CIHA London 2000.
Thirtieth International Congress of the History of Art
Art History for the Millenium: Time.
Section 23
Digital Art History Time
London, 3-8 September 2000

 Gottfried Kerscher <>, Kunstgeschichtliches Institut, Hausener Weg 120, 60489 FFM, (Mi, Do, [Fr]) fon: 069-798-22222, fax: 069-798-28428.

Samlandstr. 16, 81825 Muenchen, fon: 089-4202511, fax: 089-423935.

Architecture digitalized

Die Struktur der Zeit in digitaler Architekturdarstellung

 © each author has full responsibility in owning copyright on the texts and on the images they publish on this website


Two preliminary remarks:

1. Architecture has more often than not &endash; especially in reference to structures of the past &endash; very little to do with what we see. What we see when we begin to look at architecture is merely walls, plaster, colors or decorated area.

This first thesis, or assumption, I will discuss at length, but first I must state my second assumption which plays just as great a role as the first:

2. Architectonical structures include seldom signs of time; rather, such structures are more the exception than the rule.

I will subsequently show, using these two premises, how the phenomenon of time is dealt with using digital architectural representation. 

* * *

Referring to the first preliminary remark: What we see are merely the decorations and not the architecture.

Whether Jean Nouvel or Balthasar Neumann &endash; there are always differences between the idea, realized in ground plans or blueprints and that what we see. This trivial knowledge does play a part in the architects planning process, even though it may be abstract &endash; or just a vision &endash; along with reality and the laws of gravity, to tell us where to begin with the building and where to end. As with Balthazar Neumann, often is the space between idea and reality a very small one. More often is this space gigantic. For example we could mention the so-called "Revolutionsarchitektur" or, less fantastic, the house in Stuttgart of Mies van der Rohe ("Weißenhof-Siedlung"). In this house he integrated the idea of flexible ground plans in order to give people the option of self-design in their home. We are familiar with the result of his idea: The owner of these houses didn't like the idea of moveable walls and as a result removed them and replaced them with permanent walls. In their minds the permanence of the walls was a reflection of the permanence of their lives and gives more space to their privacy. (1)

But the possible discrepancy between idea and realization is only one side of the coin. Much larger is the difference between the idea or sketch and the realization or finished project. This becomes apparent with the material substance of the finished project and the changes in the process of time.

The materials cover the abstraction of the architecture. One could imagine the ground plan or blueprint of St. Peter's in Rome. In the blueprint the walls are merely imagined by the presence of double lines which describe the contours. Visible is only a line, the joint between the wall and the floor or ceiling &endash; and visible reality is the surface or the wall, not the architecture.

Let's think about the isometrics in which one can see only a part of a structure. In every building the actual structure is covered by the end surfaces. The building of a structure becomes even more complicated when you begin to think of the buildings use. For example: Where will the furniture be put or whatever. As a result one doesn't see the architecture or the finished project. When one changes a surface area or a wall you hide the architecture even more. The result is that you see less of the architecture and more of the walls and the decoration.

For example:

The architect Andrea Palladio wanted his walls to be seen and not decorated. (2) A very good example of this could be the idea of the white walls of the Villa Maser: The architecture is more predominant when one looks at this doorway without the frescoes of Veronese. My imagination of this fact is the result of the interpretation of Palladios words in his Quattro Libri:


hypothetical reconstruction of the „original wall" [left],
according toPalladios Quattro Libri

Again, it doesn't matter what we want or what we feel, what matters is the architects meaning.

*  *  *

Even more absurd is to change the decoration of a Baroque Church, which goes back to the Middle Ages and had been refurbished in a 19th century fashion and then restored to its believed original form and presence. One needn't look hard for these examples, for they are everywhere. This has been a long discussed topic in the world of restoration, which way of reconstruction or conservation should be implemented. Therefore there are guidelines for reconstruction or restoration which are entitled „What Process Should We Implement?" ("Was schützen wir eigentlich?") (3) Dieter Hoffmann-Axthelms polemic against the actual practice of restoration means exactly this. (4)

The problem is that the people involved in Art History refuse to discuss this topic. Tilman Breuer, a monument conservator who has written important inventories, brought to light the fact that we should become more involved in the process between the two groups who distinguish between what is (the conservators) and what could be (the art historians).

*  *  *

Now a short return to my second point: We rarely have access to the technique of the past. Historical ("historisierende") architecture was in and of itself - i.e. constituted by elements of time. In Post-modern architecture we have access to elements of time - i.e. time in the architecture is a call up of various elements without special representations.

The element of time must be considered in order to understand the process of restoration.

Two examples:

The one already mentioned: the "Baroque" Church of the Middle-Ages restored in the 19th and 20th centuries is only a picture of the original and not the original itself. Every change negates the one before.

A very complex process which can be used is one of total restoration but it looks only as old as the original. For instance in the Monastery in Ottobeueren (Germany) where the new surface of the "Kaisersaal" has been chemically altered after restoration to look as old as the original. This restoration is permanent and will stay looking like this for as long as we can forsee.

*  *  *

Now we come to the aspect of digital architecture. It can show how Mies used his ideas as well as showing how a medieval architect used his. One can show also every stage in between.

