos. So what we did is we created our own tool, where we don't have to lower the quality of our 3D models. We can keep the native resolution quality photorealism of our big 3D models, and create very beautiful videos from them that can be as big as a 32K and can be projected onto very big areas. There will be big developments in this field in the future. AN: Speaking of projections, what are your approaches to making your research accessible? Once you've preserved a site, how does it become something that people can experience, whether they're specialists or the public? YU: There are two ways to open this data to the public. The first way is producing digital exhibitions that people can see, which we are currently doing today for many institutions all over the world. The other way is to give access directly to the raw data, from which you can take measurements or investigate a detail of architecture. This platform is open to specialists, to the scientific community, to academics. The first exhibition we did was with the Louvre in Paris at the Grand Palais for an exhibition called Sites Éternels [Eternal Sites] where we projection mapped a huge box, 600 square meters [6,458 square feet], with 3D video. We were able to project monuments like the Damascus Mosque or Palmyra sites and the visitors are surrounded by it at a huge scale. The idea is to reproduce landscape, monuments, at scale of one to one so the visitor feels like they’re inside the sites. AN: So you could project one to one? ET: Yes, we can project one to one. For example, in the exhibition we participated to recently, in L'Institut du monde arabe in Paris, we presented four sites: Palmyra, Aleppo, Mosul, and Leptis Magna in Libya. And often the visitor could see the sites at a one to one scale. Leptis Magna was quite spectacular because people could see the columns at their exact size. It really increased the impact and emotional effect of the exhibition. All of this is very interesting from a cultural standpoint because you can create immersive experiences where the viewer can travel through a whole city. And they can discover not only the city as a whole but also the monuments and the architectural details. They can switch between different scales—the macro scale of a city; the more micro one of the monument; and then the very micro one of a detail—seamlessly. AN: What are you working on now? ET: Recently, we participated in an exhibition that was financed by Microsoft that was held in Paris, at the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, a museum that has replicas of the most important sites in France. They're 3D architectural replicas or maquettes that can be 3 meter [apx. 10 feet] wide that were commissioned by Louis XIV and created during the 17th century because he wanted to have replicas to prepare a defense in case of an invasion. Recently, Microsoft wanted to create an exhibition using augmented reality and they proposed making an experience in this museum in Paris, focusing on the replicas of Mont-Saint-Michel, the famous site in France. We 3D scanned this replica of Mont-Saint-Michel, and also 3D scanned the actual Mont-Saint-Michel, to create an augmented reality experience in partnership with another French startup. We made very precise 3D models of both sites—the replica and the real site—and used the 3D models to create the holograms that were embedded and superimposed. Through headsets visitors would see a hologram of water going up and surrounding the replica of Mont-Saint-Michel. You could see the digital and the physical, the interplay between the two. And you could also see the site as it was hundreds of years before. It was a whole new experience relying on augmented reality and we were really happy to take part in this experience. This exhibition should travel to Seattle soon.
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"The Destruction of Memory" documentary explores the role of architecture in cultural genocide

In light of the destruction to architectural heritage sites in PalmyraThe Destruction of Memory documentary film couldn't be more topical: it examines "the war against culture, and the battle to save it."

Based on architecture critic Robert Bevan's acclaimed book by the same title, the issues in Palmyra are echoed in the films trailer: "In this war, buildings aren't destroyed because they are in the way of the target, they are the target," the narrator, Oscar-nominated British actress Sophie Okonedo implores.

In what may come as a surprise to some, people—and not buildings—are still the film's primary focus. The Destruction of Memory places emphasis on "those who willingly risk their lives to protect not just other human beings, but our cultural identity—to safeguard the record of who we are, and to provide evidence of crimes against humanity." These individuals provide hope in the otherwise bleak landscape of cultural and architectural preservation.

The film also looks at what and how preventative measures will tackle the demise of cultural heritage in war-torn countries across the globe. Examples ranging from Kristallnacht, the Bosnian War (notably the fall of the Mostar bridge), and contemporary challenges in the Middle East feature throughout.

https://vimeo.com/143061688

In addition to this, The Destruction of Memory draws on interviews from Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; as well as international experts including the Smithsonian’s Corine Wegener and architect Daniel Libeskind.

