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'Time Scanners' review: Illuminating architectural wonders

Caitlin Stevens sets up Leica C10 scanner at

Caitlin Stevens sets up Leica C10 scanner at Meidum pyramid on PBS' "Time Scanners." Credit: Atlantic Productions / Alex Rowson

THE SHOW "Time Scanners"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesdays in July, 8 p.m. on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Mobile laser scanners -- used for 3-D laser mapping -- are deployed at various architectural wonders around the globe to create pinpoint accurate models of the structures, offering new insights into construction. That's the idea, anyway. Tonight, the scanner tackles Meidum, otherwise known as the Collapsed Pyramid, about 75 miles south of Cairo; the Bent Pyramid; and the Great Pyramid. Architectural engineer Steve Burrows -- who was project engineer for the famed Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing -- explains the evolution of their design, with the aid of the laser maps. At Meidum, he determines that a so-called "sheer key" -- an extremely rough layer of facade designed to keep the outer facade from sliding off -- was simply not wide enough. The bend in the Bent Pyramid was indeed part of the intended design (contrary to some theories), and the novel vertical chambers inside the Great Pyramid were used to establish structural integrity for the whole. Meanwhile, the laser creates precise visual models of each.

MY SAY Those who tune in tonight expecting final, dazzling, laser-sharp proof that the Great Pyramid of Giza was built by aliens will be disappointed.

Conversely, those tuning in to have their fundamental assumptions about pyramid construction -- which we all have, of course -- blown to smithereens will, as well. "Time Scanners" doesn't revolutionize construction theory as much as reconfirm or fine-tune it.

"Scanners" throws a vivid, haunting blue light on the deep past, when plain old eyesight seems to do just fine most of the time.

But that doesn't subtract from the value of this series. Burrows as architectural tour guide is unvarnished and unpretentious; he brings real insight and human scale to the glories before you, and the same with next week's exploration of St. Paul's Cathedral. (Future episodes go to Petra in Jordan, Machu Picchu and the Roman Colosseum.) But the real indication that tonight's episode scores is that by hour's end, you may be left with an urge to learn more -- about pyramids, not mobile laser scanners.

BOTTOM LINE Fascinating, but not always clear whether the "scanner" adds much or just confirms what is already known.


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