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3D Modelling

3D Modelling

3D models of buildings are widely used by engineers and architects, scientists, including archaeologists, and historians. In the context of urban cultural heritage, 3D models are useful for documentation, visualisation and reconstruction purposes. They can be produced to represent remains and/or illustrate a hypothetical reconstruction.

Depending on the way in which the relevant data are acquired, a 3D model can be very detailed or simply provide a quick overview of an architectural situation.

How can 3D models be used?

3D models are a means of documenting historic monuments. They can be used as tools for scientific research, to preserve the memory of a site, or to give access – either digitally or in printed form – to a physical structure that cannot otherwise be seen. 3D models also provide a starting point for discussing the reconstruction of buildings or neighbourhoods, and they can be used in the context of tourism and/or museums. As virtual models, they can be shared worldwide through the internet and easily stored in a digital format or printed with a 3D printer.

Users and target audience

3D models can support different groups of people who are involved or interested in the topic of urban cultural heritage. These typically include government institutions, such as the relevant municipalities; experts in building and reconstruction processes, namely planners, architects and engineers; scientists; inhabitants and other individuals with an interest in architecture and the urban heritage. Given that 3D models are very versatile, their users can range from professionals to consumers.

Approaches and instruments

3D models of buildings and/or neighbourhoods can be constructed from maps, satellite images, building measurements, 3D laser images, and pictures. Images can be captured with a variety devices, from affordable smartphones to drones equipped with cameras.


Open source 3D photogrammetry software is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS and Android. Professional open source software, such as VisualSFM in combination with MeshLab, can quickly produce 3D models at no cost. Another free option is MicMac, which brings together all the relevant processes, from aligning the photos to the creation of a 3D model. If funding is available, a suitable professional solution is Agisoft Photoscan, which is easy to use and produces professional results from start to finish.

Building information modelling (BIM)

Building information modelling is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools to plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure more efficiently.

Although a rather labour-intensive and costly approach, BIM can prove very useful in cases where large teams are involved.

High quality scans and 3D-sculpting

The Harvard Institute for Digital Archaeology has developed a new photogrammetry program to document hundreds of at-risk sites throughout the Middle East. High-quality scans of important sites are being captured with lightweight, discreet and easy-to-use 3D cameras. Images from these devices are uploaded through a web portal for inclusion in the open source Million Image Database. The images will ultimately be used for research, heritage appreciation, educational programmes and 3D replication – including full-scale replication using proprietary cement-based 3D printing techniques.

3D visualised reconstruction

© van Ess/DAI, Sebastian Hageneuer/artefacts

3D visualised or virtual reconstruction of cultural heritage is a useful tool in many contexts – for the accurate documentation of tangible cultural legacy, for assessing how cultural assets have changed, or as a means of recording the shape of a building or monument prior to its restoration and/or reconstruction. Archaeological sites are physical witnesses of the past and an open window to research work and scientific discoveries, but if the structure has been severely damaged or no longer exists, architects and the general public alike can find it difficult to produce a mental image of the its dimensions and appearance.

With the aid of modern tools, this essential mental reconstruction can be supported by a mixture of archaeological data, documents, ethnographic parallels and structural considerations. In many cases, the scarcity of archaeological evidence calls for a multidisciplinary approach. Reconstructions must always be described as such in order to avoid creating an impression of accuracy or authenticity. The London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage offers some guidelines on how to offer this transparency.

3D-Model of the Aleppo Bazaar

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The Aleppo Bazaar Project is a collaboration between the higher education institution OTH Regensburg and the German Archaeological Institute, and funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation. The first stage of the project is seeking to record the shape of the bazaar as it existed before destruction commenced in 2012, by creating a 3D model based on an evaluation of plans, images, aerial photographs and documents. The model will also serve as a tool in discussions concerning the bazaar’s future rehabilitation. It is to be used by the heterogeneous group of actors involved in decision-making and planning, such as the responsible government departments, the office of the Old City of Aleppo, engineers, construction companies, merchants and shopkeepers, as well as scientists interested in the history of the bazar.

As an instrument that will illustrate the historic monuments in the bazaar, the model will illuminate the complexity of its structures. It will also give local inhabitants who were forced to leave the city during the conflict, as well as other people around the world who are interested in the monuments, renewed access to this vital example of cultural heritage.

Process: Construction of the virtual 3D model is taking place in a series of successive steps. The bazaar was initially divided into sectors and then a pilot area was selected for closer examination.

First, a survey was performed on the basis of available data. The key sources were the Syrian Heritage Archive Project (SHAP) and the University of Aleppo. Plans (ground plans, sections and facades), photographs (historical and current) and scientific research findings on the gordonjacob.org buildings of the bazaar were collected, evaluated, sorted and integrated in a systematic folder structure to facilitate fast and easy access to the data.

A physical 3D model is being developed using ArchiCAD, SketchUP and 3ds Max. Experts are resolving any anomalies manually. Virtual reality will simplify the rendering of the 3D model on different output devices. The model can contain various levels of detail, depending on its intended distance from the viewing public and on the amount of reliable knowledge that exists on the individual buildings. The metadata generated by the project will include both purely descriptive and architectural background information. As necessary, it can shed light on the historical building phases, the pre-war and post-conflict condition of buildings, and the status of post-war activities, support the documentation process, and provide information needed for reconstruction.

Usability: The 3D model is expected to be made available on a variety of devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and online, without any special software requirements.

Problems: The use of multiple sources for the modelling – the Nolli map of the Brandenburg University of Technology (BTU Cottbus), plans of the University of Aleppo, photos and satellite imagery – can throw up conflicting information and give rise to inconsistencies. In addition, the copyright in individual materials can prove controversial.

Further Reference and Resources

Date: 24. August 2018 | Last modified: 22. January 2021

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