Month: September 2014

Biblio (99) 3D reconstruction of cultural heritage

biblio 99

Historical architecture can be complex in shape, and quality drawings to document their conservation by traditional means can be an interesting, albeit long and tedious process. Photogrametry has been used for some years, but it was not necessarily an economic solution. Today there are new tools which could reduce the costs (time will always be needed…) as Wohlfeil, Strackenbrock and Kossyk describe in their article.

Maps 2014 (35) Ebstorf map

The Erbstorf map, as seen on

A map can tell you so many things, either through geometry or through ideology; here is an example of the second approach. Created during the middle ages in a German Covent and found in 1830, it is some 3,5 m long with some 30 pages of parchment, with Jerusalem in its center.

From Alps to Atlantic (2) Bologna, arcades, sidewalks and pedestrian areas

bologna- madera

In Bologna the arcades, a singular element in other cities, are a systematic feature. Not that they do not exist elsewhere, but here you have more than 40 km of them, and nearly any stroll in the historical core can be done through them. In many cities, they are an element complementing the sidewalk, but here they substitute it almost completely. This implies that sometimes a pedestrian does not see clearly the vehicles until he decides to do it (not necessarily a good thing), but also that anyone stopping a car must be more attentive. During winter, if ice appears, sunrays do not touch the pedestrian area, so there is a risk of slipping, but if there is just rain you are covered. Compared to other historical cities there are very few sidewalks, and even pedestrian streets, but when you walk you feel much more protected; even if they wished to do so, cars and trucks could not occupy the pedestrian space but through unusual means.

Bologna- pala

It seems the arcades appeared during the XIIth century, when streets were wider, as a solution to extend buildings to cope with a surge in the university population. In 1288 a municipal ordinance made brick or stone arcades mandatory for any building, even if today some wooden arcades remain. The key measure were 7 Bologna ft in height (2,66 m), enough to allow the passage of a man astride his horse. In law terms, it was a compulsory easement by which the public use of the arcade was guaranteed and it was to be kept in good use by the building owner, in exchange for the right to use the spaces in the floors above. As a compulsory architectural element in any building, it has taken varied shapes, in palaces and in humble homes, with a large diversity.

Central Bologna, using municipal open data. Red lines: sidewalks. Blue areas: pedestrian- only streets.

Central Bologna, using municipal open data. Red lines: sidewalks. Blue areas: pedestrian- only streets.

bologna- iglesia

The Bologna arcades (Portici Bolognesi) are candidates to enter the UNESCO world heritage list.

These arcades have also probably survived due to another factor: compared with other historical cities penalised by a position atop a hill, Bologna’s historical core and its surrounds are almost flat, so pedestrians have it easy.

From the Alps to Atlantic (1) Salzburg

Kapuzinsberg as seen from the Modern Art Museum, in Mönschberg

Kapuzinsberg as seen from the Modern Art Museum, in Mönschberg

To many people (above a certain age…) the image of Salzburg can be that of “The sound of music”. Incidentally, Germans and Austrians seem not to have liked the film due to the many inconsistencies it displays, both in geography and in terms of relation with the real story of the Trap family; it seems their canonical story was the one of a previous German movie. It is also a place marked (just ask tourists) by Mozart and the music festival.

Elevations in the central area, according to ASTER data

Elevations in the central area, according to ASTER data

In physical terms, Salzburg is a city in the valley of the Salzach, marked by the presence of two large hills: Kapuzinberg to the east, rising some 230 m over the river, and Mönschberg to the west, with lesser heights but a clear plateau. The German border is just across the airport, and according to the elevation map, here it seems the Austrians got the mountains and the Germans the plains. Quite fast you get over 1.000 m, mainly to the south, with impressive views of the summits.

UNESCO core area limits

UNESCO core area limits

The historical core of Salzburg is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1996. The core area encompasses 236 hectares, in which the two hills are almost half the surface, and the buffer zone measures 467 hectares. The site declaration recognizes the role of the city as a meeting point for northern and southern Europe; the city is considered a relevant example of an European ecclesiastical city-state, preserving well its townscape and architecture, and a relevant arts city, especially when it comes to music, with Mozart as an example.

