Computer Models of World Heritage

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Beginning in 2016, I became involved in building interactive computer models of world architecture and heritage. Through computer modelling, there is the possibility to broaden the audience of a work of architecture beyond the small number that may actually visit the building in person. World heritage sites or buildings of cultural importance are of particular aesthetic and research value as computer models can reveal qualities of their construction and design that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. A few of these models I created are featured below:

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Amiens Cathedral in France and the Kaaba in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) are two of the most cogent examples of the technical possibilities of computer models. By building a model that is accurate to the measured foot, one can then view the building from beneath, above, or from unique angles that are otherwise impossible for the public to view in person. The view of the Kaaba from directly above is one such view that is possible to simulate through computer models, but is impossible to view from in person. This is due to religious and legal sanctions against flying above the Kaaba. The view of Amiens Cathedral from directly below is another example. The computer model strips away the layers of earth beneath the foundation, thereby suspending the cathedral in mid-air and permitting an imaginary view which, while theoretically existing, is humanly impossible to view.

These same models also allow us to strip away unnecessary or obstructive additions to better appreciate specific aesthetic qualities of the building. Such details include people, street furniture, and neighboring buildings that block certain angles of view. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem (which are surrounded by trees and ancient Roman-era walls on all sides) or Amiens Cathedral (surrounded by the medieval and mostly modern urban fabric of the city) are two examples of this phenomenon. Similarly, models permit us to restore structure to their original appearance as originally intended to be viewed by patron and mason, such as this model of the restored Parthenon.

Overall, the possibilities and applications for modelling are growing, and the state of the field today is by no means static. Future developments in computing, internet speeds, virtual reality, and photogrammetry will certainly permit further advancements in this field of technical and academic research.

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A Few Theoretical Views of Architecture

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The Kaaba from Above

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Al-Aqsa Mosque from Beneath

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Amiens Cathedral from Below

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Hypothetical Cross-Section of Amiens Cathedral, based on a drawing by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

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Columbia University

A Map of Campus

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This drawing depicts every building, window, tree, and architectural detail on campus as visible from an imaginary perspective 500 feet above the intersection of 110th and Amsterdam and looking northwest toward campus. The number of windows on each facade and details are faithful to reality. There are about 2,000 windows in this image and about 50,000 individual lines. The image measures 26 by 40 inches and is framed in my room on campus. The personal objective of this project was to create a souvenir through which to remember my formative experiences and time at Columbia.I draw the little world I find at Columbia so that, years from my graduation date, I can look at this image and reflect on the formative four years I spent here.

The perspective in this image was formed by using Google Earth satellite photos combined with information extracted from Google Maps street view. To read an interview and article about this project: click here.

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Ink Drawing of Columbia University. Measures 26 by 40 inches. Click image to launch full resolution.

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Columbia Campus

Ink Drawing of Columbia University. Measures 26 by 40 inches. Click image to launch full resolution.

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Columbia in a Box

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Before my first day as a Columbia College first-year, I assembled a miniature model of Columbia’s campus out of folded paper and cardboard. This creation, featuring most of Columbia’s Morningside campus, folds out of a vintage cigar box that measures a mere 5 by 9 inches, and 3 inches deep. The model was made by taking flat sheets of paper, etching the silhouettes of the campus structures onto each sheet, decorating these sheets with windows and architectural details, and then finally cutting out the silhouettes and folding each into the shape of the structure. Each building is made with no more than one sheet of folded paper.

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Timelapses of Morningside

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This is a project of six time-lapse sequences of Columbia. I placed a camera horizontally above my desk as I draw and paint each watercolor. Painting is meditative for me, and each painting an opportunity to reflect on my formative time at Columbia University.

