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Rediscovered Traditional Japanese Architecture with ArchiCAD

A digital reconstruction project attempts to reveal secrets of Earthquake-Resistent Frame construction in Chiba Japan.


A 30-meter high, five-story scarlet stupa graces the grounds of the Hokekyo Temple of the Buddhist Nichiren-sect in Chiba Prefecture, Japan. Built in 1622, is the only five-story stupa in Chiba and designated a “national cultural property.” 

This rare and important wooden structure has survived 400 years in Japan, a country rocked periodically in its long history by substantial earthquakes. It still gets visitors by worshipers. 

Originating in India, the stupa tradition eventually spread to China and Japan. Significantly, there are no recorded of a collapsed stupa in the earthquake prone country. 

A Chiba University research team, headed by Engineering Professor Hirasawa, is untangling the secret of a historic stupa structure, using computer technology and mathematical analysis to create a 3D model. 

ArchiCAD and GDL

Hirasawa is using ArchiCAD with its built-in GDL (Geometric Discription Language) scripting language to create the project’s 3D model. 

“There are number of computer graphic software one could use to model in 3D, but it is difficult to change the attributes,” says Professor Hirasawa. “GDL makes it easy to change lengths, thicknesses, and conditions of the curved surfaces by modifying the parameters. Moreover, creating elements with numerical calculation in GDL ensures that the model can be recreated in real life.”

The team is using ArchiCAD and GDL to calculate the stupa elements themselves. This involves photographing the parts, adding markers called visual tags, and then making the correct measurement from the pictures.

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