Graduate Architecture

Posted November 9, 2017

Big Data Go Baroque: The Tour

Baroque Topologies, the exhibition organized by Associate Professor of Architecture Andrew Saunders in partnership with Autodesk and FARO Technologies, is returning stateside this month as part of a world tour.

Going on view at Autodesk University, Las Vegas, from November 14-16, 2017, the exhibition documents a major new survey of 18 Baroque churches, with images and models generated from millions of data points captured through laser scanning and photogrammetry. The survey offers an unprecedented look inside some of the most studied buildings in Western architecture: churches in Rome and Piedmont by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini, Pietro da Cortona, Guarino Guarini, Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi, and Bernardo Vittone.

“The works selected for the project can be seen as topological variants of the centrally planned church of the Renaissance,” says Saunders. “Taken together, they demonstrate the blossoming evolution from the early and high baroque in Rome extending to the late baroque in the Piedmont Region in Northern Italy.”

To produce the survey, Saunders and his team spent six weeks over the summer of 2016 with the support of FARO Laser Scanner Focus 3Dx130 and proprietary software. An additional six months were dedicated to processing the data with Autodesk ReMake, ReCap and 3dsMax; producing high-resolution 3D prints for the exhibition; and developing a public website. (A companion website published by Autodesk Project Play offers interactive 360-degree views.)

“The era of ‘big data’ calls for new approaches to analysis and representation in all fields of design,” Saunders explains. “The ability to capture, record and simulate increasingly larger sets of data, coupled with remote access to cloud computing and progressively more affordable additive fabrication technology, provides new opportunities and methods for understanding and assessing complexity and representation in architecture.” In addition to their value to preservationists, the data offer a reexamination of the tools of contemporary representation and their impact on architectural production. Saunders began using the data in a seminar at PennDesign last year to encourage students to “write the next chapter in the way architects study, reassess and reinterpret the past.”

The project has been the subject of press coverage in Italy’s national newspapers, including La Repubblica and La Stampa.

Since it premiered at Penn, Baroque Topologies has been exhibited at Autodesk University in London (June 21-22), Istanbul (October 5), Darmstadt (October 17-18), Sydney (October 17-18). It will be shown at Autodesk University, Bangalore on December 14.