To Do: Migrate

This presentation is part of the 2017 3D Digital Documentation Summit.

Activating Data

Speaker 1:           Good morning, and thank you, Jason for having us. As Jason said, we’re from the Rhode Island School of Design, The Department of Interior Architecture, where we focus primarily on adaptive reuse.

So, we don’t gather data, and we are here today to discuss how the wonderful technology that is discussed in this room today, is part of a paradigm shift in academia. Especially, those of us who focus on heritage through activating this data.

There have been few buildings built all at one time, or so built that have not undergone some considerable modifications either by additions, transformations, or partial changes. These are the 1875 words of architect and theoretician Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, “Today, building documentation, the building of a structure as built, is a prerequisite of adding to and subtracting from an existing structure”. The lack of such knowledge in the late 19th century of a building’s changes over time, was at the crux of the debates of the practice of restoration. The key participants of those debates, founded their arguments upon the darth available building documentation in the mid 19th century.

One and a half centuries later, enabled by advancement in digital technology, the possibilities for building documentation are vast. There is access to building information and data never imaginable, both intangible and tangible. The use of this data for building documentation, however, remains that of recording constructed form, albeit in novel formats. At the brink of a new era in information and data collection, the potential of such data has yet to be fully realized. The impassioned arguments of the mid 19th century, though couched in the rhetoric of a different time, still resonate with a keen relevance today, and offer insight to the untapped potential of data in the age of digital technology. Today my colleagues and I will discuss this potential through going backwards, and then focusing on what we’re doing now at RSDI, and then what it could mean in the future.

“To restore a building is not to preserve it, repair it, or rebuild it; it is to reinstate it in a condition of completeness that could never have existed at any given time.” These are the now infamous words of Viollet-le-Duc that unleashed the fierce oratory of the burgeoning conservation movement. Those words were the product of a long process, with roots in the damage inflicted by the French Revolution on many heritage structures in France. It resulted in the creation, in 1830, of the post of Inspector General of Historic Monuments in France, to assess such damage.

In 1840, the commission under Prosper Mérimée issued a first list of 995 classified monuments in need of repair, a list that grew to 3,000 buildings just nine years later. Viollet-le-Duc was appointed for the restoration of many of these monuments including the Roman city of Carcassonne. It is the context of this body of work that Viollet-le-Duc defined the term restoration, a definition derived from his years of experience with damaged monuments and the all consuming issue arising from working with existing structures without documentation. That is the merits of, “the principle that every building and every part of a building should be restored in its own style, not only as regards appearance, but structure”. His controversial definition of restoration was his solution to this complex issue.

In response, William Morris, the founder of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, equated such restoration with, “a kind of forgery that was impossible because knowledge failed the builders”. He believed that those engaged in restoration, “to bring back a building to the best time of its history hath no guide but each his own individual whim to point out to them what is admirable and what is contemptible”. His objections were premised on a reliance on conjecture and the absence of information from building documentation.

In the 19th century, there were, of course, measure drawings, survey drawings, and architectural drawings, in the forms of plans, sections, and elevations. They were all found within architectural publications. These included recent works from the 18th century, as well as reprints, or new translations, or earlier works such as Serlio, Alberti, Colin Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus, William Kent’s 1727 designs of Inigo Jones, and of course Stuart and Revett’s 1762 The Antiquities of Athens. These resources focus primarily on documenting architecture, often of antiquity, as measured plans, sections, elevations, and details.

In the 1840 when Viollet-le-Duc received his first restoration commissions, existing documentation for monuments damaged by the French Revolution did not exist. As he himself noted, “the term restoration and the thing itself, are modern”. The tools and the know-how for building documentation existed as the surveyor’s compass, a half chain, and perhaps a solar compass. The process of using these tools would have been labor and time intensive, although from what we’re hearing this morning, it’s no less time intensive, rendering building documentation a rare commodity. It was only through the information gathered by Viollet-le-Duc and others who worked on the first survey of historic monuments listed in 1840, that documentation of those French monuments came into being. Building documentation of heritage such as Vézelay, Viollet-le-Duc’s first project, for example, was only undertaken by [Dehiel and Vonvezzo 00:06:48] in the late 19th century, more than thirty years after Viollet-le-Duc’s interventions.

