The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a project called “Ways of Seeing” that uses advanced 3D modelling, drone imagery, virtual reality, and detailed hand drawings to conserve Afghanistan’s endangered historical sites digitally.
The Aga Khan Documentation Center, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and the MIT Libraries are working together to provide immersive “extended reality” (XR) experiences of critical architectural sites across Afghanistan.
The current focus of “Ways of Seeing” is on four different historical sites in Afghanistan: the Green Mosque in Balkh, the Parwan Stupa, a Buddhist temple south of Kabul, the Queen Gawhar Saad Tomb from the 15th century, and the 200-foot-tall Minaret of Jam from the 12th century, which was constructed in a remote area of western Afghanistan.
According to the MIT release, the sites were chosen because of their diversity in architectural styles and religious beliefs and the relative inaccessibility of some of the locales.
“To amass the visual data, MIT researchers worked alongside an Afghan digital production crew that travelled to the chosen sites after being remotely trained to pilot a ‘3D scanning aerial operation,'” explained Nikolaos Vlavianos, a PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Architecture Design and Computation group. “We collected between 15,000 and 30,000 images at each location using cutting-edge technology and drone photography.”
Jelena Pejkovic, an architect, has shared her approach to creating detailed hand-drawn renderings of the locations. “I wanted to rediscover the most traditional possible kind of documentation—measuring directly and drawing by hand,” said Pejkovic.
“The ultimate intent of this project has been to make all these outputs, which are co-owned with the Afghans who carried out the data collection on the ground, available to Afghan refugees displaced around the world but accessible to anyone keen to witness them,” Christia says.
“The digital twins [representations] of these sites are also meant to work as information repositories for future preservation efforts. This model can be replicated and scaled for other heritage sites at risk from wars, environmental disaster, or cultural appropriation.”
At the end of June 2023, “Ways of Seeing” will be available to the public. It will give viewers an immersive experience to learn about and appreciate Afghanistan’s rich architectural history.