By inputting a time frame, digital architecture can give you all the processes and materials of that time. By using this process, come with me on a virtual tour.

We are - virtually - on a tour of Rome and we have come to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel. Any tour we choose will leave us lost. The form of the building can't be followed. Behind the existing walls and decoration the architecture has been swallowed.

However, if you were to work in the Vatican, you would see it with different eyes. There exist areas which are off-limits to the public and which have their history in the rituals of the church. There exists an historic and symbolic order which has ist logical structure in socialogical terms. The element of time of this virtual tour would be :

The architecture reflects the original time and usage now as it would have one thousand years before. This fact has shown Norbert Elias. (5) I followed this idea in an book, which I published in the year 2000. (6)

Normally you only see the outside of the building and never - or seldom - understand the logic of why and how it was built.

Manfred Knoob from Darmstadt and his assistants have shown that a digital copy of the original architecture can prove the historic evolution of any site in the building. (7) With this system you can explain certain historical circumstances. We shouldn't forget that the digital copy can't replace the past. But there is no reason for polemic, as I will show: (8


(You can easily see that this digital copy has no intention to replace the original or a photo.)

Normally it is only possible with a digital copy to show certain structures of a building (architecture instead of surface) 


(You will recognize the structure of the stairs in the Vatican Palace)

Because of the changes only the digital copy can show the original structure and can imagine lost or altered elements. 


(Nearly nothing which you see in this reconstruction exists today)

Only with the help of a digital copy can you see the materials and the original use of the elements of the building. 


(Changes which were later made have here been restored to their original form)

*  *  *

How else could you show how it was to be the Ambassador in 1523 on his way to Pope Hadrian VI in the Vatican since the path no longer exists. This has been shown in the formally mentioned exhibition, as it could have been read in the documents.

How can you understand the structure of the Papal Palace in Avignon when you have to go against the historical ways.


Avignon, Papal Palace

How else could one imagine the different ways of the monks and the pilgrims in the Cathedral of Canterbury because they have been separated.

How else, if not with a digital copy, could you imagine the logical structure of Versailles, the gigantic provocation of Vaux-le-Vicomte or the huge dimensions of the lost buildings in Cluny?


Cluny, Abbey Church (CAD-Model TU Darmstadt - cf. note 7/8)

The digital copy should not replace the original but allow for discussion to reach a new level in the understanding of time and its role in architecture.

The Darmstadt Project of Virtual Architecture could become a scientific record of the lost and destroyed, and could make visible what has always been hidden. It has caused a merger between the worlds of Science and Art in order to visualize time in architecture.

(Thank you very much to Terry Taylor which gave me a great help in translating the text. Errors aren't her mistakes, the text maybe wasn't good enough even in German to show its content.)



(1) Mies van der Rohe, Berlin: Zu meinem Block, in: Bau und Wohnung. Die Bauten der Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart errichtet 1927 nach den Vorschlägen des Deutschen Werkbundes ..., hrsg. v. Deutschen Werkbund, Stuttgart 1927 (Faksimile-Nachdruck 1992), 77.

(2) Andrea Palladio, Die vier Bücher zur Architektur, hrsg. v. A. Beyer u. U. Schütte, Zürich/München 1983, 85, 113 und passim. Vgl. zu diesem Thema auch Wolters, W., Andrea Palladio e la decorazione dei suoi edifici, in: Bollettino del Centro Internazionale di Studi d'Architettura Andrea Palladio 10, 255-67, hier: 256. - Zu den ersten beiden Fussnoten siehe auch G. Kerscher, Kopfräume - Eine kleine Zeitreise durch die Geschichte virtueller Räume, Kiel 2000.

(3) Ulrich Krings, Stadtkonservator Köln: Was schützen wir eigentlich? Denkmalpflege zwischen Original und Replikat (Vortrag Freitag, 19.03.1999, XXV. Deutscher Kunsthistorikertag [„NEUZEITEN"], Jena-Weimar, 16.-21.3.1999 , vgl. Deutscher Kunsthistorikertag)

(4) Für den Text siehe

(5) N. Elias, Die höfische Gesellschaft, Frankfurt 1983.

(6) G. Kerscher, Architektur als Repräsentation. Spätmittelalterliche Palastbaukunst zwischen Pracht und zeremoniellen Voraussetzungen: Avignon, Mallorca, Kirchenstaat, Tübingen-Berlin 2000.


(8) I'll show you some digital copies of the Vatican Palace which were displayed 1998/99 in the exhibition „Hochrenaissance" in Bonn. (All images: "3-D CAD Rekonstruktion des Vatikans zur Zeit der Hochrenaissance in der Realisation des Fachgebietes CAD Architektur der TU Darmstadt unter der Leitung von Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Manfred Koob im Auftrag der Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn unter Schirmherrschaft der Vatikanischen Museumsdirektion.") Cfr. (=Exhibition Kunst und Kultur im Rom der Päpste I.: Hochrenaissance im Vatikan - 1503 - 1534)



Vatican: see note 8

Cluny: see note 7

Palladio: M. Wundram, T. Pape, P. Marton (Photos), Palladio, Köln 1993.




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