Computer Aided Design in Archaeology.

Nowadays most large architectural projects are using some form of CAD software for Computer Aided Design. As with most other endeavors in the new digital world, a variety of architectural software is available.

We faced the same decision as other architects, architectural historians, and archaeologists, which CAD software to use? Some archaeology projects, such as at Copan (Honduras), selected the software their sponsoring universities happened already to be using. This makes sense, except when anyone wants to exchange information. If the old, in-house legacy software is not compatible, then it is difficult to coordinate with other scholars.

Together with architect Daniel Hellmuth, we reviewed all the CAD products available in that time. We sought to ascertain which was the best, and most practical to use at a Maya archaeology site. Both Hellmuths (Daniel and Nicholas) have plenty of experience with architecture. Daniel studied computer aided design at Switzerland's equivalent of MIT, in Zurich. Nicholas studied architecture at Harvard. Both Hellmuth's have architecture in their genes, since their father George F. Hellmuth was the founder of Hellmuth, Yamasaki, and Leinweber, and subsequently founder of Hellmuth, Obata, + Kassabaum (HOK Architects). This company has over 1000 architects in offices throughout the world. Although neither Daniel nor Nicholas work for HOK, they sure grew up in an architectural arena. Another brother, George W., however, is an executive at the Washington D.C. office of HOK.

From our architectural perspective, we selected AutoCad for several key reasons. 1st, AutoCad is simply the best CAD program in sense of international compatibility. Virtually all the add-on aftermarket products are oriented to AutoCad.

2nd, AutoCad is taught at schools throughout the world. This means that scholars anywhere in the world can handle AutoCad. In other words, if you use a CAD product other than AutoCad, unless it is directly translatable into AutoCad, you are eliminating most opportunities for cooperative interchange with other scholars. Additionally, if you use another software it will be more difficult to find students trained to handle it. And, once you learn another software, you tend to be at a dead end--sort of like using Note Bene word processing software, or XYWrite. They were great programs, but all dead end because WordPerfect and Microsoft Word clobbered them in compatibility.

These were our reasons for selecting AutoCad several years ago. That was version 10 or 11, for DOS. Today FLAAR. has v. 14 for our Dell Pentium Pro machine.

FLAAR. initiated use of AutoCad in Maya archaeology about six years ago, indeed was the first project to install CAD actually at a Maya site. This was even before portable computers ran on batteries, so we had to transport an entire office-sized computer system out into a remote location, at the ruins of Santa Rosa Xtampak, Campeche, Mexico. We installed a 4500 watt electric generator to run the system.

The use of sophisticated hardware and software actually inside an 8th century palace in the jungle was considered so innovative that the Los Angeles TIMES wrote us up.

Now, many years later, we are expanding into Virtual Reality, hence our interest in applying the capabilities of Kinetix 3D Studio Max to Maya architecture.

Autodesk recognized FLAAR.'s dedication to the study of ancient Maya architecture and has generously made their software available to our research programs since 1991.


Design updated July16, 2008.