“The assumption has long been that heritage is an unfortunate collateral casualty of war. What this film demonstrates is that, instead, architecture can be targeted deliberately for destruction, particularly in campaigns of ethnic genocide and cleansing," said author of the book, Robert Bevan. "It is vital, therefore, to make more explicit the links between cultural protection and the protection of human rights.”

https://vimeo.com/150493315

Director and Producer Tim Slade said “The use of cultural destruction as part of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s violently exposed the seriousness of the issue, but at international courts and tribunals, recognition of the role of cultural destruction in ethnic cleansing and genocide during these Wars has fluctuated. The links between the killing of people and the killing of their identity are not necessarily being made.”

https://vimeo.com/151237640 The Destruction of Memory will screen at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City on June 21st, and at the British Museum in London on June 26th.
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Problems in Palmyra: How should we rebuild our ancient ruins?

"The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation," said SS chief Heinrich Himmler, referring to the Polish city of Warsaw in 1944. When Warsaw was systematically flattened by the Nazi party in World War II, an estimated 85-90 percent of buildings, including the 18th Century Old Town, were destroyed. Such was the state of decimation that post-war town planners had to refer to 18th century paintings of the city by Italian artists Marcello Bacciarelli and Bernardo Bellotto to aid its reconstruction. Despite infighting between planners, some of whom wanted to use the clean slate to radically modernize the city, and with minimal help from neighboring states, the citizens of Warsaw rebuilt the city. Now, the reconstructed Old Town of Warsaw is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but what does this say about the role of architectural preservation and authenticity? In light of ISIS's path of destruction, which has seen the loss of architectural treasures across the Middle East, many are already seeking ways to restore monuments that have been destroyed. And similar questions about authenticity are entering broad public discourse. The 1,800-year-old Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria is one of the latest ancient monuments to be toppled by ISIS. However, Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), had other ideas about its fate. The team, spearheaded by director Roger Michel, has faithfully remade a facsimile of the arch.
Using marble donated from Egypt, 3D modeling tools, and photographs of the original Roman arch, the Arch of Triumph has been reconstructed in London's Trafalgar Square. Here it resided for only 3 days before touring the world, due in New York this September. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq4_-iBCqp8 The Arch's restoration, however, has sparked a debate on whether we should restore such monuments. "History would never forgive us" writes Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, who says that ISIS's destruction should remain as a reminder of the horror they inflicted on the city and the Middle East. The Arch has also been hailed as "unethical" and a "reconstruction of 'Disneyland' archaeology." Indeed, it is worth noting that few people were aware of Palmyra before ISIS stormed in and 'put it on the map' so to speak (albeit in the most sinister of fashion). Michel, on the other hand, argues "Monuments—as embodiments of history, religion, art, and science—are significant and complex repositories of cultural narratives. No one should consider for one second giving terrorists the power to delete such objects from our collective cultural record." He also adds: “No one would have seriously considered leaving London in ruins after the blitz." Jones, however, counters that "Palmyra was in ruins before ISIS occupied it and it is still in ruins today." Yet the Palmyra ruins, before ISIS came along, were already a World Heritage Site. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Auxr7QozFxE With regards to Michel’s comment on the Blitz, the Marshall plan aided London and other major cities, however, the world didn’t donate to Brest, Dresden, Coventry, and Croydon when they were bombed. Admittedly, these cities all belonged to world powers, but historical buildings nonetheless were still lost. What’s interesting in Britain is how post-war architecture is now cherished, with many brutalist structures being nationally listed. The case of Coventry and its Cathedral is a poignant example. Such was the decimation of the city that Luftwaffe coined the phrased “to coventrate." As a result, the city’s 14th Century cathedral was blown out, but its successor, built by Basil Spence and Arup is now a Grade 1 Listed Building — the highest level of protection grantable. Here, a new history has been born. But should Palmyra be awarded the same respect? Or does the age of its ancient ruins nullify this?
Stefan Simon is the Inaugural Director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH) at Yale University, an organization dedicated to advancing the field of heritage science by improving the science and practice of conservation in a sustainable manner. Speaking to AN, Simon commented on how reconstruction is not a new phenomena. "It's not only about civil unrest, war, and man-made disaster'" he said. "It's also sometimes about natural disaster. The [Sungnyemun] City Gate of Seoul, national treasure number one of south Korea, burned down in 2008 and was reconstructed."
"If you go down to the conservation of archaeological sites in general, there has been for example the charter of Venice in 1964. Those charters and others speak to how to deal with ruins and processes like reconstruction, while respecting authenticity and integrity of a site. I would say while the Palmyran situation is unique in one sense, in the sense of restoration and conservation, it isn't so new."
A lesson on how not to rebuild history can be seen in Skopje, Macedonia. The baroque and neo-classical buildings, part of "Skopje 2014" (completed in 2015) constructed in the last six years create an altogether alienating experience. Seen by many as an attempt to rewrite history through architecture, the project tries to paint over the built monuments of its socialist and Yugoslavian past and has consequently been cloaked in controversy. Here the existing architectural dialogue has been lost among the myriad of misplaced nostalgia. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's taste for baroque neo-classical facadism and obsession with classical history has resulted in seemingly satirical postmodern architecture, typified by a "laughable" statue of Alexander the Great. Suffice to say, Skopje is not a world heritage site. As for Palmyra though, the scale of restoration is another point of discussion, as is who's duty it is to rebuild it. If the stamp of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site is any barometer to abide by, then Warsaw sets a precedent in that reconstruction does little to alter authenticity. As to who should undertake the restoration, however, remains open. Simon Jenkins, chairman of England Wales and Northern Ireland's National Trust asks "How much of what has gone should be restored? By what means, and by whom? And where does Palmyra belong, to Syria or the world?" In a globalized era, does the status of being a piece "world" heritage signify global ownership and responsibility? Politics has also plagued the issue: former London Mayor Boris Johnson has backed Michel and demanded that “British archaeologists be in the forefront of the project,” especially considering how “ineffective” Britain was in safeguarding the site originally. And so leading the way, for now at least, is Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology. However, they aren't the only conservation group to go digital. Taking a different approach, yet still using technology, are a group of three under the name “project_agama." The team, led by Lauren Connell, an architect at BIG, are touring parts of the Middle East to translate the intricate patterns on ancient tiling into code. Aided by Baris Yuksel, an engineer at Google and Alexis Burson, an associate at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, they aim to “make sure that our common heritage is digitized, but not to be saved, instead to find new life in the new buildings.” To achieve this, the code transcriptions of pattern-work are made accessible through an open source Grasshopper plug-in that makes for “easy panelization of tessellated tile patterns.”

