How did it start – where is it going?

(TU Darmstadt, Germany)

Virtual reconstructions have been carried out at the TU Darmstadt for the last 30 years. Drawing on the aspects of look, interfaces and challenges, the article tries to show how the field of virtual reconstruction began, where we currently stand, and where we might go – also in view of different intentions.

By look we mean visual appearance – ranging from abstract to quasi photorealistic. At the beginning of the 1990s, when work began, the surfaces were not yet given textures. Coloured geometries were used to create an impression of buildings, that can today be evoked by complex texture simulations. Thus, we have the choice between abstract and atmospheric representations, and, as examples will show, atmospheric representation are by no means always the most sensible goal.

Perhaps the greatest potential of virtual models is their digitality and their representation through appropriate interfaces. Advances in technology broadened the range of what is possible. A first compelling step the development of rapid prototyping models for exhibitions. Moving on from the first generation of plaster and plastic models, we can now print models in stainless steel, as can be seen from the example of synagogue models for the new permanent display at the Jewish Museum in Berlin (opened August 2020).

Important advances in terms of new interfaces have been made in the field of AR / VR in recent years. The interfaces are now affordable and of a convincing quality, even if there is still plenty of room for improvement. There is no better way to communicate lost architecture than through VR. Yet these new technologies entail challenges that must be mastered and clearly outlined.

Ultimately, different interfaces also translate into different degrees of interaction on the part of the recipients. Here, we need to reflect the progress made from looking at a rendering to early virtual reconstructions to walking through real-time models.

Finally, we need to address the challenges we face now and in the future. These entail above all the problem of sustainability in the sense of long-term archiving but also traceability. In the long term, the scientific value of a reconstruction will be measured by the documentation of the decision-making processes.