Students at the UCLA Experiential Technologies Center in the School of the Arts and Architecture can now explore reverse engineering and problem-solving techniques thanks to Anthony Caldwell, Diane Favro, and Ertugrul Taciroglu, who received the first Vectorworks Academic Research Grant for their work toward reconstructing the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt.
Once among the tallest buildings in the western world, the lighthouse was destroyed following several earthquakes in the 14th century. Caldwell, a trained architect, began working on the 2,000-year-old lighthouse five years ago, and his experience documenting early 20th century structures enticed him to reconstruct the lighthouse. He joined scholars trained in architectural history and mechanical engineering to approach the project with an architectural/builder perspective rather than an archeological/historical one.
“After reviewing the relevant historical evidence, it occurred to me that the best course of action was to start by creating an architectural program of the basic known facts,” said Caldwell. “We know the site, mostly, about how high it was, the fact it had a fire at the top, and, by extension, rooms to store fuel, ramps to move material up and down, and so on. The second step was to examine building tools, technology, and materials available in Alexandria of the 3rd century B.C. The last step was to try to understand the social and political context of the time.”
Favro, who is an architectural historian, notes that while there have been several reconstructions of the lighthouse, information provided by ancient authors about its size, scale, and interior is partial or contradictory. Its exact position also remains a debate. Using several diverse sources, the team created a 3D, digital model of the lighthouse using Vectorworks software. The program’s 3D modeling and visualization tools, in combination with Vectorworks’ Building Information Modeling capabilities, enabled the team to rapidly develop, document, and explore several possible configurations of the lighthouse. Taciroglu, a mechanical engineer, analyzed the model by using various engineering programs to evaluate the lighthouse’s behavior when subjected to seismic stresses. Next, the team compared the results to descriptions found in historical records. Caldwell also visited Egypt and consulted with the French archeological team working on the remains of the lighthouse. The model is continuously changing as new ideas are tested and old ones challenged. Vectorworks allowed the seamless integration and documentation of the entire process. “Knowledge formation is always a process,” said Caldwall.