“This process will both create a record of these works for future generations as well as allow them to be translated into something completely modern and malleable,” the team say on their website. Their approach is arguably much less intrusive than what is being exhibited in Palmyra, however, as a project in progress, its effectiveness remains to be seen.

Speaking specifically about the Palmyra Arch of Triumph replica erected at Trafalgar Square, Stefan Simon hinted at the emergence of a new industrial era. "This ties into a challenge we all are facing—the 4th industrial revolution, the new digital age, providing us with both opportunities and challenges," he said. "3D documentation will help us tremendously in conservation, but the discussion on 3D-recreations however, for me, this is interesting more as a process, not so much as a product. This is just a replica, has nothing to do with what shall happen at the site," Simon commented. "That is a very personal view. I understand it has tremendous potential, for sure, and there are many groups and consortia who are working to document cultural heritage, movable and immovable, in Syria and elsewhere. For example, together with ICOMOS and the California NGO CyArk, we collaborate at Yale IPCH with the Syrian DGAM in the Anqa Project on documenting architectural monuments and sites and providing open access to these data for scholars and global community." Further dilemmas though continue to be raised, which Simon addresses. "What do you do with this digitally-born data? How do you preserve that, make sure it doesn't disappear or the media become obsolete?" Simon asked. "We [conservation professionals], many of us material-focused people, we tend to largely underestimate the challenges linked to the 3D era. I see this virtual world, the 3D recording of sites positively , but we shouldn't mix that up with the conservation of a site. It isn't the same."
Simon also argues that the arch's reconstruction is "certainly a process that needs to be guided by UNESCO and the advisory bodies to the world heritage convention like ICCROM and ICOMOS. We first have to understand that there's a strong interest of the Syrian people to just see Palmyra rise again, if I may say that so simply."
Withdrawing pressure over the Palmyra site is another factor Simon stresses. "I understand the political pressures but as conservation professionals we need to comply first and foremost with professional standards," he said. "Pressure, in such circumstances, can lead to undesirable results. Sometimes more damage can result from a fast and quick approach of repairing and reconstructing, than by the actual disaster."
  "With the attention focusing on Palmyra," he continued, "let's not forget there's tremendous destruction at other World Heritage sites like Aleppo, where the front line passes through the center essentially since 2012, and many other cities. Recently, the commercial quarter of Asrouniyeh in the Old City of Damascus, dating back to the end of of the Ottoman period, was heavily damaged by a rampant fire. With all concerns on Palmyra, we must not forget the Syrian people, who are suffering terribly since years."

