• 04.12.16

Using Code To Immortalize Ancient Architecture

An engineer from Google and an architect from Bjarke Ingels Group are on a mission to preserve vulnerable architecture for the digital age.

Using Code To Immortalize Ancient Architecture
Photo: javarman via Shutterstock

The architectural tile work adorning Middle Eastern buildings is some of the most visually arresting in the world. Composed of ornate, tessalated geometric patterns and vivid colors, the complex designs are mind boggling and represent some of the earliest forms of algorithmic art.


They’re also sited in conflict zones and vulnerable to destruction–a sad reality of today’s political climate. “Architecture is not always permanent,” writes the team behind an initiative called Project Agama. Led by Lauren Connell, an architect at BIG, Baris Yuksel, a senior engineer at Google, and Alexis Burson, an associate at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the project aims to preserve the designs by translating them into code. “We can make sure that our common heritage is digitized, but not to be saved, instead to find new life in the new buildings,” they write on Medium.

With a travel grant from the Center for Architecture, the team trekked through Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan photographing buildings along the way.

Now, they’re creating a digital pattern library using the code. It could be used by architects in the future to design new buildings based on the mathematically preserved patterns, according to Metropolis. “It is not enough to just catalogue these in photos and videos, it is our aim to break down the logic of these patterns, and recreate them in code in order to make them more accessible and possibly allowing them to find new life in contemporary applications,” the team told the magazine. “By building an open-source library, accessible to architects, artists, mathematicians, and software engineers, we can carry these patterns and traditions forward for future generations.”

According to the trio’s website, this library will be accessible to architects “for easy panelization of tessellated tile patterns” through a Grasshopper plug-in–the algorithmic modeling tool that’s become a common software in the design world. By breaking historic patterns down into a mathematical formula and teaching computers how to draw them, the designers hope to make the work of historic Islamic builders immortal. “We can build an open-source library, open to all, including all the architects, artists, mathematicians, and software engineers,” Yuskel writes. “We can make sure that architects can use these patterns as easy as drawing a line.”

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.