Architecture Students Become Global Interns

By Liam McPherson

Carleton University student Thomas Molnar spent three months in Milan, Italy, this summer, working with engineers and architects to help guide the restoration of an ancient cathedral, the Duomo di Milano.

“It’s been under construction for more than 600 years,” chuckles Molnar, who is in the final year of a Bachelor of Architectural Studies degree, majoring in conservation and sustainability. “Basically, because it’s been going on for so long, the parts that were built first are falling apart and need a touch up.”

Molnar was in Italy as part of the “New Paradigm/New Tools for Architectural Heritage in Canada” program run by the Carleton Immersive Media Studio (CIMS) and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Ten to 12 interns, ranging from undergraduates to masters and PhD students, participate in the program each year, learning how to use digital technologies and tools to preserve heritage architecture across Canada and around the world.

Molnar used a method called photogrammetry to map out a 3D image of the Milan cathedral to help make the restoration process more efficient. “Your camera takes 3D images and flattens them into 2D,” he explains. “Photogrammetry takes those 2D images and reverts them back to their 3D state. This requires multiple 2D images from slightly different angles, allowing a computer program to match up similar points and create a 3D image accurate to within a few millimetres.”

Alison Creba, a Masters of Heritage Conservation student in Carleton’s School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, worked with Prof. Susan Ross and ERA Architects in Toronto during her internship, looking at the role of demolition waste in heritage conservation.

“It’s been a pretty expansive experience in terms of the research methods,” says Creba. “I’ve done everything from literature review to site visits to developing my own case studies to interviews and tours. It’s been a really nuanced and holistic experience.”

Creba’s favourite part of the internship program is what she refers to as a “cross-pollination of skills” between students. “There’s a real interdisciplinary side to the program,” she says. “We all come from diverse backgrounds, and while we don’t really interact too much during our internships, at the beginning or the end of a project there’s a lot of collaboration and sharing of perspectives — that’s a strength of this program.”

“New Paradigm/New Tools” is a SSHRC Partnered Research Training Initiative with the goal of developing highly qualified personnel who can use “emerging digital technologies for the conservation and management of our architectural heritage” and “become agents for the mobilization of new knowledge and new modes of interdisciplinary collaboration that will benefit academia and the architecture, engineering, construction, and operations community as a whole.”

Research at CIMS revolves around five streams: digital reality capture, building information modelling, simulation, digitally assisted fabrication, and digitally assisted storytelling. The ultimate goal for each “New Paradigm/New Tools” intern is to use these streams to form a narrative, says CIMS Director Steven Fai, which “helps discuss the heritage aspects in a concise, clear way.”

“Getting to work with all these really intelligent young people is my favourite part,” adds Fai, reflecting on his 10 years at the helm of the CIMS lab.

The “New Paradigm/New Tools” program is currently in the middle of its second year of a seven-year funding period. For more information, please click here.