Today, these records are now part of the Vasmarrime a database of the French ministry of culture. Through this site, one can access information regarding monuments of historic significance. These types of building documentation are in the form of still images of building geometry. These fixed views, similar to those of the Monuments of Antiquity, capture this line aside of existing architectural conditions. This was the missing knowledge that Morris alluded to in 1877 as necessary for understanding and undertaking restorative work of any kind.

Today, the hand tools of the 19th century are superseded by digital ones. In the 21st century, a wealth of imaging tools that utilize new technologies have replaced the surveying the compasses and half chain. These tools are based on different forms of light, such as thermography and lasers, to collect information of objects and buildings.

As you all know, 3D laser scans capture building information from which floor plans, elevations, and sections of a building can be extracted and allow for the creation of interactive scale models of space. With accuracy and speed, and without the errors of physical measuring and surveying, these tools readily produce simple building documentation for all structures.

Further, these tools extend the possibility of data previously imperceptible to the human eye. Thermal imaging, for example, allows one to view other wavelengths such as ultraviolet or infrared light. Applied to buildings, this technology, for example, enables the capture of the heat of a building as image, resulting in information regarding water or moisture infiltration as visible data. Such tools provide knowledge beyond what Morris could have imagined possible, allowing for the collection of near perfect data for documenting existing structures, but also for building diagnostics. Such a combination of data have would most definitely have allowed for the differentiation of the parts of the Heritage Building in the methods and styles of their construction; such data would have permitted Viollet-le-Duc to fulfill his wishes without conjecture.

Readers of Viollet-le-Duc focus on his audacious description of the completeness that could never have existed at any given time, yet after his first polarizing lines, Viollet-le-Duc’s daring is matched with an often overlooked prescience; he instead elaborated on the responsibility of the architect in working with heritage, “It is in these circumstance which frequently present themselves that the intelligence of the architect is called into play. He always possesses the means of reconciling his role as restorer with that of artist commission to meet unforeseen requirements”. With these words, he addresses the role of the architect is, not only the designer of structures, but also one with foresight, to predict and plan for a future that perhaps has not yet arrived. It is this role of the architect as the farseeing individual that offers new possibilities for the use of today’s tools, one that exceeds that of building documentation.

In this era of climate change, Viollet-le-Duc’s unforeseen requirements are particularly relevant with changes of temperature, plate tectonics, ice volume, sea level, vegetation, etc. Directly wielding impact on many aspects of life including our built heritage, these changes are not immediate or immediately visible; they take place over time, in small but steady increments that, in some total, result in traumatic and even catastrophic proportions. In a society engrossed with images, how does one recognize, no less, plan for future change without being able to visualize such possibilities?

Speaker 2:           Hello, everybody. To conclude with this presentation, I think I want to repeat what my colleague said in the very beginning. Our department, the Department of Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, we don’t do architecture, we don’t do interior design, what we focus on is working with assisting spaces, buildings, and structures, and through interventions, prolong them, give them new meaning, give them new life and continuation.

In such an effort, our students in … We have students who graduate with Masters of Art in Adaptive Fields and with a Masters of Design in Interior Studies, we’re focusing on adaptive fields, and we have been working with Newport, Rhode Island for about six years. In this kind of collaboration with major funding organization there, we kind of took an intimate kind of look at Newport and the question of the funding agency was really how to kind of bring change into a city that is steeped in its history.

Newport is one of the original, founding colonies. The many issues of American historic buildings and cities today are embodied in the structures and infrastructure of this 370 year old kind of city. Newport is uniquely endowed with a bout that protects its heritage buildings from Fort Adams, that we kind of looked at two years ago, to the mansions, to the murals and stained glass of the Jean La Farge at the Newport Congregational Church that we worked on with our students three years ago.