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Evolution of the English Country House

 

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This four minute animation traces the evolution of English country house design from the period 1660 to 1715, which was broadly defined by the arhcitectural style of the English Baroque. Roughly between 1660 (near the end of the English Civil War) and 1715 (with the beginning of the Georgian monarchy from Germany), English Architecture witnessed a profound shift in country house design from the compact and square-ish form of the fortified Elizabethan and late-medieval country house to the more open and less compact plan of the Baroque and later Palladian country house. This shift too in design followed a new embrace of the aesthetic relationship between country house and its surrounding, bucolic landscapes. The objective of this animation sequence is to visually illustrate these aesthetic and architectural changes. Click to watch the video above, or watch the slideshow automatically play below.

This animation sequence is part of the progression to my degree in Architectural History & Theory from Oxford and Columbia University.

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Music: Franz Schubert_ Piano Trio in E Flat, Op. 100. Link to soundtrack.
Link to powerpoint presentation here.
Creative Commons permission is granted to download and circulate this video for non-commercial purposes, provided attribution is given to Myles Zhang.

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Eiffel Tower – Animated Construction Sequence

 

The Eiffel Tower was built during 18 months – between August 1887 and March 1889. This film shows the construction sequence, starting with the foundations et ending with the completion of the cupola. I downloaded Sketchup to create the computer simulation, and the post-production was made with iMovie. This model and video represent about two days work, or twenty hours.

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The source file for the model was downloaded here from the Sketchup 3D Warehouse, a database of free architectural models. Or, to view this model in virtual reality, please click here. The historic construction photos featured in this video were downloaded here from the Eiffel Tower’s Wikipedia page. And the blueprints consulted to create this animation are from a 2002 reprint of the Eiffel Tower structural plans.

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Burford Church – Two Minute History

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Beautiful Burford Church in Summer

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Construction Sequence

At the conclusion of my year as an art history student at Oxford University, I chose to base my final research project on Burford Church in Oxfordshire County, England. This is a Grade I listed structure by English Heritage, roughly constructed between 1175 and 1475, with continued modifications in the Victorian era. With the generous supervision of my art history tutor, Cathy Oakes, I visited this humble parish church and constructed a computer model that documents the structure’s gradual construction and expansion over nearly 300 years work. I converted the finished model into a short, two-minute film, featured below. The original source files for this project can also be freely downloaded here from the “3D Warehouse“, a database of architectural models for the use of designers, historians, and researchers. The subtitles of this sequence are transcribed here:

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Around 1175, work begins on the Norman church – a simple structure with choir, nave, and tower between. Here we see the structure being erected from east to west. Notice the round Norman windows.

By 1200, a small side chapel is added to the south of the tower. An aisle and entrance foyer on the south are also added. These changes require demolishing part of the existing structure.

By 1250, the side chapel is demolished and replaced by a north transept, south transept and expanded chancel.

By 1400, a crypt is added and the tower extended up. At this point, the architectural style changes from Norman to Gothic – from round arches to pointed.

The local cloth merchants also construct a guild chapel – detached from the main church and built at a slight angle.

By 1475, the guild chapel is partially demolished. On its foundations the Lady Chapel is built.

Meanwhile, most of the remaining nave is demolished to construct two aisles on either side of the nave, a larger west window, and new clerestory-level windows.

Two chapels are added on either side of the choir as well as a 3-story entrance tower. Neither of these additions are visible from this angle.

This completes the construction sequence of Burford Church.

We are now circling around the church – working our way clockwise.

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Visual Analysis

The film below is a brief visual analysis of the church’s architectural fabric. Through my analysis, I seek to understand the following: What is the visual language of Burford Church? What aspects of medieval social and cultural history can be deduced from the church’s decoration? And, in the absence of a written historical record, how can we detect the sequence in which the church was erected on the basis of architectural fragments alone?

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Image Gallery

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The Digital Cathedral of Amiens

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Cross Section of Choir

Cross Section from the Southeast Side of Cathedral

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Research Abstract

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amiensAs the apotheosis of Gothic architecture built during the 13th century, Amiens Cathedral is a dynamic and living structure. As the ninth largest Gothic cathedral in the world and one built in relatively short span of time, Amiens Cathedral exhibits remarkable stylistic unity throughout. Alongside the Parthenon, Amiens is taught each semester to several hundred students in Art Humanities. This has been a course required since 1947 of all undergraduate students in Columbia University’s Core Curriculum. This cathedral and the animations I created are currently used in classroom instruction.