The case for conservation, it seems, will always be a source of debate. Though as architecture critic Jonathan Glancey notes in his book, aptly titled Lost Buildings, “Throughout history humankind has made something of a habit of losing buildings as if these were nothing more substantial than copper coin, a hairpin or set of car keys. Even with our greatest and most celebrated monuments we have been, to say the least, careless.”

Perhaps then, it is best we try our best not to add this growing list of deceased buildings. The Palmyra Arch of Triumph "MkII" will eventually make its way to the city after its globetrotting adventure. However, there it will reside only a stones throw away from its 'original' location. Whether it stands as part of a "new" history for Palmyra, or merely fades into its original past, only time will tell.

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A giant 3D printer will replicate an ancient temple destroyed by ISIS

Replicas of the entrance arch of the ancient Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, will be recreated using a giant 3D printer for World Heritage Week in London and New York. The recreations are intended to defy the actions of extremist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which destroyed a large portion of the nearly 2,000-year-old temple building in August of last year. The arch, which is nearly 50 feet high, is one of the few relics standing after ISIS sought to systematically destroy Palmyra in an effort to erase the pre-Islamic history of the Middle East. https://twitter.com/middleeasthist/status/683281394202742784 Before the conflict in Syria ignited in 2011, Palmyra’s rich cultural heritage drew more than 150,000 tourists each year. The temple, which was founded in A.D. 32 and consecrated to the Mesopotamian god Bel, was exemplary of the fusion of Middle Eastern, Greek, and Roman influences and was considered to be one of the most important sites in Palmyra. The temple was converted into a Christian church during the Byzantine era, and then into a mosque when Islam arrived around the 7th century. In recent times, the Temple of Bel was an important cultural venue for Syrians, acting as a setting for concerts and events. The Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), a joint venture between Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and Dubai’s Museum of the Future that promotes the use of digital imaging and 3D printing in archaeology and conservation, is taking the lead on the recreation efforts. Last year, the organization collaborated with UNESCO in the distribution of 3D cameras so that volunteer photographers could document threatened cultural objects in areas of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. The images are to be uploaded to a “million-image database” for use in research, educational programs, and ultimately 3D replication, as in the case of the Temple of Bel. Although the Temple of Bel was demolished before photographers with 3D cameras could capture it, researchers at the IDA have been able to create 3D approximations of the temple using ordinary photographs. The full-size replica arches, to be made from stone powder and a lightweight composite, will be created off-site and then assembled in Trafalgar Square and Times Square for display this April.
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ISIS militants demolish ancient heritage sites in Syria after vowing to leave them unharmed

World heritage sites in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria are being bombed by the militant group ISIS. The 2,000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin and Temple of Bel in Palmyra, designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, have allegedly been destroyed by the terrorist group. Images featuring the explosion posted through social-media accounts in affiliation with ISIS depict the bombings. The destruction of these ancient temples follows the public execution of Khaled al-Assad, age 82, a scholar and keeper of Palmyra and Syrian antiquities at the hands of ISIS militants on Tuesday, August 18. According to an Associated Press report in the Los Angeles Times, a UNESCO official said the removal of these monuments is the "most brutal, systematic" destruction of historic sites since World War II. ISIS has also targeted other ancient sites including St. Elian Monastery and its 5th century tomb, the report added. UNESCO has called these demolitions war crimes. In late August, the group struck again at the Temple of Bel. The Guardian reported on August 30 that the group made the claim over social media. The structure was built in 32 AD. After gaining control of the city early March 2015, ISIS' commander in Palmyra, Abu Laith al-Saoudy, was reported stating that it was the group's intention to preserve and leave unharmed the historic city of Palmyra. "What we will do is break the idols that the infidels used to worship. The historic buildings will not be touched and we will not bring bulldozers to destroy them like some people think.”