Researchers Use Artificial Intelligence to Study Cathedral Architectures
The Notre Dame cathedral in Reims.
CREDIT: Chi King/Flickr
Researchers are using artificial intelligence to delve into the complex architecture and artistry of structures such as cathedrals to understand these buildings in new ways.
Artificial intelligence , or AI, is widely employed in business and industry, and its use is expanding rapidly as new applications and discoveries become available. In architecture, however, AI is somewhat new, and as team members pointed out, the findings of their new project could just as easily explain how the parts of a bungalow fit together as a cathedral's.
The scientists will start with a single part of a Gothic cathedral, such as a window and its tracery (the stonework elements that support the glass). Bit by bit, the team adds more information about cathedrals to the system.
"We hope to develop and implement a knowledge representation for Gothic architecture as a whole," said Don Potter, a professor of computer science at the University of Georgia (UGA). "It is this knowledge representation that will make the computer capable of reasoning about architectural discourses."
The long histories of cathedrals make them perfect as a test case for the intersection of science and art.
"The aim of our project is to develop an ontology or knowledge representation for architectural history that will make it possible for us to apply methods from artificial intelligence to historic descriptions of architecture," said Stefaan Van Liefferinge, leader of the UGA effort and an assistant professor of medieval art and architecture.
"In the long run, we believe [the project] will provide us with an orderly way to manage and process visual descriptions and so strengthen our ability to conduct historical research," he added.
The complexities involved are daunting. While the field of artificial intelligence itself is only about 50 years old, many European cathedrals have been around for more than 500 years, and in those centuries the structures have been studied from top to bottom dozens of times.
The application of "intelligent" computer power to analyze buildings both old and new, however, could provide new insights.
"In the future, implementing this specialized ontology will, for example, make possible the programming of computers for reasoning about the syntax of architecture and the detection of gaps or contradictions in studies of something such as a cathedral," said Michael Covington, a professor of computer science at UGA.
Van Liefferinge said that information could, for example, be used as a real-time corrector for students struggling to learn architectural terminology.
The information could also lead to software that can help detect unexpected contradictions in ancient descriptions of buildings.
In this manner, the use of artificial intelligence could further aid in digital reconstructions of long-lost structures based on partial descriptions. Machines could, in essence, bring back the past for students, researchers and lovers of magnificent structures.