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A Drone’s-Eye View of Florence


Joe Picone M'16, left, guides the camera on board the drone with a smart phone while Ron Wassmer M'16 flies the drone.

You are probably more likely to think of Amazon.com than architecture if someone mentions using a drone for some new application. Nevertheless, 21   graduate students in the University’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture had the experience of using this 21st-century technology to study centuries-old structures in Florence Italy, last spring. Their course assignment was focused on the Piazza del Carmine, but they also traveled to nearby Fisole, an Etruscan town north of Florence founded in the 9th-8th centuries BC, visited an archeological site and a Roman theater, and hiked to the quarries of Monte Ceceri, which was mined beginning in the Etruscan period.

The group visited approximately two-dozen different piazzas in the city of Florence before settling on the Piazza del Carmine for study. When they arrived, the underutilized piazza was functioning primarily as a neighborhood parking lot—something the city of Florence wanted to change. The primary goal of the assignment was to rethink the use of the piazza and come up with new plans.

In the past, the students would have taken photographs of the piazza, measured distances by hand with tapes, and made sketches. All that changed when a drone arrived in the mail the day before the group set off for Florence. That meant they had to do a bit of practicing before getting down to taking actual measurements.

A view of the Piazza del Carmine taken by the drone.

Imdat As, assistant professor of architecture, accompanied the class on the trip and was the one who suggested incorporating a camera-mounted drone into the project. As it turned out, there were multiple benefits.

“With the drone, the students were able to take elevations on all the surrounding buildings quite easily and even from the rooftops, which normally would not be possible,” says As.  “The drone took photographs and video, and greatly improved the accuracy of the measurements while saving time.”

“The drone is a new tool that allows architects to render the built world that they work in,” says Michael J. Crosbie, chair of the Department of Architecture. “This technology is already becoming indispensable for architecture students to capture views of existing buildings and urban spaces, survey sites, replicate building details, and see architecture in new and exciting ways.”