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New College archaeologist, students try to preserve buildings that will be razed

Written by on Friday, February 9, 2024

They will do so digitally, using LiDAR technology.

By Bernadette Estrada-Brown

Original Air Date: Feb. 9, 2024

Host: The Palmer dorms and Palm Court are the place of legends at New College; this is where generations of students celebrated their “Wall” parties; and it’s the space, complete with palm trees, that was designed in the 1960s by world-famous architect E.M. Pei on the campus of the small liberal arts college in Sarasota. The university’s new administration is going to demolish most of it because the structures are in the way of sports facilities. Now, an archaeology professor and his students are using LiDAR, a technology that creates high-resolution 3D models that allows to keep at least a digital memory. The group is also planning to use it to help preserve other historical structures in Manasota. WSLR News reporter Bernadette Estrada-Brown has the story.

Dr. Pirone (beard, center) and his group.

Bernadette Estrada-Brown: Dr. Frederick Pirone is a lawyer and visiting professor of archaeology/anthropology at New College of Florida who specializes in Mediterranean archaeology from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. However, he has recently expanded to 1960s architecture and incorporating 3D modeling and LiDAR to open new horizons to his archeology students . We met at the Public Archaeology Laboratory, located at the Waterfront Campus of New College of Florida, to discuss how he and his students are using this  technology.

Dr. Frederick Pirone: Palmer B and all the Palmer buildings are scheduled to be demolished, but Palmer B has a very significant role in New College’s cultural history, because it’s a dorm. I would say it’s a famous spot. It’s a place everyone talks about. People talk about it today on campus, even though no one is living in it right now. Students now talk about it with this veneration.

BEB: Every January, New College students are expected to create an independent study project; they can do so either by themselves or as a team. So this January, Dr. Pirone introduced the students to LiDAR technology, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. It allows to create three-dimensional images of an elevated structure on a device as simple as their smartphone. I asked Dr. Pirone how New College could utilize LiDAR technology.

LiDAR image

FP: It’s not just an image. We know we can also get distance and measurements and understand it in a very real way. So, it’s not just a photograph. Actually, we can create a space from it that is reproducible. … A kid in the classroom, he’s reading about it, she’s reading about it, but now they can experience it. They can walk through the space not just virtually but also by creating a visual model that is maneuverable. So, something that’s 1,000 miles away becomes accessible to someone who would never be able to see it.

The Pei-designed Palm Court complex.

BEB: So would you say that there’s an opportunity for New College of Florida to collaborate with the Sarasota community using this type of technology?

FP: In many ways, and then not just that. It also allows students to be actively engaged to help make outreach in many different levels both by the community and the individual students, giving individual students opportunities, learning opportunities. It’s also involved with the multidisciplinary. This type of technology can bridge the disciplines to be collaborative, to be creative, to have outreach, to create new experiences for students, to move New College in interesting directions that without it won’t take place.

BEB: In March, the students will be at Selby Botanical Gardens, showing the community some of their work. 

FP: Yes, yes, yes, March 2 and 3. And very important: It doesn’t have to be fancy all the time. It just has to be done.

BEB: The group may also go to local museums and other institutions to use their new knowledge. 

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Bernadette Estrada-Brown.


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