Architecture is often a very prominent feature on archaeological sites. How to document building remains? How to read and understand building remains? How to make sense of the remains? How to identify the various construction phases and processes influencing the building’s biography? How were they actually constructed? How to reconstruct them in a meaningful way?
These questions explain pretty well what questions an architect, building archaeologist or archaeotect has to deal with on an archaeological project. First of all, it is the study of architectural remains –still standing or recently excavated – with archaeological methods but with the eyes of an architect; starting with the documentation. This includes a detailed examination of e.g. joints, used building materials, traces of surface treatment and use, functional aspects and last but not least spatial and stratigraphic relationships. Understanding past construction techniques helps to gather available information to piece together the biography of a building. An interdisciplinary discourse is the bases of building archaeology / Bauforschung. Finds and findings of deposits in rooms and spaces can contribute to the understanding of architecture in the same way as the preserved (still standing) building remains.
Generations of architects and archaeologists have learned how to document buildings with traditional techniques and methods, for example, using 2D-representations of the reality with pencil on paper, cardboard or plastic sheets and with the help of local grid systems staged out with strings and reference points. This documentation process sees the careful selection of sections and positioning of elevation measurements; additional construction details were chosen to represent the buildings as such and to allow their 2D-reproduction in books, on information panels or as architectural models in museums. Once the scale was set, all other parameters—accuracy, precision, level of detailing etc. fell in place. However, drawings, as accurate and precise as they may be, are an interpretation of the reality. Dimensions are given in measurements and the pencil or inked lines represent area borders and traces of tooling or use. Yet, the density of information found in drawings combined with level measurements and annotations is so high that all relevant data can be recorded. In most cases, it is even possible to add data that is not even visible as projections of features above or below the documentation plane.
On the other hand, latest state of the art 3D-recording techniques offers great data sets, which can be revisited whenever necessary and processed, even if the context no longer exists, which is the rule rather than the exception in the case of archaeological fieldwork. Therefore, it is all the more important that the 3D-recording is carried out carefully and that the contexts are prepared accordingly.
The use of digital recording methods is supposed to speed up the process of recording in the field. In contrast to the two-dimensional hand drawings, digital recordings, like laser scan or Structure-from-Motion (SfM) – can also capture the third dimension; these can provide the basis for a four-dimensional model that can display the factor of time and the related changes of the building. A digital record does not replace the need to study and to understand the recorded structures, and a digital 3D-model does not replace architectural documentation. In a nutshell, the digital record is a method and tool that provides the basis for a three-dimensional documentation of architectural and archaeological contexts over time adding further information to the dataset to be able to develop building biographical scenarios that represent – if possible – all aspects of a building’s life-cycle.
Based on the building documentation further studies can be applied to get a better understanding of e.g. the history of use of spaces, the capacity of space to house a certain number of people or to store a certain amount of goods at the same time, the furnishing, and sensual aspects of the architecture. However, in most cases the architecture does not reveal immediately its history or function. Only combined with the archaeological data a full picture may appear.
In addition to the analysis of the archaeological record, the excavated building remains, and still standing ruins, building inscriptions, as well as references from written sources and further (comparative) archival studies can add valuable information to the study of architecture.
In many cases the study of sub-recent traditional architecture from the relevant regions provides useful additional information to better understand the traditional building techniques and materials as well as the decay and erosion processes of the built environment.
The detailed documentation and study of building remains are the basis for the development of conservation and presentation concepts, which have a direct influence on the perception and presented narrative of a site or building. Therefore, building archaeological studies should not be seen as an isolated investigation, but as an integrated part of the overall archaeological research and interdisciplinary exchange.
Moritz Kinzel, DAI Istanbul
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