Virtual Modeling to Help Save Mandalay’s Golden Palace Monastery

By Zarni Mann 5 May 2014

MANDALAY — American and Burmese experts are set to produce a three-dimensional virtual model of a 19th-century teak monastery in Mandalay, as part of a project to preserve the ornate structure.

The Florida-based World Monuments Fund, which is implementing a project to conserve and renovate Mandalay’s Shwenandaw Kyaung monastery, said it had finished a high-tech laser scanning process at the site on Friday. The project to renovate the “Golden Palace” monastery will cost US$500,000, and is being conducted together with Burmese specialists and the government’s Department of Archeology.

Jeff Allen, program director for the World Monuments Fund, told The Irrawaddy that a major study should begin in September on how water is affecting the teak structure, but that it was important to conduct the scanning first.

“Moisture is a major destroyer for wooden buildings,” Allen said. “It very, very much depends on the process of 3D pictures by the scanning team. It is very important for us. If we don’t have these pictures, we cannot start. From the pictures, we can understand the structures of this building. We cannot start without understanding the structure.”

The laser technology is being used in Burma for the first time, and scanning at the monastery began in late April. Technicians said they faced challenges—the hot weather in Mandalay meant the scanning equipment could overheat, and slow internet speeds restricted their access to online tools.

Despite these difficulties, however, more than a thousand high-resolution images of the Shwenandaw Kyaung monastery were successfully scanned. A team back in Florida will compile these images into a 3D virtual model, including detailed measurements of the structure.

The work was especially necessary before renovations could be attempted, said Allen, because very little information was held about the structure.

“Since there is not enough information about Shwe Kyaung, so we decided to spend this year collecting information. It’s the way you do things in international standard. You must do your documentation,” he said.

“Since we need to work on international standard, those well documented data are important to understand the structure for restoration and to leave behind these for future. For future restoration, these will help for future restoration works.”

The complete virtual model and data will be available to the public online, and important data will also be kept by the Department of Archeology, he added.

US technicians are also inspecting the pillars of the monastery to check for signs of decay, weathering and termites. This involves digging into the ground to inspect the base of the pillars, which are driven deep to support the monastery.

“If all these data are ready, we will resume the restoration work. We are going to use only compatible materials and take care not to harm the original structure and sculptures,” he said.

The project to restore the Shwenandaw Kyaung monastery is expected to take about two years.

The monastery was originally covered with gold leaf, inside and out, with glass mosaics inside. It was decorated from roof to floor with wood carvings showing Buddhist myths. It was originally a royal chamber of Burma’s King Mindon and was first located inside the Mandalay Palace compound.

After King Mindon passed away, his son, King Thibaw, moved it out of the palace compound to become a monastery. This meant it escaped damage from the aerial bombardment of Mandalay by the Japanese during World War II, in which most of the historic buildings of Mandalay Palace were razed to the ground.