Virtual historical landscapes


  • Arnoud de Boer Utrecht University, Faculty of Science
  • Leen Breure Utrecht University, Faculty of Science
  • Sandor Spruit Utrecht University
  • Hans Voorbij Utrecht University, Faculty of Science




Using 3D computer graphics technology, we are able to create virtual reconstructions of (almost completely) disappeared landscapes. The applications of these virtual historic landscapes range from landscape archaeology, edutainment to landscape planning. Although computer graphics technology matured and photo-realistic representations are achieved, the creation of realistic virtual reconstructions remains problematic. For a realistic user experience, we need to know which cues influence the user perception. However, poor-defined visualization requirements for 3D virtual historic landscapes leave us with the question ‘How good is good enough?’

This article discusses the search for a decisive variable to let users perceive the virtual historic landscape, focusing on image quality and contents of the virtual historic landscape. The virtual reconstruction of Palace Honselaarsdijck, a 17th century real-estate of stadtholder Frederick Henry (1584-1647), and its surrounding landscape is used as a case study. Using old maps, image processing and GIS software the historic terrain model was generated. By application of a 3D historic object library, the virtual landscape was decorated with wind mills, houses, churches and so forth. Finally, the virtual historic landscape was completed with atmospheres, water and vegetation. The result is a full-decorated and rendered virtual historic landscape. From a preliminary user test, the researchers learned that the contents of the virtual historic landscape are more important than the image quality. Future work will focus on what the identifying landscape features for a realistic user experience are, and how to communicate uncertainty inside the virtual landscape. The expectation is  that the work contributes to the realization of virtual historic landscape on a large-scale to communicate landscape information to the broad public.

How to Cite

de Boer, A., Breure, L., Spruit, S., & Voorbij, H. (2011). Virtual historical landscapes. Research in Urbanism Series, 2, 185–203.



Author Biographies

Arnoud de Boer, Utrecht University, Faculty of Science

PhD-researcher in Information Science at the Faculty of Science at the Utrecht University (the Netherlands). He is specialized in geographic information engineering with focus on geographic multimedia and three-dimensional GIS modelling. His current research is about the application of computer technology (GIS, CAD, computer graphics) on historical maps and sources to create realistic 3D virtual reconstructions of cultural-historical landscapes.

Leen Breure, Utrecht University, Faculty of Science

Associate professor of Information Science at the Faculty of Science at the Utrecht University (the Netherlands). He has his background in history and humanities computing. His current research is on the architecture and design of multimedia web applications (also known as rich internet applications), in particular in the field of cultural heritage and cultural landscapes, and enhanced publications for scholarly research.

Sandor Spruit, Utrecht University

Scientific programmer at Utrecht University (the Netherlands). He studied electrical engineering and computer science, and has over ten years of experience in cooperating with researchers, designing and developing software tools for research applications. He has worked on different types of applications (web-based, desktop and mobile) in several domains, using a variety of development tools, programming languages and operating systems. He contributes to bachelor and master courses occasionally, and assists colleagues evaluate software that may be useful for their work.

Hans Voorbij, Utrecht University, Faculty of Science

Lecturer of Information Science at the Faculty of Science at Utrecht University (the Netherlands). He has a background in medieval Dutch and Latin philology and literature. He is currently active in the fields of XML-standards and the design of multimedia web applications and their use in digital cultural heritage, with a focus on cultural landscapes.


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