The desire to stand still in time here is perhaps simply and imminent part of the human condition, such an abandon of historic structures. The resistance to change is further enforced by events such as the recent letter from the actor Robert Bradford; referencing his time filming in Newport both in the 70s and very recently, [inaudible 00:13:28] “I was pleasantly surprised that some 40 years later, the city looks and feels almost exactly as it did when I first came here. I commend the community for the vision and care demonstrated to ensure for the preservation for its historical and cultural significant properties”.

In this 40 years, preservation as a discipline has certainly been an advocate for care, but also has accepted the need to evolve. In Newport however, even the small proposal of change steep in the reality of its context and its habitants, can be viewed as a threat. It is the spirit of a evolving, however, that the students and our founding organization will focus on the reuse of existing structures in the city.

This collaboration, sponsorship from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation and in this latest recent kind of project with the Newport Restoration Foundation, our students undertake to project change, literally and figuratively onto Easton Point. Easton Point, a 17th century neighborhood along the western shoreline of the [Aquatic 00:14:57]Island. The project … So this is the future studio, the past studio that we have conducted with our students in Newport with the Congregational Church, with Fort Adams, with an old church, now kind of an museum and art movie, and the Point neighborhood as a general study. That’s how the Point neighborhood, the [inaudible 00:15:36] project kind of works at. This was a brochure done “Keeping 74 Bridge Street Above Water” of keeping history above water, is from the current second kind of agency that they’re working with, Newport Restoration Foundation.

Expanding on the work in Bridge Street in the Point neighborhood, and that symposium they held, our project cosponsor … We focus on the issue of preservation in historic neighborhoods, that the [inaudible 00:16:24] with the rising sea levels, the sea level water rise. The students will conduct investigations with the new use of new data, acquisition technology, together use state of art visualization and processing technology, so this is where we kinda try to bring together the capturing of data, the processing of data, producing ideas with the data, and then kind of communicating with the data. The objective in using this digital tools with virtual building models engaged the general public, at time skeptical, in dangers of climate change for waterfront heritage.

Here you see a picture by the inventor [Trougot Bleek 00:17:10] and similar to this idea, projecting change, as a studio and seminar, provides the opportunity for the students to explore principles and theories, such as those we heard from my colleague earlier, Viollet-le-Duc and William Morris, and contemporary thoughts on climate change and future life as we kind of imagine it in our society. This exploration takes the form of processing collected data into a creative form of interventions, and then further visualizing this interventions into new media. This was the first kind of part that the students kind of an assignment kind of looked at, is a very old form of digitalizing something in some way. Flip books, where they looked at, what has changed? Newport has believed that with whatever they see, has always been like that, has never changed, and therefore we tried to look at different forms of our neighborhood and students do the flip books, simply complicated that form of change.

Similar in this coastline, visualization, where the students have to collect data from old maps to current maps and animated that. The process began by analyzing and documenting written, recorded historical records, and the historic houses in the location; their construction, their geometry, and textures, the people in the neighborhoods. These materials were augmented by existing data on infrastructure and scientific forecasts. Here, we kind of looked at central climate data of how sea level would kind of overtake everything. Our project site is this street, by one degree global warming can alter the occurrence on conservative kind of data. That’s also another way of looking at the same data, extreme carbon cuts and with some other governments that we may engage with on pollution.

In the end, we got an expert from Rhode Island Coastal Management, and we worked basically with this data, 13 feet of sea level rise, including high tide by 2100 and other experts that we invited challenged that and kind of said it would be much more.

How do we engage a neighborhood, a historic neighborhood in terms of preservation when we know that the sea level water rise of that neighborhood will be so drastic that there’s no way of protecting the actual objects on that self. So, through a thorough understanding by both existing issues and future projections, provided the basis for extensive experimentation, imaginative design possibilities and creative interventions in this historical context. Students tried with a matrix to look at different forms that we have seen so far, retreat, accommodate, and to protect mostly seen by individual forms of ownership.

