Everything’s on the internet, right? Beep. Wrong. There are some subtle omissions that you might not have noticed amongst the flurry all that delightful, distracting open access data.
You’d be pretty hard pressed to find the fully detailed digitized blue prints of most of the world’s historic structures and government buildings online—especially when it comes to architecture on American soil. Us Americans are especially keen to not have our diagrams fully available to the public. You might find a vague version with the right outlines in place or a bootleg copy, but the real diagrams are tucked away, out of sight from curious eyes.
Holding back that kind of info isn’t meant as a power play by any one secret government agency. We’re not talking C.I.A. level classification here (or are we?). And we’re not fussing round the edges of the paywalls that limit access to public scientific information (I’m looking at you overly-expensive academic journals, and I’m giving you the evil eye). Access to 2-D or 3-D national and cultural blueprints is limited because it’s seen as a major risk to public safety and to the monuments themselves. Why? Because we plain old just don’t trust people with that kind of information. Not out of spite, but out of precedent.
It sounds like a petty, restrictive move on our part. And it certainly comes off as anti-democratic to not share such basic information about our most important buildings. But as much as it’d be awesome to let kids play in school with the proper layout of the Pentagon or build an accurate version of the Smithsonian galleries in their classrooms, the potential nefarious use of architectural blueprints could outweigh the innocent, educational and research benefits of open access to them.
Think about it. When do you most often see blueprints out and about being used by anyone other than an architect? In Hollywood! When blueprints show up in movies, they are pretty much there for, well, crime.
In crime capers, the baddies are either casing a building in person (to build their own blueprint) or spending some part of the intro stealing the actual blue prints from somewhere else. Ocean’s 11 is (oddly) the most thoughtful, realistic example of what it would take to get ahold of proper blueprints. George Clooney and Brad Pitt illicitly pull copies of the casino diagrams they need from the originals at the architect’s office. But imagine if every Tom, Dick, and Harry could just do a simple Google search and end up with the info about the wiring, duct systems, entrances, exits, safety protocol and all the other data lurking in an architectural blue print that could help pull a petty crime or Nicholas Cage it up and steal a national treasure.
But even worse than robbery is the threat detailed blueprint access poses to national security. If a thief could learn how to conduct a crime by using a building’s blueprint, a terrorist intent on taking down the building would find all of the information about its structural integrity even more useful. The events of September 11th put a kibosh on most state and national policies for releasing ‘sensitive’ structural data. And many of those policies have remained as the official unofficial guidelines for posting architectural diagrams of important buildings in the years since.
It’s a nebulous policy that’s about to get a serious shake-up as 3-D models become increasingly ubiquitous. The current limits of the technology behind digitally replicating a space (and therefore creating a virtual, entirely explorable, 3-D blueprint) restricts the current reality of fully wandering through an accurate digital version of a national site. but the technology that would let us look closer at more than decimated snippets of a 3-D model or pre-approved exteriors of famous places (like these gorgeous Mount Rushmore models) isn’t that far off in the future.
What was once a 2-D debate about open access and public safety is about to go 3-D. After all, we’re already arguing over access to 3D models of 3D printable guns. And while we’ve managed to avoid setting an explicit policy on sharing blueprints thus far, we’re going to have to decide what levels of this kind of information we’re all comfortable sharing with each other and, potentially, with our enemies. And soon.
[Post image via Shutterstock]