Abstract. In the past decade, the application of 3D computer-based visualising technologies to cultural heritage has been widely accepted by archaeologists, architectural historians, and cultural authorities in general. During the years, the never-ending improvement of graphics technology allowed the quantity of archaeological models to sharply increase, as well as the quality of their 3D visualization. The aim of this paper is to argue that the importance of 3D modelling techniques for the rendering of buildings and ancient architectures has not to be assessed in relation to the degree of 3D graphic aesthetic quality [1], but as a powerful tool for scholars to combine 3D data with further documentation, sources and metadata.


Figure 1. An aerial view of the Flavian Amphitheater (“Colosseum”) seen from the south [2].

As Marie Saldana claims in his paper [3]An integrated approach to the procedural modelling of ancient cities and buildings”, the importance of using a procedural modelling, instead of others traditional 3D modelling software implies the use of a specific programming language which, through an effective textual description of the building, generates a simulated form by means of polygon. The efficiency of this approach in simulating and than providing a three-dimensional visualisation of a structure is not only related to the high quality of the rendering process. In fact, even if this feature is very important in order to achieve a realistic and vivid reconstruction of ancient architectures, the most interesting aspect concerning this kind of approach is the development of a rigorous framework.

According to this, some of the most important and widely-marketed software which allow 3D rendering, realize their simulation by means of specific algorithms that collect several information about the urban context in which a certain ancient heritage places, i.e. the source materials, the design of every specific component and how they interact with each others. A very interested example is provided by the project Rome Reborn [2], which stands as milestone to understand how a 3D procedural modelling could improve the scholarly value of architectural reconstructions. The video hereunder shows us the effectiveness and realism of a fly tour through the streets of the ancient Rome.

– Video 1. A fly through version 2.2 of the model on Vimeo (5:20 minutes). Various landmarks and parts of the city are indicated by subtitles.

In order to provide a wide framework of how a procedural modelling approach can be crucial for humanists and scholars, it is important to mention the software ESRI CityEngine, one of the well-established on the market. Basically it allows a low-cost rapid-prototyping [3] to urban planners with a appreciable rendering quality.

Figure 2. Screenshot of ESRI CityEngine user’s interface with a wide range of features(left) concerning the selected scenario [4].

Figure 2. Screenshot of ESRI CityEngine user’s interface with a wide range of features(left) concerning the selected scenario [4].


The effectiveness of this kind of approach had led scholars to a deeper , greater and even more sophisticated interdisciplinary analysis of architecture, urban structures, and natural topography [1]. Speaking of which, specific plug-in such as the Scholarly 3D Toolkit (S3DT) had been designed in order to help scholars better interfacing 3D historical reconstructions with other kind of data. By means of numerous digital humanities findings, it is possible to combine documentations, literary sources, and excavation records to render 3D scenes, which will appear realistic, as much as possible [5].

The figure shown below, illustrates the 3D reconstruction of Fort Stanwix, which has been led by using an existing database of over 400 among letters, maps and plans, by means of S3DT software tool.

Figure 3. Fort Stanwix, an 18th-cetury historic site.

Figure 3. Fort Stanwix, an 18th-cetury historic site.

The richness of data which scholars could account for, allows them to identify, define and manage relationships – both from an external point of view through data collection, previous article analysis, remains of material, and from an internal point of view by connecting the 3D model with all its part – inside the scenario we want to recreate. This is a very important feature to discuss about, since every 3D model hides behind itself a tough and scrupulous study of excavation findings, literary sources , existing iconography and artistic statements [1]. So that, in despite of the traditional existing technologies of 3D rendering, the procedural modelling succeed in the aim of obsolete the ‘archaic’ belief that the quality of a three-dimension model only depends on his graphics. In fact, as The London Charter for the computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage [6] assessed, there is a lot of work that cannot be always detected in the final graphical output.

Thanks to this approach 3D visualisation becomes to assume more the feature of a scientific hypothesis than an univocally determined reconstruction. In fact, the digital humanities data collection method carried out by the procedural modelling, provided alternative visualisations of the same aspect (even if it share the same database as reference point).


Figure 4. Model © 2008 The Regents of the University of California Image © 2010 Bernard Frischer.


The approach that has been illustrated in this paper, from an ontological [1] point of view, allows scholars to constrain and standardise the existing documentation, promoting a recording process much more quick and efficient. At the same time, it contributes to shift from a univocal display of 3D models to a virtual and collaborative environment in which every scholars (with different knowledge and fields of specialization) can offers it contribute, by a never-ending implementation of data and details. In closing, the multidisciplinary aspect of this analysis is a potential starting point to promote public involvement in terms of academic collaboration, letting universities, museums, archives, historic sites and also individuals to improve the same online 3D spaces.


[1] An Ontology For 3D Visualisation Of Cultural Heritage. Vitale, Valeria; King’s College London, UK.

[2] Rome Reborn. http://romereborn.frischerconsulting.com/gallery-current.php

[3] An integrated approach to the procedural modelling of ancient cities and buildings. Saldana, Marie. UCLA.

[4] ESRI CityEngine. http://www.esri.com/software/cityengine

[5] The Scholarly 3D Toolkit: Annotation, Publication, and Analysis of 3D scenes alongside imported humanities data. DataColtrain, James Joel. University of Nebraska, United States of America.

[6] The London Charter for the computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage. http://www.londoncharter.org/