With objective explore relationship between heritage and environmental forms of preservation, between past, contemporary, and possibly future forms of living and design, we hope the students will understand large issues of climate change, and the potential impact and developing ideas, systems, and design inventions that will allow this neighborhood, and possibly others, to evolve for the future.

One project that basically takes in account the idea by Emma Marris that 1750 on, we have 36% more carbon dioxide in the air. This data is very important because 1750, this neighborhood was kinda started to be developed by creating the basic grid of its streets, that has never changed from back then, but our time has very much changed, just looking at very basic data.

This student group looked at this project and saying, “Okay we have to start now by doing something. Let’s take this 20 century and 19 century gray streets away and kind of let’s create green streets for the immediate future and then they will become blue streets in the future.

Another group took on the idea that the social, the natural, carefully investigating points of commonalities and points of differentiations rather than level all. What they’re saying is, instead of trying to grab onto all values, what if we differentiate between what is human, what is nature, what is culture, what are the values, we kind of analyze that and create a different form of living together.

A third group took on the quote by Steven J. Gould from 1990, “Nature does not exist for us, had no idea we were coming, and doesn’t give a damn about us”. What they looking at is having a gradual change, trying not to fight the forces of water, but kind of work with them, and basically open up by allowing the buildings then to float ans slowly lift above the sea level to rise, adjust them.

A fourth group that I want to talk about is a group that decided pure memory or remembrance is in the past, and separate it from the body, a quote by the philosopher Henry Barkson. What the students basically decided is the slow sea level rise, they will just leave their existing historic objects, the buildings there, but will start casting them with concrete around them, until a level where the sea level rise is so high that they will remove the house and create a kind of leave traces of them … Traces of memory after existing past buildings, but not just traces of memory, they I think also create a kind of physical digital trace. There’s a physical, geometrical trace that they leave behind of what one could see in a big 3D scan, but they are just kind of shaped in concrete.

I will ask my colleague Michelle to talk about the fifth project which is an entire digital project.

Speaker 3:           Thank you. I think the last examples of our student’s projects make it obvious that the change we are talking about here in Newport, 13 feet of sea level rise, endangering an entire historical neighborhood, is drastic, and the ideas of our students may seem the same. When we conceptualize this project, we were thinking about how could we activate the data in the sense of the projections of the historical data, and in the context of the ideas our students would develop in order to protect the built heritage, in a way that would speak to the people that are actually affected; the residents in Newport, the various foundations that work in preservation over there, and also those thousand and thousands of people that come to visit Newport because they feel attached to the stories od the place, just those people, [inaudible 00:26:32] mostly.

We believe that spacial computing, of which laser scanning is obviously a part, is a medium that can also be interpreted creatively. One student said that is would allow us to walk upright in the digital future again, not bent over our tools. So, it’s not just a transformation posture that we’re talking about, on the larger scale, it is a transformation on a society level. If you look at a few past technological transformations, we can easily determine that there was a huge transformative venture, like when we stopped putting punch cards into computers and had actual keyboards, when they became connected through the internet, when we were finally able to unplug them and have the internet mobile, and social platforms emerged; each time that happened, it also meant a lot to our work, as historians, as architects, as designers, as scientists.

Now, for spacial computing, we see a 4th transformation emerging, it will be driven by, at least if you look at the considerable investments in technological development that are currently going on, by augmented reality, virtual reality, which are believed to eventually emerge into realities. Also another big quest of humanity currently is artificial intelligence. Looking at the players in that market and the investments that are going into it, we see on the one side enormous investments in the technical equipment and in software, but it is also clear that AR, VR, all of that requires content, and this is where we see possibilities for our future. Students, and currents students, and the younger generation, to not just be passengers in that transformation, but also shape it and give it a face so to say.

