Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.12.18

Jean-François Bommelaer (ed.), Marmaria, Le Sanctuaire d'Athéna à Delphes, Site et Monuments XVI. EFA-EDF-Ecole d'Architecture de Nancy-Maison de l'Archéologie de Bordeaux, 1996. ISBN 2-86958-085-1.

Reviewed by H. Eiteljorg, II, Center for the Study of Architecture, Bryn Mawr, PA,

Word Count: 878.

This is a guide book for visitors to the Sanctuary of Athena at Delphi, the Marmaria, a new member of the Sites and Monuments series of the Écoles Française d'Athènes. It is unusual in that the illustrations and the printing are of a much higher quality than most guidebooks; furthermore, the contents are both fuller and more challenging than is usually the case. Some difficult questions are discussed, and the solutions to some problems are presented as unsolved problems, not neatly and irrefutably solved ones.

The reason for considering a guidebook in this forum, however, is the use here of computer models of the buildings of the Marmaria to illustrate the work. A considerable portion of the book is taken up with explanations of the genesis of the idea to apply computer technology to the task and the use of that technology, and many of the illustrations are renderings from the computer model, either of individual buildings, of details, of groups of buildings, or of the entire sanctuary. Unfortunately, the idea seems to have arisen only when a team of Japanese architects proposed making a model in 1994. The project was a response to that proposal, which was seen as a challenge, "un defi lancé."??? Perhaps a longer and more natural gestation would have produced a more satisfying result.

The team, headed by Jean-François Bommelaer (principal author), included architect Didier Laroche, a team from the R & D department of Electricité de France (EDF), a team from the Maison de l'Archéologie de Bordeaux, and a team from l'École d'Architecture de Nancy. The team from EDF had experience doing computer work on the Temple of Karnak, and a specialist in ancient monuments was a member of the Bordeaux team.

State-of-the-art three-dimensional digitizers were used to survey and create models of the smaller separate pieces of the structures -- sculpture, roof tiles, and sima parts -- and these items were recorded in detail. It is not clear, however, that the team surveyed the standing architecture fully (or made use of existing data). They certainly used elevation data, and they took great pains to site the buildings within the terrain. However, there is no drawing showing existing conditions, and the description of the process led me to believe that individual blocks were only measured to get generic block sizes for reconstructing buildings, not to be included as core data in the model. As a result of this approach to the remains -- some parts studied in minute detail and some apparently not -- one of the benefits of a computer model was not achieved. There seems to be no model of the existing conditions, no record of the surviving portions of the structures as opposed to the restored buildings. In my view, this is the first an most important task of the computer model.

The team also went to some pains to analyze colors for adding to the models, and many of the images are striking because of the vivid colors.

The use of computer models and computer-generated images here was courageous. The process is expensive and time-consuming, and the results are hard to predict. The authors, teams of computer experts, architects, and others are to be commended for their daring use of the technology. Unfortunately, it is difficult to praise the resulting images, however. The best illustrations are the photographs, two water colors, and the cut-away view of the tholos, fig. 102. Only the cut-away comes from the model. The renderings, the items intended to be the major achievement of the project, on the other hand, have neither appeal nor a true sense of realism. The perspectives and shadows may be perfect, but the core data are sometimes not. (Apparently no entasis, for instance. I could find no column which appeared to the naked eye or to the eye aided by a straight edge to have entasis.) More striking, the stone and stucco surfaces are dull, flat, lifeless. They are not even as lively as concrete, but seem roughly equivalent to dry-wall painted so as to have no texture whatsoever. The lifelessness is hard to describe, especially given the effective lighting effects and the vivid colors.

Recognizing that the publication process can seriously misrepresent the original images (as I know all too well from my own experience with computer-generated drawings for publication), I must nonetheless conclude that the results of this project are not helpful. A line drawing or a reconstruction drawing obliges the viewer to fill in some missing pieces, and the viewer understands that the image is only a stand-in for the real thing. These renderings are intended to serve as photographs would; they seem to have no missing pieces, to require no additions from the viewer. But a rendering must then be very good to succeed in acting as a replacement for a photograph. These are not. However, I have seen superb renderings, renderings that truly appear to be photographs. They can be produced today (even a few years ago) with current technology (and not necessarily the very high-end computers used in this project). It is unfortunate that this effort to use sophisticated computer models was noble without being entirely successful.