The 'virtual modeling' of historical architecture. Notes on (possible) reversibility in the restoration

Stefano D’AVIONO


A reflection prevails when addressing the problem of the relationship between ‘virtual modelling’ and restoration (in other words, the impact of the simulation of the real result of a critical collection of quantitative and qualitative data from an architectural construction): does reconstructing a virtual space means implementing a restoration project, or does such operation fall within the sphere of representation? In other words: can one legitimately wonder to what extent intangible reality may be used to accomplish a remarkable evolution in the critical approach to preservation?

State-of-the-art reality-simulating techniques prompt us to think again of the relationship between reality and its representations: therefore, ‘virtual realities’ as real worlds. Simulation is opposed to representation, to the re-presentation of something ‘that has been’, because it does not reproduce any accomplished past but goes back to potential events, to possibilities, to something ‘that may be’.

There is no doubt that computer science, especially its digital-survey applications designed for an insight into historical architecture, is the cultural sphere in which such tangible/intangible, real/unreal binomials can best be perceived; a critical/cognitive exercise that is accomplished in three separate but complementary domains: the aesthetic one, because the document, when represented by an electronic image, is fully rendered in the aesthetic values it carries; the philological one, because the work of art is also rendered in terms of its meanings and original values; the conservative one, since its iconic representation can be used, at the study stage, to go back through all the stages in previous works, starting from the last state of preservation of such item.

The latest virtual technologies offer the option to use the camouflaging skills and creative power of virtual reality in every field of human action; the digital processing of an image, in the sense of a research method and not just as a mere computer application, can be used to substantially improve knowledge: a multiple screening of shots on all wavelengths, the subsequent comparison between the collected images and the use of the digital technique to separate the texts, can be used, for instance, to reread overlapping texts. A thorough, critically conducted survey can also help find historical processes that are not widely known.

Just like perspective representation can be used to create architectures that can overturn the rules while still staying within a space, computers and virtual models can be used to place oneself inside as well as outside one and the same field, all at the same time, in a relentless dynamic evolution of the view.

The ‘virtual restoration’ of an image seems to be, therefore, an ideal tool for combining different ordinary cognitive means: it can actually be used to optimise the understanding of textual information without acting on the ‘matter of the work’, so that its impact is reversible at all times and in any case.