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Foundation Matters

The Importance of 3D Digital Documentation

Posted: August 5, 2022

Over the last year Historic Charleston Foundation has been working on a project to document one of our historic house museums, the Aiken-Rhett House, using 3D laser scanning. The laser scans allow us to create incredibly accurate digital 3D models that can be used for conservation to analyze the structural stability of the building, monitor material conditions, and create interactive and immersive experiences for people who may not be able to visit the museum in person.

3D Laser Scan Point Cloud of the Aiken-Rhett House

Since conducting these highly complex 3D laser scans, we have been looking for ways to condense them into a simplified model that we can share with the public. Sketchfab is a web based platform were users can upload, store, and share 3D models. Everyone from model makers, video game designers, architects, graphic designers, archaeologists, and more can explore millions of different 3D models that people have created. HCF was looking at Sketchfab as a platform to host our models of the Aiken-Rhett House when they are complete, but during that research we came across an interesting trend.

Sketchfab model of a kindergarten in Ukraine damaged by bomb blasts

When you search for architectural models on Sketchfab, there have been dozens of buildings uploaded over the last few months documenting the ongoing war in Ukraine. A number of different users have been creating 3D models of partially destroyed and bombed out buildings all across the war-torn country and uploading them. While this isn’t necessarily related to our documentation of Charleston’s architectural heritage, we thought it was an incredibly poignant way of showing how these emerging technologies of 3D digital documentation can have a serious impact on how we share and preserve our history.

Model of a damaged Kyiv apartment block

Most of these models appear to be photogrammetric models, which means that they are created from a composition of photographs instead of laser scanners. While this means the models are sometimes incomplete or can be lacking in detail, they still provide us with an incredibly visceral idea of the scale and devastating impact of modern war. Of course we hope that the war will end soon, and these communities will be able to rebuild, but even still these models can serve as a memorial, a learning tool, and an archive to document the events in Ukraine.


3D modeling and digital documentation is a rapidly growing and evolving field. While we are hoping to utilize the advancement of this technology to share the history of Charleston and our historic house museums like the Aiken-Rhett House, the work that these individuals have done in Ukraine is a powerful testament to the impact that these technologies can have.

Charleston is no stranger to calamities itself. Our city has survived devastating fires, wars, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes over the centuries. During the American Civil War and the Earthquake of 1886 photography was the technology of the day to document the impact of these events in Charleston.

Charleston, Earthquake of 1886 Damage

Today photography is still a valuable tool, but technology has advanced to where we can create lasting 3D renderings to document the built environment around us. We can only hope that our colleagues in Ukraine can soon return to using their skills and technology to document their architectural heritage for good and not as a response to the atrocities of war.

We encourage you to visit Sketchfab to view the models yourself. Also check out this website where some of these models have actually been overlaid onto satellite images of Ukraine, giving even more context to their communities and the impact the war has had so far.

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