Technology

History Repeating

Trimble used its scanning and data-sharing technology to bring the ancient Library of Celsus back to life in the virtual world.
By Grace Calengor
June 7, 2024
Topics
Technology

Located in Ephesus, near the Aegean coast in modern-day Turkey, the Library of Celsus was constructed in the second century CE, housing over 12,000 scrolls and named for a Roman senator. Today, it exists as a façade from that ancient era, with much of its interior structure and surroundings succumbing to the effects of time.

But what would the library look like if someone were to restore it to its former glory? Matthew Ramage, director of project delivery at Trimble, was determined to find out—without disturbing so much as a grain of sand at the historical site.

“We were able to take this idea of how to demonstrate native construction and not just make it about modern office buildings or a skyscraper—because we’ve all seen that—but using real architects, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors,” Ramage says. “Could they take an ancient construction site and design a model that could really be built?”

DIGITAL UNDERGROUND

With an idea to direct a video series titled “The Great Library,” documenting a virtual, collaborative construction project, Ramage began scoping sites and partners. Among the reasons that Trimble eventually selected the Library of Celsus were its history and accessibility. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was picked “not just because it’s a beautiful example of Greek and Roman construction,” Ramage says, “but there is something unifying in history that dates back that far.”

But the site’s accessibility was actually a negative. While the great library might not be as renowned as the Parthenon in nearby Athens, it’s visited regularly by tour buses and cruise ships, so “it was packed shoulder to shoulder,” Ramage says, “and that wasn’t easy, especially when you’ve got a load of robotics there as well.”

With the help of Turkey’s ministry of culture, Trimble obtained the permits required to conduct the onsite digital laser scans and videography that would be needed for this type of virtual construction project. Support from local historians, sound engineers, drone pilots, translators, resources from local universities and more was another bonus. Ramage says: “The team there was so accommodating and gave us so much access to be able to document and tell this story about the site.”

There actually being intact structures to scan onsite was something else that made the Library of Celsus a good candidate for Trimble’s project. While some parts of the library have yet to be completely unearthed—having been buried or damaged by earthquakes over time—its main façade, interior and immediate surroundings were excavated to a degree that allowed for incredibly detailed scans.

CELSUS RISING

In May 2022, a two-person scanning team from Trimble met up with a team in Turkey—including a director/principal videographer, an art director, a sound engineer, a drone pilot and a local fixer—to begin the 36-hour process of digitally scanning the site. This would be the only time when team members would be physically onsite, so the scans had to be perfect. In addition to the library structure itself, the crew scanned the underlying sewage system, the roads leading up to the library and the adjacent amphitheater.

“It was the most detailed site documentation ever done at Ephesus,” Ramage says. “They scanned the entire site over a day and a half and were able to get the exact conditions down to only a few millimeters of every brick of that building, every stone, block and bolt in it. That [level of detail] allowed the architects to take real-world conditions, some information about the topography, how the land sloped, every wobbly wall that was in there, into consideration.”

The Trimble team then returned to their offices to begin work with project partners Smith Clementi Architects, lead engineer Oystein Ulvestad and contractor U.S. Engineering. Over the next year, in coordination with Trimble’s video production schedule, Smith Clementi in California, Ulvestad in Australia and U.S. Engineering in Missouri collaborated in real time via Trimble Connect on everything they would have if this were an in-person job, including structural design, materials selection, cost and timeline.

The goal was to create a digital twin of the library and a design concept from that, all while recording and publishing videos on the process. “They took all of that detail,” Ramage says, “and were able to come up with a conceptual design of how they would make it look if we were to rebuild today.”

If the Library of Celsus were actually to be reconstructed today based on these designs, it would be a multimillion-dollar project involving a lot of structural steel and concrete for reinforcement, a transparent ceiling to mimic fabric and allow for light flow, modern plumbing and electrical work. Of course, Ramage and the team did get to experience that, too.

“It seemed like a perfect way to round out the project by getting everybody together so that they could meet and see this site that they spent all this time designing,” Ramage says. “So, we took them to the Library of Celsus and brought Trimble XR10 mixed-reality headsets so they could stand in the library and see the new design as it would be built. It’s as close to reality as we could get.”

by Grace Calengor
Grace Calengor is associate editor of Construction Executive.

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