It Takes a Village: The expansive heritage community in Pakistan

In the summer of 2015 I traveled to Lahore, Pakistan to hold an intensive workshop in 3D reality capture for the Lahore University of Management Sciences Computer Science department. What was originally to be a small training when I departed for Pakistan, had extended to over seventy participants. Students and staff from 10 different organizations including Mehran University (MUET) in Sindh, Islamia University of Bahawalpur, National College of Arts in Punjab and representatives of the Walled City Lahore Authority and Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) had joined the project.

Though the class was larger than expected, there was a collective genuine interest and desire to learn as much as possible about the virtual documentation process. Our first day together was spent reviewing the technology and learning the challenges of implementing it in the field. Though we had much to cover, the general concepts and intricacies of documentation planning were quickly absorbed. Over the next three days our group was split into teams of 15-20 students who were expected by the end of the day not only to be able run the scanner and understand the various settings but also plan out a route and record their metadata. 

The site we would be documenting was the Mogul Era Majid Wazir Khan. The mosque was built alongside the Shahi Guzargah (Royal Route) leading to the Lahore Fort and Hammam (bath house) in the ancient walled city. Over the years, the city has grown up around the site and today sits eight feet higher than the mosque. While there are numerous structural and aesthetic issues, a large scale effort has arisen to refurbish the aging monument. With the implementation of the laser scanner we hope to aid in this process. Majid Wazir Khan itself provided some interesting challenges to work around. Situated in the center of bustling, historic Old Lahore, the mosque is surrounded on all sides by newer construction that dates from mogul to modern era. The roads are very narrow and frequented by motorcycles, trucks, and donkey-towed carts.

During the next week, the students learned the many facets of post processing. In six days the students registered, textured, and cleaned the raw point cloud data; created ortho-tiffs and turned them into architectural drawings; and finally modeled off of the point cloud and created accurate renderings of the site. Though this was an unfathomable amount of information to learn in a week, the students worked quickly and were able to make solid progress into understanding each workflow. 

Since then the team at LUMS has continued their work and documented another 5 heritage sites. It may have started as a small project, but the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the participants have made Pakistan a leader in virtual documentation of their national heritage.

Ross Davison