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Architecture professor leads Taj Mahal preservation

Mel Flanagan | Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Imagine if we could have known the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — what they looked like, how they were built.

Assistant professor of architecture Krupali Krusche laments not having the opportunity to study these architectural phenomenons, which is why she has undertaken the task of digitally documenting World Heritage Sites such as the Taj Mahal.

Krusche founded the Digital Historical Architectural Research and Material Analysis (DHARMA) team in 2007.

The team, comprised of Krusche, assistant professor of architecture Selena Anders and graduate and undergraduate architecture students, studies and documents historical sites in order to create highly detailed, 3-D images that can later be used for the preservation of the sites.

“These historical sites have just never been documented very well before,” DHARMA team member Jack Bangs said. “As they age slowly, in order to repair them we need to know what they looked like otherwise we might repair them wrong.”

DHARMA’s initial project of documenting four tombs in Agra, India, including the Taj Mahal, began in 2008 and is ongoing.

Krusche said the process consists of multiple methods of measurement and documentation that are fused together to form a complete digital image of the site.

“Our biggest investment has been in the 3-D scanning technology,” she said. “It is a 3-D laser scanner that allows you to create and capture the 3-D coordinates of every surface you want to document.”

Anders, who co-founded DHARMA as a graduate student, helped the University acquire the scanner, a high-end device that not many schools have access to.

The DHARMA team works with the Center for Research Computing (CRC) to access the technology needed to create 3-D views of the site.

“If anything happens to the site in the near future, there are exact data coordinates available about the site that allow you to reconstruct it without any information being missed,” she said.

The DHARMA team is also working with the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) to employ GigaPan technology.

“This is when you take a multitude of photos, say 500, and you put them together to create an image that is in gigapixels,” Krusche said. “It is very heavy, but very detailed.”

Krusche said this technology has the ability to zoom in extremely close on pictures that were taken from very far away.

“We use this technology to document the site in such a way that when you come back you have all possible information about it, including what you would possibly not see when you are there,” she said. “You can look at cracks on the surface, other sorts of damages or even make offsite discoveries about the site itself.”

After these two steps, Krusche said the teams from CRC and OIT merge the data from the 3-D scans with the GigaPan images to create 3-D views that are photo real.

The third form of documentation is hand measuring, which the DHARMA students complete while on site.

For the project in India, Krusche said the majority of the sites have been hand measured, and the team will be traveling there for 10 days in January to 3-D scan the tombs of Akbar and Itmad-ud-Dauluh.

“Our hope is that this is an ongoing process in helping the local authorities there to get trained in such technology and at the same time to be able to digitally document as many sites as possible so there is information about them for their prosperity,” she said.

The DHARMA team is also working on another project, the documentation of the Roman Forum.

Krusche said the team has already taken 3-D scans of the Forum, and they are currently creating vellum drawings and watercolor palates of it.

Anders, who has been involved with both the India and Rome projects, said people are often surprised at how little is known about such familiar buildings as the Forum and the Taj Mahal.

“By documenting these things from the large scale to the minute, we have these examples for the rest of history,” she said. “I think we take for granted these wonderful things that we’re familiar with visually, but surprisingly are not as well documented as they could be.”