Currently when we communicate design and building related data, if its not point cloud, which I think in the raw form is even harder to understand that plans, but talking with real people, we cannot always assume that they have a concept of two parallel lines meaning walls or ceilings in certain circumstances, or the landings of a staircase. The same with models, if you do not possess a concept of scale, a model is just small object. In architecture, diagrams bring about similar challenges, discussing with a larger public, normally. What this means is that people need special knowledge to understand these, especially we tend to forget that, but as soon as we talk with real people, we realize that.

I’ll pick up on my Mark’s talk. These are the methods our students are exploring now to bridge these gaps of specialist knowledge and bring the concepts closer to the people in Newport; augmented reality, buyer content that translates on mobile devices that people bring; 3D stereoscopic video, which again, runs on mobile devices people will bring, and we are going to hand out hundreds of cookie card boards that then function as head-mounted displays, and we will also have a few HTV Vive VR stations where students create content in unity, which is a gaming environment some of you may know.

We started doing that by experimenting and inviting some experts to obtain feedback, it’s not just the design ideas and the technology, it’s also observing people how they interact with it, how easy they find it, and what kind of feedback they provide. This is helping our students to fine tune the experiences they are now developing, so it is an ongoing process, it’s not finished, we are going to present the works at the end of May in Newport for the first time. This is also one of the experiments, which is not working as an experiment.

Anyways, when you walk the streets of a historical site, such as Newport or the Forum Romanum, or the Agora of Athens, you find yourself in narrative environments, and stories are believed to be among our original methods of conveying information from one human being to the next, so keeping that in mind, our students are trying to develop a narrative for the AR, VR, and 360 video experiences, and these are some examples. They are identifying spots on the actual historical site, then determine the geometrical relationship of the virtual content, and the actual viewing position, and then buy a marker that provides the tracking for the overlaid virtual content with the real content. They will have several spots on site where the audience can view the change and the rising sea levels in one on one scale.

Another group is working on 360 video. They’re going to … What’s this movie called where one man always wakes up on the same day?

Speaker 4:           Groundhog Day.

Speaker 3:           Groundhog Day. This is a variation of Groundhog Day. You are waking up in your VR in one of the historical houses in Newport, it is Groundhog Day, but you do not know it, and you do a typical thing in the morning, you walk through the kitchen, open the door, and pick up the newspaper, and in the first movie, everything is as it is, as it would be to wake up in one of these historical houses. In the next thing, the house is still there, you wake up in the same environment, so it is preserved, but you hear noises that seem unfamiliar, and as you open the door, your house was picked up by a drone, and taken away to be protected from the rising sea levels. In the sad them, you again wake up in the house and it’s all fine, you go pick up the newspaper, and outside there’s a garden, there’s flowers and trees, but these 300 feet above the sea because the house was taken from there to be kept safe. They’re also trying to do that as an interactive experience, allowing people to make those decisions to save the built heritage.

Another group is working on an interactive experience that is basically a walk through the historical neighborhood, but it has time portals in it, so you can walk into the future and see the sea level rise, potential interventions, you can also walk back in time and see all the changes this neighborhood has undergone in its more than 300 years of existence.

Finally, there is a group which works on an augmented reality game that brings an important aspect of preservation, we also believe in the way we activate that, we bring knowledge and ideas related to spaces together, and that is a game that allows you to try save the neighborhood from the rising sea levels as an individual player, as a group of neighbors, and as a powerful policy maker. It has a [inaudible 00:36:53] aspect in the sense of telling the people what they can do on an individual level, where they would have to join in order to protect the heritage, and where they would have to talk to people they elected to help them, and part of the game is, I think, a direct line to some politicians.

When we activate data with our students, it is data we devise, obviously, through surveying, observation, evaluation, but also data we devise through imagination, design, and planning. We try to activate it beyond the medium in society. Thank you.



