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Restoring China's Forbidden City With 3-D Printing 46

First time accepted submitter jcho5 writes "China's 600-year-old Forbidden City is looking less forbidding these days. As part of a major restoration, the Chinese Palace museum will use 3D-Printers to re-manufacture and replicate many of the city's most precious and unique objects. From the article: 'PhD student Fangjin Zhang—along with her colleagues at Loughborough Design School in the East Midlands of England—had, for a number of years, been looking into the use of 3D printing as means to restore sculptures and archaeological relics. According to a Loughborough press release, Zhang developed a “formalized approach tailored specifically to the restoration of historic artifacts.” After reviewing Zhang’s techniques, the Palace Museum then invited Loughborough researchers to repair several Forbidden City artifacts, including the ceiling and enclosure of a pavilion in the Emperor Chanlong Garden.'"
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Restoring China's Forbidden City With 3-D Printing

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  • by dryriver ( 1010635 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @05:56PM (#39695793)
    As I understand it, they take ancient objects from the Forbidden City that are damaged (cracked, parts missing), scan them into a computer with a 3D optical or laser scanner, repair/restore the object/artifact in digital 3D space - using organic modeling tools like ZBrush perhaps - then use a 3D printer to print out the repaired/restored 3D object at 1:1 scale to the original object. It says in TFA, towards the bottom, that the Smithsonian Museum is about to engage in a similar effort of 3D scanning thousands of objects from it collection, and printing 1:1 replicas of them with 3D Printers.
  • burned (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ebonum ( 830686 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @06:07PM (#39695851)

    Sadly, Mao and the cultural revolution burned a good percentage of China's history. Things connected to the old dynasties were fare game. Much of their 5,000 year history went in to the fire and they did it to themselves.

    • Re:burned (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:10PM (#39696183)

      Most of the artifacts of the Forbidden City are in Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC), so they escaped the Cultural Revolution.

      • The application that came to mind for me (but not in TFA) is duplicating those artifacts in Taiwan so that they can be displayed in the real Forbidden City. (This is China, so people have to be relaxed about authenticity anyway.)

        The artifacts under curation in Taiwan are exhibited at the National Palace Museum [].

        Interesting bit from that Wikipedia article:

        The displays are rotated once every three months, which means 60,000 pieces can be viewed in a year and it would take nearly 12 years to see them all.

      • Most of the artifacts of the Forbidden City are in Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC), so they escaped the Cultural Revolution.

        Stolen, in modern vernacular.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That depends on which side of the history you are familiar with. At the time the nationalist ROC government is the "rightful" sovereign state of China, and the communist party is the rebel. That's what I was taught.

          It's funny because if you were from mainland China, they claim the nationalist to be the rebel.

    • yes but that isn't what tfa is about. a lot of the forbidden city is crumbling away by accident. all the walkway rail for example are carved soapstone. super easy to carve beautifuly but after a couple hundred years of rain the figures are sad blobs.

  • One concern about this plan that I would have is the question of how durable the material is. Most of the 3D printer's I've been around/used have only printed a fairly cheap hard plastic. If they're trying to use that, I don't think the plan will go over well. On the other hand, if they use metal(I believe some printers can handle it. I remember shapeways having something to that effect as an offering), it could go over well.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      why be concerned? the plastic replicas have no historic value, and presumably one would keep
      both the digital model and the original artifact.

      print a new one when it wears out, or when processes and materials have improved.

    • by Bomazi ( 1875554 )

      Durability is a non-issue. You can always mold your plastic copy and make a cast with whatever material you want.

      The value of 3D-printing is that it is the cheapest way to turn a 3D-model into a real life object. And it is detailed too.

  • Today they have the palace grounds, but most of the relics from the Imperial age which were stored there were lost or stolen over the past 90 years.

    However, they do have a lot of photos, tapestries and paintings of the pre-Boxer rebellion palace. It's quite interesting that we're at a point now where we can take those photos and use them to recreate on a 1:1 scale items that would otherwise have been lost to us, even if they are just recreations.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Part of the point of these things is that it took a fuckton of effort to make them. The ten thousand layers of laquer on some of the laquer art, for example. Then there's the difference between art and replicas. Some people won't notice, others will but not know what's the matter, and to figure out what you need an expert. The thing is, 3d printers can do a lot, but the je ne sais quoi that makes art you can't replicate with a scan and a machine. Or even with good training and a steady hand.

    There's a point

  • I've generally thought of museums as places where you could connect with the past. For example: "This is the actual flag Francis Scott Key was looking at when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner... look at the tears and the holes!"

    How long before museums routinely use 3D printing to replicate items that are damaged or considered too fragile to be on display, or too valuable? Once you start "replacing" the missing parts, you're rewriting history. I know the Chinese would never censor or rewrite anything, bu
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Once you start "replacing" the missing parts, you're rewriting history.

      Are you?

      I'd wager that the majority of people living today still falsely believe that the Greeks and Romans were all about boring unpainted statues, thanks to the false impressions given by not repairing damage.

    • by rev0lt ( 1950662 )
      Yeah, and how many fakes are today on display as the original works of art? It's not like the public (and the experts, btw) are that much demanding. And I'd prefer to see an actual replica of a roman house than those rock-piled ruins that end on my knee. How did it look like? Was it painted? Did it have clay walls? How was the lighting? How were the ceilings? Do they used doors, or just curtains?
  • Never heard of him. I think it should be either Ch'ien-lung (Wade-Giles) or Qianlong (Pinyin)......

  • Outgassing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As a former museum professional, the main problem I foresee is damage to real artifacts being caused by outgassing of the cheap plastics usually used in 3D printing applications. Outgassing and leaching of unstable compound are two of the main reasons preservationists generally are very careful to employ inert (and often extremely expensive) materials when restoring the fabric of fragile historic objects.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:55PM (#39696421) Homepage Journal

    Just a thought - does anyone think that China or the Smithsonian will make the scans available to the public?

    There's a large number of 3-d printers in the hobby scene. It'd be very neat to be able to download files and print your own replica work of art.

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