Architecture Artifacts

From Icon comes news of the Zamani Project, a fascinating research initiative in which University of Cape Town scientists render the African landscape in 3-D. Through photography, laser-scanning, and a slew of other mapping techniques we’ve never heard of (photogrammetry? say what?) — they’re compiling a uniquely comprehensive digital database of Africa’s built environment, from Persian baths in Zanzibar to mosques in Timbuktu. As best we can tell, it’s the largest documentation endeavor of its kind.

The information will be used to help preserve heritage sites in coming years. For now, it offers stunning insight into the physical makeup of a continent that remains a mystery to much of the West. Here, we present some highlights.

A place of myth to far too many, Timbuktu is in fact a real city in western Africa, tucked between the Sahara desert and the Niger river. It was once a thriving cultural mecca, and to that end, an Andalusian architect was brought in during the 1300s to design mosques, including this grand structure (for which he was apparently paid in gold dust). Built in 1357 and enlarged in the 1570s, the Djinguereber mosque functioned largely as a learning center.

The image here and on the previous slide were created using a laser scan of the building. Scans work by running a laser over a structure, then converting the data into a digital 3-D model.They’re increasingly popular in historic preservation, whether you’re renovating a Scottish church or Mount Rushmore, because they catch all the minutiae photographs can miss — some 50,000 points in space per second.

When a scan is taken, the raw data first registers as a “point cloud” — a visualization of the site’s surface, with color indicating each coordinate’s position in space. This is a point cloud of two churches in Lalibela, a holy city in Ethiopia. The city was designed as a place of pilgrimage, possibly to rival Jerusalem.

The churches at Lalibela are seeded over a vast area, as shown in this GIS map. GIS mapping assembles diverse data onto a single document — from tombs and huts to natural topographical features — providing researchers with a handy geographical precis.

The most famous church at Lalibela is Beta Giyorgis, a 13th-century monolith made of soft volcanic rock and buried in a rectangular pit 36 feet deep.

Also in Tanzania: Zanzibar, a tourist haven more famous for its exotic spices and white-sand beaches than its historic architecture. Nevertheless, the island — which was variously settled by the Persians, the Portuguese, the British, and just about anyone else who ever strapped on a pith helmet — has some lovely buildings. This is a 3-D image of the Hamamni Persian Baths, constructed in the late 19th century.

Ghana’s Elmina Castle was the first European slave-trading post in sub-Saharan Africa. Built by the Portuguese in 1482, it was originally designed to protect the gold trade. The Dutch captured the fortress in the 1600s, quickly transforming it into a slave holding cell, with luxury European suites on the upper floors.

The Lion Temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra in Sudan is a beautifully preserved example of ancient Kushite architecture. (The Kushite were one of the earliest civilizations on the Nile.)

This is a wide-angle shot of the 19th-century Fort Lamu on an island off of Kenya. For more panoramic images, animations, and yes, a definition of photogrammetry, visit or the project’s partner organization Aluka. The Zamani Project is helmed by Heinz Rüther. The research team includes Christoph Held, Ralph Schroeder, Roshan Bhurtha and Stephen Wessels.

article from Fast Company>


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