Science takes architectural history to another dimension

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Millionaire is using 3D laser scans to make a digital blueprint of 500 structures and ruins across the globe

Chief Reporter

When he was a small boy in the Iraqi city of Mosul, Ben Kacyra was taken by his father to the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. It instilled in him a love of history which, some 60 years later, he is now turning into an architectural treasure trove fashioned from pixels and lasers.

The Iraqi-American millionaire has unveiled his plan to preserve for posterity some 500 cultural heritage sites around the globe by taking 3D laser scans of each of them to create a digital "archive" of buildings immune to the scourges of terrorism, global warming and urbanisation.

Over the next five years the CyArk 500 project, launched today at the Tower of London, will seek to create a digital blueprint of structures and ruins across seven continents in such detail that they will reproduce each building in three dimensions with a margin of error of two millimetres.

The charity is appealing for nominations of sites to scan as part of its aim to avoid a repeat of the cultural vandalism committed when the Taliban destroyed the 1,600-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001, blowing the statues into dust in the name of religious belief.

Mr Kacyra, a retired civil engineer, said: "I was devastated by what happened to the Buddhas. They are lost for ever because there was no detailed template to recreate them. Something similar is happening in the world all the time - we are losing the fabric of our heritage faster than we can conserve it.

"Our idea is that by using technology we can preserve heritage sites so that if over time they become lost, damaged, destroyed or simply degraded, there is a fully intact record accessible not only to archaeologists and conservationists but also to every child and every school."

The project uses a portable laser system invented by Mr Kacyra and the American engineering firm he set up in the San Francisco area after he emigrated from his native Iraq in the 1960s. After selling the company in 2001, CyArk was set up as a not-for-profit organisation.

Among the structures surveyed in Britain so far are the Tower of London, the medieval Harmondsworth Barn near Heathrow (described by Sir John Betjeman as  "the cathedral of Middlesex"), and ten sites in Scotland including the neolithic monuments in the Orkneys.

Other sites across the world have also been digitally preserved including the statues of Easter Island, the pilgrimage town Lourdes, the Mayan city at Tikal in Guatemala, Pompei, Mount Rushmore, the Tower of Pisa and the huts used by the British Antarctic Survey.

Each survey generates some 10,000 gigabytes of data - equivalent to 200,000 boxes of A4 paper - which is stored in a high-security vault some 210ft underground in Pennsylvania alongside material including the original recordings of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

The CyArk charity, which works with governments and heritage bodies, points to its experience with two of its subjects - the Sungnyemun pagoda-style gate in Seoul, South Korea, and the Kasubi Tombs in Uganda - as proof of the value of the project.

Both of the sites were destroyed or badly damaged by fire in recent years but have been either rebuilt using the CyArk blueprint in the case of the South Korean site or await reconstruction using the 3D scan completed before disaster struck in the case of the African tribal tombs.

An advisory board has been set up by the charity, which is based in California and Edinburgh, to choose the sites to be scanned with those deemed "at risk" likely to be given the highest priority.

Mr Kacyra said: "There is an urgency here. One day I would like us to be able to return to Nineveh and do this work there. Wouldn't it be great if, digitally at least, we returned the winged bulls of Nineveh back to where they came from?"

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there