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Archviz and cultural heritage: visualization as a tool for experimental reconstruction projects
Archviz and cultural heritage: visualization as a tool for experimental reconstruction projects
Visualization is an integral part of the design in visionary heritage reconstruction

The application of archviz in cultural heritage is not limited to digitization and popularization of endangered and lost sites. Visualization is just as important for making the futuristic visions of heritage sites as it is for preserving their past and present state. When restoration of ruined buildings to their former look is impossible, their experimental treatment becomes a feasible renewal strategy.


Experimental preservation projects are often unconventional. As a result, they remain largely virtual and hardly ever get to construction. For that reason, visualization becomes an integral element of the design. The virtual space of the rendering works as a substitute for the material space. Visualization compensates for the lack of data about spatial layout, functional layers, and other details to be experienced only in real life.


As a rule, experimental renewal strategies apply to the recently lost buildings and sites. Visualizations of such renewal projects must be uplifting and life-asserting to help people overcome their loss and participate in their reconstruction with vigor and vitality. Avant-garde design proposals require the most convincing and striking renderings to gain public trust in such an emotionally charged field as the reconstruction of damaged sites.


Synthesis of visualization and design vision in experimental heritage renovation projects

One of the most famous and artistically striking avant-garde renovation projects was a vision for Sarajevo by an outstanding deconstructivist architect Lebbeus Woods. The Bosnian capital of Sarajevo was heavily damaged during the 1992-1996 siege and the subsequent bombings. Lebbeus Woods listed two widely-accepted approaches to reconstruction: 1) “Restore what has been lost to its pre-war condition”; 2) “Demolish the damaged and destroyed buildings and build something entirely new." But he proposed an alternative treatment alongside the first two: “The post-war city must create the new from the damaged old.” Following this principle, he drew parasitic structures that grew from the city ruins like technogenic mushrooms from tree stumps. Their bizarre insectoid shapes complemented the straight lines of the damaged Socialist modernist buildings. As Lebbeus Woods predicted, "the familiar old" was “transformed, by conscious intention and design, into the unfamiliar new.”


In Woods’ rendering of the war-torn Sarajevo, the visualization method and design concept form a synthetic whole. Pale pencilwork and dusty colors add an eerie feeling to views of a city haunted by an endless siege. Low contrast between light and shade makes the parasitic structures look more chaotic and menacing.


Illustration: A vision for a reconstruction of a Soviet bloc house in Sarajevo by Lebbeus Woods. From "War and Architecture: Three Principles"

Digital archviz and contemporary visions for the damaged heritage

Contemporary visionary projects that imagine future renovations are usually not as unorthodox as experiments of Lebbeus Woods. However, they often follow Woods’ principle of transformation of “the familiar old” into “the unfamiliar new” by making additions that are fundamentally different from the lost elements. They also serve as an inspiration for intensive and speedy renewal.


One such example is a Ukrainian initiative “Recreate UA.” The website serves as a platform for the architects to share their visions for the renovation of destroyed and damaged Ukrainian buildings of significant cultural value. Colorful visualizations with creative design contrast the depressing photographs of ruins. A tragic present juxtaposes a beautiful possible future.


Here we can remember the criticism of contemporary digital archviz by Mark Minkjan and Aaron Betsky. Even though both critics believe that the mission of visualization must be to show the realities of the world rather than “digital delusions,” sometimes it is precisely the romantic and naively optimistic vision for the future that is necessary to give hope and inspire positive change. And digital archviz vocabulary is tailored to provide such life-asserting visions.


Header illustration: Kharkiv Regional State Administration recreated by Viktor Averbakh for Recreate UA