Massive, Stone Model of France’s Famous Mont Saint-Michel Gets a 3D-Printing Renovation

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The actual model intact

The actual model intact

It’s one of those auspicious moments when the technology of the ancients meet that of the present-day, technological vanguard. The “Merveille de l’Occident,” French for the “Wonder of the Western World,” Mont Saint-Michel, is getting a face-lift thanks to 3D printing. The island, which stands on rocky shores of the Atlantic and on the border between Normandy and Brittany, France (but claimed by Normandy), is a city unto itself.

Established in the 8th century CE by a French bishop, Mont Saint-Michel, dedicated to the warrior archangel, Saint Michael (“Saint-Michel” in French), is both a small city and a monastery, a rocky island of granite outcropping surrounded by notoriously fearsome tides and deadly quicksand. It’s structures, which date from a small chapel from the early days of its founding, to cutting-edge Flamboyant Gothic architecture, has been updated, revised and refined through the centuries, including its conversion to a prison during the French Revolution and Empire. It has been, for hundreds of years, a major pilgrimage site.

In the late 19th-century, a renovation of the major structures of the island was planned. The architect in charge of the product, Jules-Edouard Corroyer, had a model of the major architectural features of the island produced. At a formidable eight-and-a-half feet tall, the model was made of stone–a single block–and, since its creation, has suffered its own share of wear and tear through the years, not unlike the structures it mimics. For instance, at one point the model was moved to another area of the island and, in order to fit it through the doorway, a portion near the top had to be removed and was never replaced.

3D Scans

3D Scans

Eventually, the model of Mont Saint-Michel was transferred from the island to the Cité de L’Architecture, the major architecture museum in Paris. The museum announced recently it has initiated “a revolutionary project that connects medieval architectural modeling methods with the most cutting edge 3D modeling techniques.” It is teaming with French 3D-printing company, Sculpteo, whose headquarters are located in suburban Paris. Working together, experts from the museum and Sculpteo will restore the Merveille to its original appearance, including replacing missing components.

According to a blog created to document the project, the primary objective of the project is to preserve the model, which was scanned multiple times, an effort that was funded by Scupteo. The blog explains, “Those scans interpreted every interior aspect of the structure, including textures and colors.” The scans were then shared with Alvise Rizzo, “one of Sculpteo’s lead 3D designers.” Rizzo produced a printable model of the 19th-century architectural maquette (“model” in French). The model created by Rizzo will also be used by restorers to produce a supportive metal structure, shoring up the already existing portions and providing a framework for the impending 3D-printed additions. The final phase of the restoration process following the 3D printing, will be to treat the structure with a thin, protective patina that is faithful to the appearance of the model and its real-life counterpart.

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At this point in the project, 3D printing awaits funding. The reconstruction team, the museum and Sculpteo, are asking donors via a French crowd-funding site Ulule, to help them realize this project, which they estimate will cost around 25,000€ and have promised those who donate at least 1000€, a miniature 3D-printed version of the larger, original stone model. The completed, reconstructed model will be unveiled to the public in 2015.  Let us know if you have contributed to this project, and discuss this story in the 3D printed Mont Saint-Michal forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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