Jaipur, virtually yours forever

Shriya Mohan | Updated on March 10, 2018

Monumental project: The 3D digital recreations of Albert Hall museum Image courtesy: Autodesk

Monumental project The 3D digital recreations of Hawa Mahal image courtesy: Autodesk

Monumental project: The 3D digital recreation of Jantar Mantar Image courtesy: Autodesk

Rajasthan is creating 3D replicas of the Pink City and its world-famous monuments

There’s something about the way Tatjana Dzambazova whispers, “The real-digital-real divide is melting” that makes you believe science-fiction is becoming a reality, where one can fluidly move across time and space. Not surprisingly, Dzambazova is Technology Whisperer and senior Product Manager at the San Francisco-headquartered software multinational Autodesk.

Originally from Skopje (Macedonia), the trained architect, who began her career in the design industry of Vienna and London, was in Jaipur last month to monitor Autodesk’s ongoing project for the Rajasthan government — creating 3D digital replicas of the Pink City’s heritage monuments and, eventually, the entire city itself.

Ahead of Unesco’s World Heritage Week, on April 18, BLink was invited to a virtual tour of these ‘scanned’ structures.

Inspired by an Afghan experiment

It all began in 2014, when the Rajasthan government explored ways to preserve its cultural heritage with the aid of technology. Around that time, Autodesk technology had been used — photogrammetry (making measurements from photographs) — to recreate the splendour of the gigantic 6th-century Bamiyan Buddha sculptures, which the Taliban had in 2001 blasted out of their niches in the sandstone cliffs of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley.

In 2015, a Chinese couple used Autodesk technology and thousands of crowd-sourced photos to generate a 3D virtual replica of the sandstone Buddhas. For one night, with the permission of the Afghan government, the 3D holograms were projected onto the empty cavities. Tourists watched in awe as the Buddhas towered once again under a star-spangled sky.

Jaipur, which is prone to flooding (in 2012 it was battered by 17 cm rain, leaving eight dead), is worried about the potential threat to its cultural treasures and the lucrative tourism industry they sustain. Autodesk offered a way out.

In 2015, the authorities began making digital scans of eight heritage monuments, including the Albert Hall museum, Hawa Mahal, Udaipur city palace, Jaipur city palace, and Jantar Mantar. Dzambazova explains that a combination of three scanning methods — a vehicle-mounted LiDAR scan, a drone-operated scan and an up-close tripod scan — are used to obtain high-quality 3D visuals.

Sanjay Bhattacharya, principal consultant to Rajasthan’s department of IT and communication, explains how this works in a video presentation: “To design a heritage monument blueprint we need actual dimensions. We started with creating an as-built model using a LiDAR scanning — a good method of capturing orthophotos (geometrically corrected aerial photographs) as well as detailing point cloud data (used to represent the external surface of an object), processed through Recap, which is a unique software that helps convert scans to BIM (building information modelling)... we generate detailed structural models using Revit... we create a textured model using 3D Max.”

Once heritage is digitised in this way, it can open doors to a range of experiences, such as a digital walk or game through which one can learn about the history of the monument.

Jaipur hopes to attract more tourists through such deep-dive virtual experience of its heritage structures.

A city in real time

Beyond just monuments, the long-term plan is to scan entire Jaipur. “In today’s architecture and design, context is completely missing. So we’re putting the real world in there,” explains Dzambazova.

The idea is to design a structure not on a piece of paper, but within the reality it will function in. For instance, if a bridge or a new building is being made, how do you ensure it is constructed in sync with a city’s architectural identity? If a residential area is being remodelled into a commercial one, or a market area is planned around a heritage monument, one needs context to design the infrastructure.

That is when a city really becomes smart, explains Dzambazova — when you can visualise projects over time, from before they are actually made to much after, monitoring the changes in real time.

How is Autodesk different from Google Earth and Google museums, which make similar scans? “It’s about making data useful. Everybody uses the same methods of capture. Software that prepares the data for further use is where Autodesk excels,” says Dzambazova.

For instance, periodic scanning can help gauge a construction’s resilience to natural disasters by testing a 3D model under simulated conditions, says Dzambazova. She explains how Autodesk technology is used to scan coral reefs in Hawaii to monitor their growth, and how San Francisco uses the same to detect cracks in its dams to prevent flooding.

The 3D model of Jaipur can similarly be used to flood-proof the city and its structures. The technology will enable quality control in the construction sector.

Digitising heritage also means democratising it, making it accessible to all. Dzambazova describes how at the Smithsonian museums in America, Autodesk technology helped create a 3D replica of an Egyptian mummy that could be digitally unwrapped on a touchscreen. That, in turn, brought to light the encrypted hieroglyphs and the 120 amulets hidden under the many layers.

“This is the end of the ‘no touching’ museums. Now you can digitally touch, unwrap and learn so much more about heritage,” says Dzambazova. “A time machine is no longer something out of science-fiction. You can now map, scan and go back in time to see how cities and their people looked.”

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Published on April 14, 2017
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