How Open-Source Software Will Speed Up Rebuilding Nepal’s Historic Sites

Arches allows quick surveys of damaged sites, making the restoration process easier.

How Open-Source Software Will Speed Up Rebuilding Nepal’s Historic Sites
[Photo: Jessica Lea/DFID]

After a 7.9 magnitude earthquake last week, the situation in Nepal is grim. At least 6,000 people are confirmed dead, and in many villages outside of Kathmandu, survivors are still waiting for aid. In addition to this great human loss, many of the country’s ancient temples were damaged or completely destroyed in the earthquake. Teams of professionals in charge of preserving these sites are already working to document the damage so they can create a plan to fix it.


A recent article by Gizmodo‘s Alissa Walker gives a great overview of how these massive projects have benefitted from recent advances in technology. One of the bigger innovations of the last 10 years has been the open-source software Arches. Developed by The World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the software provides collaborative tools to document and analyze the “before” data for a damaged site. A group, whether of historians, architects, or a whole city, can contribute information they have from the site, like aerial photos or video, among other documentation.

Photo: via Wikimedia Commons

Arches grew out of a project undertaken by the WMF to protect historic architecture and art in war torn countries, and has already been successfully deployed in areas such as Haiti, as Gizmodo points out:

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the World Monuments Fund was particularly concerned about the damage to over 300 ornate Gingerbread-style houses in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood. In the days after the earthquake they were able to assess the situation remotely by looking at new aerial images for signs of destruction, like debris scattered around the homes. The WMF even partnered with certain satellite companies that could provide better angles on images or capture them at a particular time of day to make sure details weren’t shadowed.

This kind of remote assessment can save organizations time and resources which might prevent further damage from looting or even potential aftershocks, in the case of an earthquake. By the time the World Monuments Fund team landed in Haiti, it didn’t need to do a house-by-house inventory—the group of historians and and engineers had a fairly good idea of which homes needed the most work, helping them put together a prioritized plan for restoration efforts.

Combined with the increasing prevalence of drones, there’s still a great deal of potential when it comes to tracking these locations. “[Drones have] become a very attractive and cost-efficient way of getting aerial footage,” WMF official Yiannis Avramides told Gizmodo. “From what I have seen it seems like Nepal will be a real proving ground for UAV technology in general.”

You can read more about the technological efforts to restore Nepal’s cultural heritage over at Gizmodo.

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