The genesis of the conservation movement may be found in William Morris’ ‘Manifesto’ for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in which restoration is equated with forgery, “a kind of forgery [that] was impossible, because knowledge failed the builders.” Today we have that knowledge in the constantly evolving tools of digital technology. Digital documentation, in particular, offers us previously inaccessible knowledge of our heritage sites. To date, this data acquisition and processing in heritage sites serve the purposes of recording building geometry, visual appearance, elemental information for structure and materials and even thermographic change. These acquisitive and archival methods lead to “as is” snapshots in time, static information that is powerful as a database of heritage knowledge. They allow for ‘restoration’ or even recreation of built heritage destroyed, for example, by war. (1) There is, however, yet-to-be realized potential to use this knowledge actively, as a tool of change.

The post-professional MA in Adaptive Reuse program of the Department of Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design focuses specifically on the reuse of existing structures. In spring 2017, through the collaboration and sponsorship of the van Beuren Charitable Foundation and the Newport Restoration Foundation, graduate students of this program will undertake to ‘project change’, literally and figuratively, onto Easton’s Point, an 18th century neighborhood along the western shoreline of Aquidneck Island. The project will address Bridge Street in the Point Neighborhood and extend the work begun in the Keeping 74 Bridge Street Above Water project of our cosponsor Newport Restoration Foundation. With a focus on issues of preservation in historic neighborhoods that are seriously threatened by rising sea water levels, the students will conduct their investigation through the use of new data acquisition technology, together with state of the art visualization and processing technology such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Our objective in using these digital tools with virtual building models (that include the processing of other historical, scientific projections and intervention design data sources such as written, recorded historical records) is to engage a general public – at times skeptical and inured to the dangers of climate change for waterfront heritage.

Through AR and VR tools, the potential of 3D documentation will be expanded. These tools will allow for the creation of an immersive and interactive built environment that enables the public to visualize, in situ and with their mobile device, the physical effects of rising sea levels on a threatened area of Easton’s Point. Further, through the coexistence of spatial components, physical and virtual in AR and VR, the user will experience a neighborhood transformed in the future through proposed virtual design interventions to combat such issues. Dynamic visualization will activate the products of data processing and documentation as action; action that expands the narrative, visual, interactive and spatial potential of historic environments so as to educate and prepare the public for the changing face of heritage.

1 As in the Million Image Database collaboration between the Institute of Digital Archaeology, UNESCO, Oxford University, Harvard University and others.

Speaker Bio

Markus Berger
Associate Professor of the Department of Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design received his Diplomingenieur für Architektur from the Technische Universität Wien and the Universität Innsbruck. Registered as an architect (SBA) in the Netherlands, he is principal of the Providence based art|design studio InsideOut Design and a project architect for UNSTUDIO in Amsterdam. Berger co-found Int|AR, the Journal on Interventions and Adaptive Reuse. His publications include the essays: “Change, Preservation and Adaptive Reuse”, “(In)convertibility and Memory”, “Constructing Change; Developing a theory for Adaptive Reuse”; “Left over spaces: Rediscovering Qualities for Interior Architecture” and the forthcoming article, “Death of the Architect: Appropriation and Interior Architecture.”

Michael Grugl
a faculty member of the Department of Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design received a MArch from Technical University Vienna. He heads Sixtus Partners, an architecture firm in Linz, Austria. He is a former member of Architekturwerkstatt Freistadt, a group emphasizing adaptive reuse of historical buildings. He is co-creator of the award winning, Pixel Hotel, a built and operational urban intervention for Linz09. In 2012 he co-developed the Monolith, a prototype solar powered thermodynamic system for domestic heating and hot water provision.

Liliane Wong
Professor and Chair of the Department of Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design received her BA in Mathematics from Vassar College and her MArch from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She co-found Int|AR, the Journal on Design Interventions & Adaptive Reuse that promotes creative and academic explorations of sustainable environments through exemplary works of reuse. A long time volunteer at soup kitchens, her teaching emphasizes the importance of public engagement in architecture and design. She is the author of Adaptive Reuse_Extending the Lives of Buildings, a contributing author of Designing Interior Architecture and Flexible Composite Materials in Architecture, Construction and Interiors and the co-author of Libraries – A Design Manual, all published by Birkhäuser.

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