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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday May 11, 2020

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Marco Medici

Marco Medici

University of Ferrara

3D models to explore our built cultural heritage: the INCEPTION technologies

The advent of 3D technology is bringing new opportunities for the cultural heritage sector, offering innovative ways to provide access to heritage for education, tourism, research and enjoyment. However, it also throws up new challenges - how best to embrace 3D given access to new technologies and the speed of technological change? In this post, we explore the INCEPTION project, which creates 3D models of buildings, monuments and sites, accompanied digitally by contextual technical and historical information.

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Innocenti VR mock-up
February 2017


The INCEPTION project was developed between 2015 and 2019 under the Horizon2020 Framework Program. It uses advanced Building Information Modelling (BIM) techniques to create 3D models (also known as BIM models) of buildings, monuments and sites that are easy-to-access and easy-to-use by different people. These are hosted online on the project’s open standard web platform alongside contextual, technical and historical information which intends to help European citizens engage with their built cultural heritage. But how does the platform work, and how can it be used? 

Techniques and technology 

When it comes to modelling artifacts such as buildings and monuments, 3D laser scanners and photogrammetry - a technique which uses photographs of real objects to generate photorealistic 3D models -  usually provide the initial data sources for BIM models. These models merge  geometric and semantic information together. But to make these models easily accessible was a challenge which the INCEPTION project aimed to address. 

The project achieved this through the development of the INCEPTION platform, a web platform for BIM models. The site allows people to: 

  • Search for models using different devices and apps

  • Navigate 3D models, and view them using immersive VR headsets

  • Enrich and populate the models and their related information

  • Connect the platform to environmental sensors and ‘Internet of Things’ services to enrich models in real-time.

INCEPTION for content creators

The INCEPTION platform offers an interface for uploading and sharing BIM models for people who create them, including  cultural heritage professionals, researchers and ICT experts. All the models can be introduced in the platform as standard files, already embedding both geometrical and semantic data. Once BIM models are uploaded on the platform, they can be enriched by several attachments and external sources. 

When it comes to buildings, each element or component can tell a story, from the column to the windows, from magnificent frescoes to a small tile. The INCEPTION platform exploits the fact that each element of the building has a URI (Unique Reference Identifier) which allows people to attach pictures, videos, PDF documents, detailed and textured mesh models or resources for people to refer to as they explore these elements. 

INCEPTION for audiences 

From the perspective of citizens, tourists, technicians restoring a building, or even researchers studying it, with a standard web browser everyone can search the INCEPTION database of models using keywords, as well as spatial and multi-criteria queries. The development of apps or the connection with immersive devices can offer a brand new way to enjoy digital cultural heritage. 

Even metadata included in each piece of a model can be exploited to offer an engaging navigation experience. The INCEPTION Time Machine is an example of this. The platform automatically interprets the age of single components of the building to help recreate its  evolution.

Future plans

The immediate next step is to exploit the technological core of the platform to digitise a significant number of buildings and sites from European cultural heritage, and to create a new relationship between 3D and all the resources already available on the web. The 3D content in Europeana Task Force has already started to explore such possibilities.

A spin-off company, called INCEPTION s.r.l. incubated at the University of Ferrara, will advance  the platform development thanks to agreements with national and European institutions. Among those, the agreement with the Central Institute for Catalogues and Documentation (ICCD) of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities is worth mentioning. Endorsed by the European Commission, the knowledge made available through this project will contribute to boosting both the number and quality of 3D models of European cultural heritage.