Michael J. Price Lab for Digital Humanities

Baroque Topologies

Baroque Topologies

Andrew Saunders

Associate Professor, PennDesign, Architecture Department

Funding Period: 
June, 2017


Ariel Cooke-Zamora
Graduate Student, Architecture

Alexander Bahr
Graduate Student, Architecture

Kurt Nelson
Graduate Student, Architecture

Teaching contemporary approaches to Baroque analysis at PennDesign has revealed existing representation and documentation of the built work are inadequate for reconstruction, representation and analysis of the full three-dimensional multiplicity inherent in the work.  Baroque Architecture is highly complex formally. Plasticity of form and obsessive detail are intentionally deployed to blur the threshold between, painting, sculpture, architecture and urbanism.  Current surveying tools including laser scanning, photogrammetry and digital imaging allow the capture of high resolution and precisely measured three-dimensional data sets previously unobtainable.   The era of “big data” has fostered the need for new approaches to analysis and representation in all fields of design. The ability to capture, record and simulate increasingly larger sets of data coupled with remote access to cloud computing and increasingly more affordable additive fabrication technology provides new opportunities and methods for understanding and assessing complexity and representation in architecture.

In the summer of 2016, Professor Saunders spent six weeks in Italy laser scanning and amassing an archive of some of the most important Italian Baroque architecture.  The archive includes key works from Francesco Borromini, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi, Pietro da Cortona, Guarino Guarini and Bernardo Vittone.   The primary Baroque works selected for analysis can be deciphered as topological variants of the centrally planned church of the Renaissance.  The collection demonstrates the blossoming evolution from the early and high baroque in Rome extending to the late baroque in the Piedmont Region in Northern Italy.

This project is for preparation for an international traveling exhibition of the research on Baroque Architecture starting with London, Dresden, Tokyo, Dubai, Mumbai, Sydney and Sao Palo.  AutoDesk, the industry standard for building and design software, is sponsoring the exhibit that will feature unprecedented LiDAR survey and representation of the most well know Baroque churches of Italy.  As an additional component of the exhibition, it is critical to exhibit student work from my ARCH 712 Baroque Parameters seminar offered in Spring 2017 semester.  The student work demonstrates instrumentalization of the research in a creative and novel teaching environment for students to analyze Baroque Architecture using LiDAR surveying data.  The research generated in the seminar exhibits more speculative trajectories of how students can use these digital techniques to both inform their understanding of architectural history and use principles from it to motivate contemporary design.

Read more about this project in the Pennsylvania Gazette.