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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday October 2, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Marinos Ioannides

Marinos Ioannides

Director of the UNESCO Chair on Digital Cultural Heritage , Cyprus University of Technology

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

Transformation at work - introducing Europe’s digital champions: Dr Marinos Ioannides, rebuilding the world in 3D

Europe at Work shares the story of Europe through our working lives in the past and present. It aims to show that the working world we inhabit today is rich and varied, and tells the story of technological and societal changes over time.

In this series, we look at how our own cultural heritage sector is being transformed by digital technology, through the eyes of professionals who have really made a difference. First up is Dr Marinos Ioannides - Chair of the Digital Heritage Research Lab at the Cyprus University of Technology.

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Marinos Ioannides, 2018, Digital Heritage Research Lab. Background: 22.0 IBM Diverse maskiner

Marinos is involved in the development of innovative algorithms that can create 3D reconstructions of heritage monuments. His work goes beyond architectural design and modelling, and turns tangible blocks of stones - and their stories - into digital records. It is not an exaggeration to say that the outstanding work Marinos and his team do has the potential to rebuild Europe and its memory. 

3D - it’s more than geometry

I’ve been in the cultural heritage sector since the end of the 1980s, when I first started contributing to 3D and digitisation projects during my time as a postdoctoral student in Germany. 

My work focuses on the digital documentation, preservation and protection of cultural heritage - in particular architectural structures such as artefacts, monuments and sites. The greatest scientific value of our novel methodologies lies in the holistic heritage documentation of these tangible objects. We create valuable historic records of human knowledge using both geometrical data of billions of 3D point-clouds and a range of 2D and other information often hidden in storytelling, books, drawings, images, maps, and audiovisual material. 

One of the greatest challenges scientists face is that there are no internationally recognised standards to holistically document tangible objects in cultural heritage. These are urgently needed. A case in point is the challenge the multidisciplinary experts from around the world are facing with the accurate 3D reconstruction of the Notre-Dame cathedral. 

As part of the ViMM (Virtual MultiModal Museums) project, we contributed to the European Commission’s Declaration of cooperation on advancing digitisation of cultural heritage for Digital-Day 2019, which has been signed by 26 EU Member States. Now, we’re working with the European Commission and international organisations like UNESCO, Europeana, ICOMOS, ICOM, Europa Nostra, ICCROM, EMA, NEMO, CEN, CLARIN, DARIAH, CARARE, Photoconsortium and Michael-Plus to intensify our discussions and set a new standard of sustainable collaboration under the spirit of this Digital Day declaration. 

The first 3D object in Europeana Collections

I was involved 15 years ago in the development of the first 3D object in Europeana Collections - the Church of Panagia of Asinou in Cyprus, which is a UNESCO World Heritage listed monument. Currently, this is the only existing monument completely recorded to the millimetre and available as a Heritage Building Information Model (HBIM). High-quality results like this have the potential to be used and reused by multidisciplinary groups of professionals and individuals, such as students and tourists.

The world’s first 3D project in digital heritage

Directly after the reunification of Germany, the people of Dresden decided to reconstruct and rebuild their cathedral, the Frauenkirche, which had become a symbol of the suffering of German civilians after its destruction in World War II and then a symbol of reconciliation.  However, no data such as architectural drawings were available. Everything was lost. An innovative approach was suggested and worldwide crowd-sourcing took place in order to collect information, data and knowledge about the monument - but without the internet, of course.  It took place through the conventional channels of mass media. 

Neumarkt met de Frauenkirche te Dresden; Perspective de la place de la grande Gard (...)
Bernardo Bellotto
The Netherlands

In this way, they started collecting photos, drawings, personal testimonies, records of marriages, baptisms and so on that had taken place there. From this information, highly accurate 2D and 3D architectural designs of the building were reconstructed.

This initial action laid the foundation for the first ever 3D reverse engineering project in the area of cultural heritage in human history. I was working on my PhD in Germany when IBM-Deutschland (one of the main sponsors of this unique Dresden action) approached my team for support. From minimal data, working with IBM and other multidisciplinary experts, we contributed our algorithms and knowledge to the digital 3D reconstruction of this remarkable building. 

In March 1994, at the world’s largest exhibition on ICT (CEBIT) in Hannover, Germany, IBM presented the first ever virtual reality presentation in cultural heritage by illustrating an unforgettable panoramic  walk through the Dresden Frauenkirche in a spectacular audiovisual 3D space. 

Fifteen years later, using digital crowdsourcing, we created a virtual reconstruction of the same cathedral. This was part of an EU Marie S. Curie funded project named 4D-CH-World.

Recreating and 3D printing at The Louvre 

Back in Cyprus in 1996, to commemorate  150 years of its presence in Greece, the French Archaeological Academy of Athens supported the institute I was then working with to digitise in 3D  the biggest stone pot in the world. This was the first time a research team with a 3D laser scanner had crossed the doors of the Louvre Museum in Paris. We fully digitised and replicated the Louvre’s third biggest object - a massive stone vase (from the 6th century BC - Height: ~1.90 m and Diameter: ~3.20 m; weight ~14 tons) that had decorated the entrance of the temple of Aphrodite at the  top of the hill at the Acropolis in the ancient city of Amathus in Cyprus. The temple of Aphrodite was digitally reconstructed by my team and reproduced in Germany using 3D printing technologies at a scale of 1:500. For these very unique achievements, I received the 2010 Tartezos Award from the Spanish Society on Virtual Archeology. 

3D data from an archaeological site to Europeana at the push of a button

With other multidisciplinary experts for the development of new standards, as well as with the industry, we are working closely with a European 3D Laser manufacturer on the automatic generation of Europeana-ready metadata from 2D information and 3D point cloud structures. This ‘plug and play’ application now in development will accelerate the harvesting of high-quality metadata and content to Europeana.  Moreover, we are developing novel cloud-based computing applications for advanced digitisation in museums, archives, libraries and sites. In this way, we are removing current barriers to digital preservation and encouraging small cultural heritage stakeholders to move forward and be part of the digital era. 

A sustainable career in protecting what was lost

Cultural heritage digital documentation, preservation and protection is a unique multi- and interdisciplinary sector. Thus, this newly established research area (Digital Heritage, or as we define it today: Cultural Informatics) has a distinct character to support and help define the human experience in the humanities and the social sciences.

The newly established Cyprus University of Technology has been the home of our pioneering Digital Cultural Heritage Research Lab (DHRLab) since 2013. We have received several highly competitive EU grants such as the first Marie S. Curie Initial Training Network fellowship project to train 20 PhD fellows in digital cultural heritage (ITN-DCH), for which we were awarded the best Innovation prize at the Innovators Fair on Cultural Heritage during the EU Year dedicated on Cultural Heritage in 2018. ITN-DCH was declared by the European Commission / Research Executive Agency in June 2019 as one of the five Life Changing projects in the last decade (2009-2019). 

It’s clear this is an area that’s ripe for future investment; it’s encouraging and sustainable. For young people who have 40 years ahead of them in the workplace, it’s a promising field with in-demand jobs and great career opportunities, where you get so much experience and knowledge, by setting new standards and undergoing new challenges for the reconstruction of the past-story. It’s amazing each time you see the results of your work: to reconstruct, preserve and protect what was lost during the evolution of humankind.