My objective is to recreate Amiens Cathedral as it appeared in the 15th century. My method is to build an accurate computer model of the entire cathedral, accurate to the inch, photo-realistic, and fully interactive. My hope is to find new and creative ways to engage students and visitors with this work of architecture.

The final video sequence is in two parts. One, a three minute construction sequence of the cathedral’s erection between 1220 and 15th century, which has been viewed over 10,000 times on YouTube. Two, an eight minute fly-through of the finished work of art. Viewers approach the cathedral through the narrow medieval city streets and circumnavigate the exterior from bird’s eye and ground level. Viewers then enter the cathedral and are guided through the complex interior spaces. This trilogy is complemented by historically appropriate music from 13th century French composer, Pérotin and 15th century composer Josquin des Prés, who is incidentally also used on the Music Humanities component of the Core.

Amiens has undergone significant revisions and the destruction of almost all its original stained glass windows and large parts of its nave. Through digital modeling, it is possible to restore the structure to its idealized appearance as its initial architect intended. Through video, we can recreate and expand the intended audience of this building, recreating digitally the experience of pilgrimage. Through virtual reality, we can encourage new ways of engaging with art and architecture.

A building is dynamically experienced as a sequence of sights and rooms. A research text about such a building, however, can only capture a limited amount of a structure. Photography, computer simulations, and film are, by comparison, dynamic and sometimes stronger mediums to communicate the visual and engineering complexity of a building. This project seeks to capture that dynamism through a visual, auditory, and user interactive product. The nuances of gothic, in particular, are ideally conveyed through the creative use of computer simulations and interactive graphics.

Students can download this model and freely edit, revise, and explore from their personal computer. Over 1,000 students and scholars have downloaded and 3d printed this model, which is currently being used by students at Reading University (UK) to study acoustic archaeology. This model of Amiens Cathedral is built with free computer modeling software called Sketchup. Sketchup has a wide range of drawing applications, architecture, interior design, and civil engineering. And, for computer modeling software, it is remarkably easy to use. With just a few commands, such as draw, pull, animate, and toggle, students and teachers unfamiliar with the program can build their own models in minutes.

I hope this project will provide a meaningful and engaging way to explore Amiens Cathedral in the digital age. Watch the two films below, followed by links to explore this model in virtual reality. I am further expanding upon this work for my senior thesis and by building computer models for Columbia’s Media Center for Art History. I have also constructed computer simulations for the Eiffel Tower’s construction sequence and of a small parish church in Burford, England.

This project would not have been possible without the invaluable and expert guidance of my faculty mentor and professor Stephen Murray, who taught me in the Fall 2016 Bridge Seminar Life of a Cathedral. This project is also featured here on Columbia University’s website. A video lecture about the technical workings of this project is also available here.

 

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Part One

Amiens Cathedral: A Guided tour

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A guided tour of Amiens with music composed by Perotin: Viderunt Omnes, most likely composed in 1198, twenty-two years before construction started on Amiens. Viewers approach the cathedral from the west, as pilgrims would have in the Middle Ages. They then circle above and through the complex system of flying buttresses that support the cathedral. The animation finishes by viewing the cathedral from below the foundations in an abstract fashion; starting from the concrete ground-level view of the pilgrim, the animation becomes increasingly abstract and digital. This video was posted by the Media Center for Art History at Columbia.

