Vandals, lovers, lasers

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RESHAWNA MAINE [email protected]

The Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge,” in Florence, Italy, is known as a place for romance, hence the generations of love proclamations scribbled on its surface. The smorgasbord of lovers’ and vandals’ art, however, clouds the true architectural beauty underneath and is an unwanted legacy. Now, as reported on, the graffiti has met its match.

A local nonprofit group of volunteers, Angels of Beauty, or “Fondazione Angeli del Bello Onlus,” is seeking to restore the past by simply erasing the present. Armed with 50-W LaserBlasters (and sporting the appropriate safety gear), the Angels have started to remove the graffiti from the sandstone one 10-cm square at a time.

Graffiti stains the walls of the Ponte Vecchio before being removed by a LaserBlaster.

Graffiti stains the walls of the Ponte Vecchio before being removed by a LaserBlaster.

An Italian company, El.En. spa, donated a LaserBlaster system to the volunteers. The system treats the graffiti, including spray paint and marker, by fine-tuning the different emission parameters, which prevents damage to the surface and erosion of the original material. A hand-held piece emits a 1064-nm wavelength for a pulse duration of 100 ns and repetition frequency of 10 to 100 KHz. With a maximum average power of 50 W, the system is ideal for surfaces made of stone and wood. The laser emits a line or brushlike curve of about 80 μm in size, with beam delivery from a 3-m optic fiber.

A common method for restoring monuments is sandblasting, which strips part of the surface away, wearing the object down, and eroding it. The process requires chemicals and a lot of scrubbing, which is both laborious and hazardous. In addition, the time commitment for sandblasting makes the laser method — 20 min per square — seem rather quick and far less messy in comparison.

The LaserBlaster system is particularly suitable for the cleaning of architectural surfaces and has been used previously on other well-known monuments, including the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Palace of Versailles.

“We have cleaned up areas in a least 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the world,” said Paolo Salvadeo, El.En. general manager.

El.En. has three divisions: medical, industrial, and conservational. The conservational sector, Light for Art, specializes in laser systems used for the preservation and restoration of artworks.

Although the Angels of Beauty have acknowledged the uphill battle (more lovestruck vandals have already left their marks on some of the newly bared sandstone), they appear determined to restore the landmark to its former glory.

Published: April 2019
El.En. spaLight for ArtLaserBlasterconservationLasersPonte VecchioAngels of Beautygraffiti removalLighter Side

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