The Triumphal Arch of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra – destroyed by Islamic State (IS) militants last October – is being resurrected, thanks to digital technology and 3-D printing. The replicated structure is going on display around the world on April 19 in a fitting tribute to the city’s recent liberation from IS control.
Reconstructing the 2000-year-old Triumphal Arch to mark UNESCO’s World Heritage Day 2016, is the UK-based Institute for Digital Archeology (IDA), a joint venture between Harvard University, Oxford University, and Dubai’s Museum of the Future. The arch will be displayed in London, New York and Dubai.
IDA teams will be first on the ground in the liberated Palmyra and hope to be part of its reconstruction. “As soon as our teams are given access to the Palmyra site, our first step will be to consult with local stakeholders to learn of their priorities,” Roger Michel, IDA’s founder and Executive Director, said in an email.
The team will then build a large-scale 3-D printing grid near the site of the reconstruction.
“This will dramatically reduce cost and allow local stakeholders to participate in the building process,” he said. “After rough-printing the reconstruction, the next step is to provide surface finishes that match the appearance and texture of the original objects or architecture.”
The reconstructions are based on 3-D renderings created from IDA’s Million Image Database and other resources. The Million Image Database is an international collaboration to document heritage sites in the Middle East and North Africa that are endangered due to conflict or vandalism.
Using digital fabrication technologies, including 3-D printing and 3-D machining, the reconstruction process will create artificial stone for the surfaces of the structures. All that is needed is local stone or sand and water. The 3-D printing process helps the teams work quickly.
“3-D printing opens up the potential for cost-efficient monumental scale reconstructions while machining techniques provide the highest level of surface resolutions,” said Oxford researcher and IDA Field Director Ben Altshuler in a press release.
Used in tandem, Altshuler said the two techniques “provide a powerful and practical tool for constructing accurate, large-scale recreations of heritage material.”
The display serves to showcase digital technology solutions that are advancing the study, conservation and reconstruction of heritage sites, including 3-D printing, which Michel believes has great future potential in this field.
The choice of London, which was reconstructed after World War 2, “is proof of concept” for IDA’s plans for on-site reconstruction in the Middle East, Africa and Central Europe.
The replicated arch will also emphasize the importance of physical structures in society and history and bring history to a wider audience. Michel hopes the experience will channel “positive dialogue about things that unite people in the West with people in the Middle East” and help enlist new volunteers to assist in historical study and preservation.
“We also view this work as an important gesture of friendship and solidarity with people in the regions of conflict – people with whom we share a common history that is represented by the very artifacts and monuments we seek to protect and preserve,” he said.