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Part Two

Amiens Cathedral: Construction Sequence

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The construction sequence of Amiens Cathedral with music by Pérotin: Beata Viscera written circa 1200. A narrative written by Professor Stephen Murray are transcribed below:

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1220-c1225
Master Robert de Luzarches began work on the foundations
and lower wall. He may have been assisted by Thomas de Cormont

1225-30
Master Robert de Luzarches and Thomas de Cormont constructed the south nave aisle
rapidly to provide space for liturgical celebrations

1230-1235
Master Robert de Luzarches and Thomas de Cormont built the north nave aisle
soon afterwards

1240s-c1250
Master Thomas de Cormont constructed the upper nave
and belfries of western towers

c1250
Master Thomas de Cormont died having completed the upper nave,
begun the upper transept and laid out the lower choir

1250s-1260s
Master Renaud de Cormont completed the upper transept and upper choir. The axial
window of the choir clerestory was installed in 1269

1280s-c1310
Main roof installed from east to west

1360s-c1400
Construction of west towers

1528
Old steeple destroyed by lightning; construction of the grand clocher doré
completed c1533

 

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Part Three

Amiens Cathedral: In Cross Section

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The third video is the most abstract in the trilogy. Here, I have juxtaposed interior and exterior views of the cathedral, exploring the relationship between interior and exterior spaces. The sequence opens and closes with an abstract and animated cross section of the cathedral from below. Music is by Josquin des Prés: Mille Regretz.

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Section from South Façade of Cathedral

Section from Above

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The Cathedral from your Computer

An Interactive Animated Glossary of Amiens Cathedral

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In addition to viewing digital cathedral in animation, viewers can navigate the cathedral for themselves.

Here is a model of a single bay of the nave of Amiens Cathedral, with labyrinth below. I have imported actual images and textures into the model to create a photo-realistic effect. Click on individual numbers to see the names of the corresponding components of a medieval cathedral. Or orbit around this model to view from different angles. To learn more about this animated glossary of Amiens Cathedral, click here.

Please be patient while this model loads. Click and drag mouse to navigate around structure. Shift click to pan. Click the cube icon on the lower left hand corner of window to view in full screen. If you are on your tablet or smart phone, click the optical icon to view this model in virtual reality.

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Interactive Model of the Exterior of Amiens Cathedral

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I have uploaded just the exterior of Amiens for online viewers. Unfortunately, due to file size, it is not possible to view the entire model online. But, it is possible, to download this model to one’s computer and then edit in greater detail. Please be patient while this model loads. Click and drag mouse to navigate around structure. Shift click to pan.


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Section of the Nave Roof

Section of West Façade

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The Exterior Sequence

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Below are a few film stills taken from the animation sequence of Amien Cathedral’s exterior. Hover over image to display caption. Click thumbnail to view high resolution image in gallery.

South Side of Choir

The Buttresses and Rear of West Façade

Amiens Cathedral from Above

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The Interior Sequence

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Film stills of Amien’s interior. Hover over image to display caption. Click thumbnail to view full size in gallery. Gallery is organized linearly to evoke the sequence of interior spaces.

The Nave at Amiens, looking toward the choir.

Nave Aisles

Clerestory Level of Apse

Bracing and Joists Supporting the Roof

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Dynamic Angles

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Computer modeling allows one to explore angles of view not possible in reality. Of particular beauty are the view of Amiens from below. With the layers of earth and foundation removed, one looks up the grid of vaults and the forest of columns. The view is simultaneously a plan of the cathedral and a worm’s eye view, simultaneously of a real cathedral and an imagined world.

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Development of the Gothic Cathedral: An Evolution

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Amiens is at an apex in the development of Gothic cathedrals. The earliest cathedrals were modeled after Roman basilicas with two narrow aisles on either side of a long, rectangular open space spanned with wood trusses. This is best exemplified in the plan of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Later Gothic cathedrals in following centuries modified this simple model. The dimensions and height of the cathedral grew, alongside the complexity of its vaults, columns, and ornaments. As Elizabeth Parker argues in “Architecture as Liturgical Setting,” the form and floor plan of the medieval cathedral evolved in response to changes in the use of the church and the rituals of the Mass.

Below are two animated videos illustrating the evolution of the Gothic cathedral: In cross section at left and in plan at right.

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Development of a cathedral nave from Early Christian to High Gothic. A process of evolution and synthesis.

Development of the cathedral floor-plan over 1,000 years. Animation courtesy of Columbia University.

