Modeling historical houses and photo matching

Modeling historical houses and photo matching
Matching an old photo. I never got the verticals aligned

In this post I will discuss a specific issues and solutions you may encounter when modelling historical houses with SketchUp.

Deformations in old photos

Matching an old photo. I never got the verticals aligned
Matching an old photo. I never got the verticals aligned

One of the first and for me sometimes frustrating things when modeling historical houses is photo matching. Especially when dealing with old photo’s (around 1900) you will notice that they never match other photos. This is the result of  deformations caused by the lens in the pictures themselves. Early photo cameras were very primitive and for that reason result in significant deformations. As a human viewer, we do not notice this, as our brains will compensate. When trying to do exact matches, we will run into problems: the building seems smaller, the upright axe does not want to comply to the verticals in the photo etc. One solution is to correct the photograph itself. But as I am not familiar with photo editing programs like Photoshop, I tend to use other techniques.

The best solution is to use recent photos as the basis of the buildings’ dimensions. If you a lucky, then the building or parts of it still remain and you can make photos yourself. In other cases, existing photos have to be used. In general: more recent gives less deformation.

Other buildings may have been demolished more than 100 years ago. Existing material is therefore hardly usable for determining dimensions.

When recent photos are missing

Dorpsstraat 20 around 1950
Dorpsstraat 20 around 1900

When the building has been replaced by a new building, this new building can sometimes be used to determine the dimensions. It happens quite often that the allowed building area is unchanged and the old and new building roughly share the same dimensions. For example, this is the case in the my buildings at Dorpsstraat 20.

A second technique I use for old building is to use surrounding buildings to determine dimensions. If those buildings still exist of if we have modeled those buildings before, you can determine dimensions relative to those other buildings. I use this technique especially for determining the height of buildings and elements like windows and doors.

The last resort to turn to are detailed maps, especially cadastral maps. This may be usable for buildings which existed even before photography was used. In the Nederlands the earliest cadastral maps are from 1811-1823 and those are detailed enough to get a rough idea of the dimensions. I have used this technique to determine the location and dimensions of the old Enghuizen from around 1800. The main house is derived from a lithography from 1827-1829, the outline and dimensions are from the map from 1811-1823:

Model of Enghuizen in 1800, based on a map and a painting


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