Reconstructive illustrations have long been tools of archeologists, historians, and museum educators wishing to present new discoveries about the past in a striking visual format. But the onset of 3D computer reconstructions has created an unparalleled opportunity to let the public explore and understand past landscapes and architecture.
Over the last few years, I have worked to develop the skills necessary for nearly photorealistic historical reconstructions, and advocated their use in the academy and beyond. While adoption of this powerful tool by educators is coming slowly, the possibilities are limitless. Below are examples of major reconstruction projects I have attempted. To read more about the technology please click here to visit my publications page and see my writings on the subject.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
REDISCOVERING A GOLDEN AGE
The Byzantine era Church of the Holy Sepulcher was a glittering religious complex featuring multiple buildings of dramatic and opulent architecture, all built over the reputed site of Christ's tomb. But following serious damage during the Islamic caliphate and total destruction in the Crusades, very little of the original building survives. Our only clues, besides the ruins beneath the modern church, are maps, jewelry, and other commemorations made by travelers after returning to their homes.
This reconstruction of the church was my first serious 3D project, completed as part of a course on Jerusalem's history at the University of Kansas. Adjacent is a picture of the rotunda room, complete with a shrine called the aedicule, which protected the supposed tomb of Christ. Each room of this reconstruction is a complete digital environment, which can be photographed as in these pictures, or even explored, as demonstrated by the video below.
This shot is of the massive main worship space of the church, a gargantuan basilica to rival any in the world at that time. As with the rotunda, this reconstruction is based on educated guesses informed by the speculative work of other scholars and archeologists, as well the record of surviving Byzantine churches built during the same period.
Old South Meeting House
PHOTOREALISM AVAILABLE CHEAP AND FAST
As technology has improved over time the increasing speed and affordability of 3D reconstructions is making them more and more available to scholars and educators. Everything on this page was designed and rendered on a powerful, but single, home desktop computer. Recent advances in software have made it possible for individuals to render images with scientifically correct lighting and realistic materials, producing images that are nearly indistinguishable from reality.
This video below shows a recent test I completed to assess the power of such technology. In only a few evenings of work, I created a reconstruction of the steeple from the Old South Meetinghouse, one of colonial Boston's most important centers of worship, and the subject of one of my articles on the role of architecture in the religion and culture of the period. The model of the steeple was then rendered in high definition, with scientifically correct lighting that calculates how light and materials interact, right down to the photon. The result is an exciting taste of the architectural environments the public may soon be able to explore themselves.