Travelling through time: Making architectural heritage accessible through reproducible datasets

Everhard Korthals Altes is a senior lecturer/researcher at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment (TU Delft). Everhard conducts research on the architectural heritage of the Netherlands in the 18th century. The Data Refinement Fund, offered by 4TU.ReseachData, helped Everhard to further structure and document his datasets and to conduct further investigative work, which greatly enriched his data. Publication of his dataset in the 4TU.ResearchData archive also ensures that the information is publicly available to other researchers and enthusiasts. 

Everhard’s research is predominantly based on the 23 (!) books published by Isaak Tirion between 1738 and 1803. In these volumes, Tirion documented the architectural knowledge of and about The Netherlands in the 18th century. These publications were accompanied by pictures of the buildings and architectural sites. Tirion’s work ensured that the knowledge was safeguarded and could inform future generations. A rather unique effort for that time. 

Everhard Korthals Altes

Everhard is now analysing these photos (a collection of more than a thousand), to help better understand the cultural architectural heritage of the Netherlands. Everhard calls it ‘time traveling’, as he reconstructs where the pictures were taken, when the building in the picture was actually built and how Trition actually acquired his rich collection. The research combines different historical elements and facts, compiled in an extensive spreadsheet that bundles all the contextual knowledge behind the photographs. The amount of time needed to contextualize a photo varies. Everhard sometimes recognizes a scene right away, due to his experience. Other pictures need about a day to get contextualized. In any case, Everhard wants to establish how that scene looks today, three centuries later. 

Architects and historians are happy with the contextual data that Everhard adds to the pictures. The published dataset in the 4TU. ResearchData archive helps researchers and historians to understand how the cities were built and gives a unique understanding of the 18th century architectural norms. The Data Refinement Fund enabled Everhard to obtain the necessary resources to extend the data mining activities. Kristi Fishta, a talented TU Delft student, now helps him with the project. 

Everhard commented:

‘Funding is scarce in cultural heritage research, so I am very grateful for this funding opportunity from 4TU.ResearchData.’ 

It is not the first time that Everhard has published a dataset in the 4TU.ResearchData archive. 

‘Actually this is the second time I have used the archive’s services, and hopefully we will apply for a successfully third time soon.’ 

Everhard continues:

‘We are conducting new and unique research on historical data. The more opportunities we get to continue the research, the more layers we can add to the dataset. Moreover, I believe that the data is very useful for other researchers who would like to know more about Dutch architecture in the eighteenth century. The architectural insights from that age are often used in the current day and age, because architects do not build from scratch.’ 

Ultimately, Everhard wants to analyse all of the raw data and publish a book about his findings. A book that, like the volumes by Isaak Tirion, will be consulted and analysed by future generations. 

Link to the dataset related to this post
Cover image by lil_foot_ via Pixabay 

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