Yesterday John Bland sent me jpgs of the original designs he drew on Sketchup for the dry stone solar alignment project he devised and staged for Amherst Island dry stone festival last weekend.
Sketchup is a free application that uses advanced computing features to enable the user to create, visualize and move objects in 3 dimensions. Its accuracy provides a way of positioning in a virtual way, imaginary objects in real space but more impressively, by calculating the shadows the objects make, the program shows what the objects will look like in time too.
Prior to the actual festival weekend John went to the island and located the points with GPS co-ordinates from his Sketchup calculations. He set up batter boards and string lines and so give the festival wallers the guides needed to build an arrangement of dry stone structures (with seats and walls) that would not only have an opening for the sun to shine through, but predict where the sun's beam would hit at a certain prescribed time.
Then during the festival, the structure was carefully erected, stone upon stone, in great anticipation that the sun would align with everything at 6:30 on the last day of the festival, just as the program predicted it would.
At the precise moment this photo was taken on Sunday, the evening the clouds parted, the sun came out and a circle of light appeared on the target wall (where you see it in the photo to the left of John's shoulder and to the right of the carved stone ).
Yesterday, when he got home, John punched 6:34 ( the time that photo was taken) into his Skecthup calculations.
The program spit out a drawing of where the beam of light would have to be focused for that exact moment on Sunday.
Voila ! The structure had been built and aligned perfectly with the predicted movement of the sun !
John was so excited t see how everything had worked so well and texted me right away to say he was 'freaking out'.
We agreed that this success opens up the possibility for other new designs incorporating modern computer capabilities with ancient dry stone techniques. It presents more opportunities to explore (at future festivals and demonstrations) the exciting relationship between time and space and structures made with stone.