The ADAM Project: a new way of information management
Digital archiving to support the construction and communication activities of Milan Duomo
Talking about the Fabbrica del Duomo means talking about much more than “just” the Duomo. The story of the Fabbrica is one that begins from far away, from the Candoglia quarries all the way down to the Cathedral’s smallest decorations. In this journey through space and time, the Fabbrica has created culture at every step: the Archive and Museum are the main places where the Fabbrica has preserved and continues to preserve its historical-artistic memory with care. The ADAM project originates from this reflection, for which the Cathedral, Museum, and Archive are inseparable elements, allowing these treasures to communicate with one another so as to better know and understand the history of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo.
So, what is the ADAM project and how did it come about?
In its fundamental role of supporting construction and communication activities, the Veneranda Fabbrica’s Archive, starting from 2017, identified the need for more effective management of the information related to the different parts of Milan Duomo that would allow it to respond more quickly to the many requests received, often urgent. The project was named “ADAM (digital-Archiving Duomo Archive Museum)” as it represents a new beginning in information management.
ADAM is a digital asset management project that involves the Duomo (understood as a set of architectural and artistic elements), the Museum (as another important segment of the historical and artistic collection), and the Archive (as an immense wealth of information).
Therefore, ADAM is a project that involves the entire Historical Complex, allowing the Archive to tell the story of the Duomo’s every detail. The management of this enormous mass of data is possible due to the collaboration with Medipower S.r.l., who has believed in the project from the outset and customised the ArkkiEVO software, thus meeting the not-so-simple needs of such a complex entity.
The Duomo, with its infinite number of details, thousands of statues, stained-glass window panels, and architectural and decorative parts, has become a digital reality where documents, information, and even works of art no longer housed in the Cathedral but now exhibited in the Duomo Museum can be connected. An integrated digital heritage that restores the organic nature of the Historical Complex.
Can any document be digitalised?
Yes, even if it is easy to say digital, it is not always a simple procedure. The tools used for digitally scanning a document, for example, are many. Some are more suitable for certain materials, others less so; one of the main problems is precisely the format.
The Fabbrica del Duomo’s Archive has different tools at its disposal, from a professional flatbed scanner to two planetary scanners that can support the digitisation of bound volumes without forcing the binding. However, there are archival elements that require a “tailor-made” process. Included amongst these are most certainly the projects for the façade competition, which measure up to 2x3 metres. They are so complex to move that the last time they were photographed was in 1888, the year of the competition itself! Almost 130 years later, the Fabbrica del Duomo has now embarked on a new and challenging photographic campaign, one which allows you to become acquainted with, study, and admire these true works of art with ease and without comprising their conservation.
So, how does the digitalisation of such complex material take place?
To digitalise the major projects for the façade’s reform, we have combined competence and creativity. Together with the art photographer Mauro Ranzani we have devised a system for hanging the larger drawings. With a high-resolution camera, aided by a grid, they are shot in small portions so as to have the opportunity to read every detail and work at 400 DPI. Having completed this logistically demanding task, which requires the cooperation of three or more people for each subject, we move on to the photographer’s more complicated job, that of unifying the shots in post-production. The result is phenomenal: even the most minute details of these splendid masterpieces can be appreciated with just one click and lend themselves to many uses, including for study and research, but also graphics and communication, a fundamental activity for the Veneranda Fabbrica.
Is the goal of the ADAM project to support the activities of the construction and work sites?
Yes, exactly. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of a centuries-old Archive like that of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, which has always been maintained by the Fabbrica itself, is that no news is ever truly “outdated”. There is no reverse chronological limit where the document becomes the sole object of study for a reconstructive study of the past, but every piece of information regarding the Duomo and its construction sites is essential data for current activities.
Can we give an example to understand better?
Here is one of many examples. In 2019, the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo was undertaking the demanding restoration of the Tiburio (lantern), the structure above the dome between the nave and the transept that supports the Madonnina.
In order to properly plan the restoration, understanding the most intimate and hidden elements of the structural organisation found hidden behind the massive walls made from Candoglia marble was extremely important. But how is this knowledge acquired, without resorting to partially destructive and costly inspections devoid of definite outcomes? This is where the Archive intervened. The research, conducted by chronologically tracing back the documentation, did not lead to anything, not until we reached the first half of the 19th century where a reference in a drawing led to another drawing. Thus, a study conducted by the engineer Pietro Pestagalli, who at that time found himself facing the unexpected collapse of the Main Spire, erected less than a century earlier, was recreated. Before elaborating his own project for the reconstruction of said spire (a project that was never carried out), Pestagalli made and returned a detailed survey of the Tiburio’s internal structural parts, examined at that time before proposing the structural and architectural variation contained in his project. Perhaps already sensing that this would not be accepted, as actually happened (an address by engineer Nava prevailed: repair, rather than redo), Pestagalli closed the report hoping that it and the attached relief drawings would be kept in the Archive, becoming useful one day.
Pestagalli’s “one day” has arrived after almost 180 years, when some details in a chart revealed the exact position of the metal chains to his successor, saving intervention and resources from the work site.
Integrated in the ADAM system, Pestagalli’s drawing speaks directly to the point in Duomo to which it refers. In fact, ADAM links each architectural element to its history and allows it to be at the fingertips of those who are responsible for the daily safeguarding of the Cathedral.
ADAM is a project that was created to make research into the Veneranda Fabbrica’s history and heritage more effective for restoration work as well as for the many other activities carried out by the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, and has already yielded important results in its early stages.
For this reason, supporting the ADAM project means supporting the Duomo, the international symbol of Milan, and being tied to its centuries-old history. This is what SFRE (Services For Real Estate) has done for 2021, thus becoming a key player in the city’s future and witness to the greatness of its history.
Beyond the confines of the construction site, however, the ADAM project has a great ambition, that of allowing a journey through time, of reconstructing the history of each detail found in the Duomo through testimonies, photographs, documents, and drawings. Even just browsing through the photographs of a statue you can find the answers to many questions: has it always been placed in the same location? Is the original statue still in the Duomo or is it a copy? If so, why? Is there a model of that statue in the Museum?
Just as the Fabbrica del Duomo is infinite, so are the opportunities that the ADAM project opens up to enhance and support our Duomo.