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Many Thanks

This project would not have been possible without the generous help and expertise of Professor Stephen Murray at Columbia University’s Department of Art History & Archaeology. I am also indebted to Center for Career Education for funding this project via its Work Exemption Program. This project was inspired by a similar video trilogy from the 1990s about Amiens Cathedral: Revelations.

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Little Boxes on the Hillside

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Working with my hands is liberating. By folding, cutting, pasting, and assembling, a creation emerges. From sheets of paper and with pen and knife in hand, I build something out of nothing. And in the end, a small box or building stands as testament to my miniature effort… (Inspired by the 1960s song Little Boxes on the Hillside)

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The Hudson School

I constructed this model to commemorate my many years at The Hudson School in Hoboken, NJ. It shows the existing building with an addition planned by local Hoboken architect Ana Sanchez. I plan to give this model to the school for fundraising purposes…

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Space House

Space House is an exploration of 1950’s futurism and sustainable building practices. The house is round and domed to better maintain heat. Circles are the most cost effective forms because they contain the greatest volume with the least amount of surface area. The house features large, porthole windows to better profit from the view and passive solar heating. In the heat of summer, blinds roll down over the windows to protect from the sun’s glare. The domed cupola and high elevation permit air to better circulate, reducing the need for energy-consumptive air conditioning. The open floor plan permits occupants to design a home to suit their specific needs. Overall, Space House attempts to reconcile the modernism of Buckminster Fuller with current sustainability and environmental challenges.

 

 

space house 3

space house 2

fuller 6

 

Popup Park

Situated in front of New York City’s Flatiron Building is a triangular spit of land bordered by three major streets, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd. The currently underutilized space could become a vibrant public square. Such a park should reflect the vitality and dynamism of its neighborhood. Thousands of pedestrians pass through this highly visible intersection daily.

Popup Park creates a mixed use public space that adapts to its many users. Narrow metal panels measuring three by five meters roll out of a wedge-shaped storage container. Each panel serves a different function: bleachers, benches, bookshelf, public mural, basketball hoop, etc. When in use, the panels are alternated to adapt to multiple uses. When not in use, the panels slide back into their container, leaving an open communal space. Each panel is arranged according to the Fibonacci series or the golden rectangle. This permits for a both functional and aesthetically pleasing panel. The geometry of the rectangle partially determines its functional look. The square’s periphery is arrayed with trees to shade the communal area and to offer a respite from the hectic concrete jungle.

 

urban park 1

urban park 2

Containerized Living

Ubiquitous shipping containers measuring eight by eight by twenty feet carry goods from China to America. But, upon arrival, they are often emptied and disposed of. This project recycles the flexible frame of a shipping container as a building material. Each container is a component in the home: living room, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom. Like Lego bricks, these lightweight containers have limitless combinations, allowing the occupant to design his or her own residence. The container’s natural durability, cheapness, and transportability make for a cost-effective and adaptable home.

containerized living

Loft House

Loft House is a design concept for a modern studio apartment. Loft House incorporates elements of turn-of-the-century warehouse architecture with modern building practices. Traditional warehouse spaces are large and airy; they also feature thick retaining walls and intricate ornamentation. With Loft House, the heavy cornices and detailed brickwork of traditional loft spaces are reduced to their most basic and pure forms. The open floor plan and exposed structural beams hint at this structure’s historical precedents.

loft house 1

loft house 2

 

Unmanufactured Landscapes

Visiting China, I was shocked by the massive reach of globalization. On the train, I witnessed an endless treadmill of mile after mile of identical crops, villages, and cities. The polluted skies and downcast weather hinted at the relentless combine of economic growth. I swore to myself that such a sterile environment was fit for helpless ants.

Returning home, I earned greater appreciation for my own artistic creations. They seemed so much more innocent, smaller, and quainter. I had something independent of “the combine” I could call my own. No matter how much the volatile world changed, my art would forever remain the same, my Unmanufactured Landscapes locked in time.