This is the inaugural post in a new series, Getty Voices, that presents first-person perspectives by members of the Getty community in weekly rotation. This week, Getty Conservation Institute project specialist Claudia Cancino reports from Peru on a major effort to protect earthen buildings from damage by earthquakes. See more from Claudia’s Peru Field Notebook on Storify.

I’m pleased to launch Getty Voices with a weeklong view into one of the Getty Conservation Institute’s international field projects, the Seismic Retrofitting Project. If you’re a regular reader of The Iris, you may recall a previous post about the project by my colleague and team member, Sara Lardinois.

The goal of the Seismic Retrofitting project is to take retrofitting methods developed for earthen architecture by the Conservation Institute and its partners—University College London, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, and the Ministerio de Cultura del Perú—and adapt them for use in countries such as Peru where equipment, structural skills, and materials are not readily available. The project aims to provide low-tech, easy-to-implement programs that can improve a building’s performance during an earthquake while also preserving its historic fabric.

To accomplish this, we’re now designing and testing the techniques we’ve developed through the Seismic Retrofitting Project on four types of historic earthen buildings in Peru. We chose these buildings because they’re representative of the types of architecture and construction techniques found in seismic regions throughout South America. This will enable the work we do in Peru to benefit other countries in the region as well.

Since the Seismic Retrofitting Project launched in 2011, I and other members of the Conservation Institute’s project team, as well as our international partners, have been travelling to Peru several times a year to meet with our Peruvian partners and to do structural analysis and computer modeling at the four prototype buildings.

Our thirteenth project campaign began last week at the Church of Santiago de Kuño Tambo, located in an Andean village three hours outside of Cusco. This 16th-century adobe church is one of the four prototype structures under study for seismic retrofitting. What brought us to Kuño Tambo last week were the church’s outstanding wall paintings, which needed to be assessed prior to any retrofitting work.

Covering a large portion of the church’s interior, the wall paintings present a challenge. How best should we safeguard this cultural heritage while undertaking seismic retrofitting of the church, which requires access to the building’s underlying structure? To answer this question, the Conservation Institute is drawing on our expertise and experience in wall paintings conservation, an ongoing focus of our work with current projects in China, Egypt, and Italy. Conservation Institute colleague Leslie Rainer, a wall paintings conservator, joined the project team for this portion of the work.

The week of January 28, the project team spent three days at the Church of Santiago de Kuño Tambo. In collaboration with the Carleton Immersive Media Studio at Carleton University, we conducted orthophotography of the wall paintings. Orthophotography produces images corrected for lens distortion and camera tilt, giving us accurate measurements of the church walls that are compatible with the full documentation system planned for these works.

We then undertook a rapid assessment to determine what should be included in the more detailed condition assessment of the wall paintings, which will come later during future campaigns. The detailed condition assessment will digitally record the condition of the wall paintings in detail, such as cracks, losses, flaking paint, and drips. Our final day at the church included an orthophotography joint demonstration session for members of the Cusco branch of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture and the local community.

This coming week, the Conservation Institute project team is headed to the cities of Ica and Lima—and I’ll be sending posts from the field with details of our project activity during the week. You can find these on the new Getty Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Claudia documenting earthquake damage to the Ica Cathedral

Connect with more “Peru Field Notebook” content from this week’s Getty Voices