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A Digital Take on 'Remembering The Alamo'

The Texas General Land Office's project to document the historical building involves several Texas universities.

In an effort to preserve  The Alamo, one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions -- that is  vulnerable to aging and erosion -- researchers are looking to get a better understanding of how the structure is being affected by erosion, heat and cold, and also are building a more thorough record of the historical site using 3-D laser scanning and photogrammetry.

The preservation of The Alamo is important for historical reasons, but doing so is also one of the newly appointed duties of the Texas General Land Office, said Communications Director Mark Loeffler.

“It’s the crossroads of Texas history, there’s no doubt,” he said. “With over 300 years of history, dating back to the Spanish Colonial period, it’s played a part not only in Texas history but the history of this region, the American Southwest, unlike almost any other place, so it’s clearly worth saving.” 

Students and professors at Texas A&M University began work on the project at the end of 2012, and they’re now looking to complete the data collection phase and begin analyzing what was collected. Students from Texas A&M University at Kingsville, the University of Texas and the University of Texas at San Antonio are also involved in the project.

“We were basically taking records to have accurate information about the state of the surface of the building as it is now,” said Carolina Manrique, a PhD student at Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture.

Another group, she said, is looking at documents like drawings, plans and texts to create yet another resource that the site’s conservator will be able to draw from. By combining the information gathered from direct data collection and academic research,  Manrique said  they will be able to “triangulate” the most accurate information possible about the site.

By using 3-D laser scanning and photogrammetry, the team was able to collect high-resolution models and images that a conservator will be able to use and zoom in on to answer specific questions about the structure.

And by creating 2-D and 3-D models of the building as it has existed at various points in history, Manrique said researchers and conservators will have a rich set of data they can draw from. The team is creating models of the building in 1836, the year the historic battle happened; 1885, the year San Antonio became the site’s custodian; 1961, the year the Historic American Buildings Survey created detailed drawings of the site; and today.

In addition to aiding the building’s conservation, Manrique said all this information could unlock some new layers of history that may have otherwise been lost.

“This is all about the history of the place,” she said, adding that by making this data more accessible, more people will be able to participate in the region’s preservation, historical and cultural efforts.

The project received funding, which has been available since mid-2012, through the Ewing Halsell Foundation. And it took the leadership of Texas General Land Office to make the preservation effort a priority, Loeffler said.

The preservation of the site, which attracts more than 2.5 million tourists each year, had been going well, but using new technologies and techniques to continue the effort was seen as a prudent decision, he said. “There’s always more that can be done, and that’s why the land office worked to try to make this funding available to pursue these projects."

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.