Buildings lost to Maui wildfires resurrected in mixed reality

Students are working on digital recreations of fire-affected buildings in Hawaii using similar 3D-based technologies used to preserve the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, and Shuri Castle in Naha, Japan.

In 2023, severe wildfires occurred on the Hawaiian island of Maui, causing the most damage to its historic town, Lahaina. The town was known as a National Historic Landmark with a 150-year-old banyan tree and architectural structures that date back to the 19th century.

After the fires took place, it was estimated that 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed, with little hope of restoring them.

William Chapman, Dean of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Architecture, and Hyoung-June Park, an associate professor of design and computation at the School of Architecture, have now found a way to resurrect the lost architecture, at least in the digital world, first reports Smithsonian magazine.

The two created a course where students could use various digital tools to recreate buildings in Lahaina that were destroyed by the fires. The goal behind Chapman and Park’s idea was to keep the architecture alive through these virtual recreations, with the possibility of using the models during actual reconstruction.

After Park collaborated with Kyung Hoon Hyun, a design computing specialist at Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea, they created the course, “ARCH 490: Rebuilding Lahaina in Mixed Reality”.

The course had 11 students divided into four groups, each responsible for one of Lahaina’s buildings: Baldwin Home, Master’s Reading Room, Old Lahaina Courthouse, and Wo Hing Society Hall.

Wo Hing Society Hall after fire
Image by Lahaina Restoration Foundation

Students first collected images and blueprints of the buildings and later used several AI-based and 3D modeling technologies. They had access to 3Dpresso – a technology that turns videos into 3D models, Rhino 3D software often used in architecture, industrial, and product design, and Lumion – a software that helps create photorealistic renderings.

The more extensive use of new technologies will help to preserve more architectural structures that, for various reasons, fail to stand the test of time, notes Park.