The war in Ukraine has again demonstrated the threats that military operations and natural disasters pose to cultural heritage preservation. UNESCO reports that by July 2022, more than 150 architectural monuments and cultural sites in Ukraine have been severely damaged or destroyed, and many more face the risk of destruction. Historical city centers with unique urban fabric were erased to the ground. Before Ukraine, Syria and Yemen had suffered innumerable losses of treasured architectural monuments, some of which belonged to the World Heritage sites list.
Preservation of cultural heritage may seem like an architectural conservation problem only loosely connected to digital archviz. However, 3d-scanning and modeling, as well as VR and AR technologies, have already proven to be powerful tools in the preservation and digitization of historical sites. Advances in rendering technology may drive this integration of digital visualization and heritage preservation even further.
We have outlined heritage preservation initiatives that will benefit from high-quality digital archviz:
- Digital scans of heritage at risk. Digital models preserve the memory of the monuments that may be lost forever. They may also facilitate the future renovation of the damaged sites (restoration of recently damaged monuments is allowed under the current UNESCO guidelines, though it remains a controversial topic).
- Digital copies of existing and lost sites. The public visits the existing monuments remotely through virtual tours. Long lost heritage sites are recreated digitally from drawings, photographs, and paintings when it is impossible to restore them. Virtual tours are advantageous both for the popularization of heritage and educational purposes.
- Virtual experiments with conservation, restoration, and renovation of heritage sites. Visualization allows us to compare various conservation tactics for damaged buildings. Visually striking images inspire people suffering from losing their heritage sites to recover and participate in their renewal.
- Visualization of unrealized design proposals. Such images represent an alternative reality that gives a broader view of the current developments in architecture. Often, the more experimental projects with unconventional concepts, construction, or appearance get rejected or remain unbuilt. Sometimes a design project is conceived before the technology required to build it has become readily available. Visualizations of such projects provide valuable data for the architecture scholars of the future.
- Imagery for avant-garde projects that were never intended for construction. Such projects may be utopias that defy the rules of physics or disregard the physiological and psychological requirements for a human dwelling; they may even represent a purely virtual space. Visualization of such projects is often abstract or heavily stylized. So, a more realistic artistic representation may add a new layer of information to a project and demonstrate its unexpected qualities. It may also make the avant-garde design more understandable and relatable for future scholars.
It may seem that digitization and conservation of heritage sites function well even without the contribution from digital archviz.
But high-quality artistic visualization significantly improves digitalization and preservation efforts. Digital archviz crucially upgrades the representation of intangible heritage, such as purely virtual experimental projects. In a series of articles, we will detail how exactly digital visualization can help create socially impactful conservation, preservation and restoration projects.
Header illustration: a digital 3D scan of the Mont-Saint-Michel monastery juxtaposed to its 17th-century maquette. 3D scan by Iconem