Medieval walls in Mönschberg

Medieval walls in Mönschberg

The west as seen from Mönschberg

The west as seen from Mönschberg

The 1997 Flächenwidmungsplan (Municipal Plan) clearly protects the two main hills, surrounded by urban land (red). The city, which was initiated between both hills, has today filled most of the level areas. The geometric proportion of hills, river and urban tissue, despite the built density, deliver a balanced result in the urban core.

The urban development plan

The urban development plan

Salzburg could have chosen to maintain its landscape only in the space between hills (most of the tourists never get out of that area), but overall there seems not to exist any major nuisance in the rest of the city. And the Alps are always there on the background, a much more important feature than the debate on whether the film is really authentic…

The Alps as seen looking south from Mönschberg

The Alps as seen looking south from Mönschberg

Biblio (98) Landscape and economics

Biblio 98 paisaje italia economia

According to the European Landscape Convention, landscape is “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors”. The convention mentions the links between economics and landscape, but the fact is that its implementation has often been more oriented towards environmental and perceptive issues, in part due to the difficulties to quantify and relate the multiple actions on landscapes with a concrete impact of each action overall. There are methods to compute the Gross Domestic Product, but it is complex to evaluate the worth of a landscape in a given configuration and by itself (and not just as a simple addition of the value of the present activities), which would be needed to evaluate the impact of a given project.

Sure, you can say that a sustainable development must focus on all three dimensions (social, environmental and economic), and that economic calculation by no means guarantees a better policy or a coherent portrayal of reality. You can even say that creating an algorithm is just a way to have people tamper it to their own benefit.

Despite all that, some have gone down that way. Tiziano Tempesta evaluates the Italian case: “the landscape policies in Italy are currently essentially based on landscape transformation control and on the payment of subsidies to farmers. Since the landscape policies have a cost for citizens, in both cases it is necessary to evaluate the benefits coming from public intervention”.  There are no definitive conclusions, or magic algorithms, but some interesting thoughts on the matter.

Maps 2014 (34) Vienna Digital Map

Maps34- Viena

The Vienna digital map is one among the herd of web platforms displaying cartography with a degree of detail adapting to the visualization scale. It stands out as there is an elegant selection of colors, a large scale detail based on cadastral data, and some layers that are interesting for a tourist, as the one on the city walks.



Two images from two quite different cities: Salzburg in Austria, and La Coruña, in Spain (up to you to sort which image corresponds to each city…) . Two strong landscapes and the difference is in the ability of each city to do an interesting thing on these landscapes. More on this in next posts.


Loos at Michaelerplatz

Here is a story that most architects have read during their training years, and surely a substantial herd of tourists visiting Vienna (the kind of story tourism guides usually like to tell). Once upon a time, in the late imperial Vienna, there was an innovative and daring architect, Adolf Loos, set to modernize architecture by going beyond a formalism that he thought was archaic. He found a client (Goldman & Salatsch taylors) which also wanted to display a commitment to modernity and owned a site on Michelerplatz, jus opposite from Hofburg, the Imperial Palace. The architect had to face social opposition and the municipal architects (the later probably as formidable as the first), who by all means tried to reorient the project towards more traditional aesthetics. According to the urban legend, the Kaiser was upset enough to have the windows to the square closed as not to endure seeing such  a hideous building…


Usually students see this building in history books in which Loos is presented as a hero and his book “Ornament and Crime” is mentioned, but it is much less often that you can see the square defining the context of that quarrel. If anything should be defined as baroque, the Hofburg would be. But the Loos building also plays with materials and composition, in a way that perhaps was not decorative in a classical sense, but is surely quite subjective. There is not here a lack of decorative elements, i.e., of a personal view on the problem of how to finish a space, but rather a whole new ballgame in terms of precision and tools stemming from a higher industrial evolution.

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After some time as a taylor business, the ground floor became a car dealership, to later receive a swastika, and after the war a furniture business. Since 1987 there is a branch of Raiffeisenbank, in which you can see an exhibition of plans and images from the time, as well as some reminders of the controversy.