Rialto Bridge 3D Modeling

The project

The time available for the project is almost over, so it’s time to sum up the entire experience. This project inserts in the much wider international program of The Venice Time Machine. Our goal was to produce three 3D models of the Rialto Bridge. Why recreate not one but three model of this venetian bridge? The reason is simple: this bridge is a worldwide symbol of Venice and the version we all admire was not the only one presented, but was the result of decades of vicissitudes. Throughout time other projects have been proposed and these proposal have been carried on by eminent and historically prestigious architects. This means that there really was the chance that the Rialto bridge could have now looked very differently and the possible consequences are massive. Different versions of the bridge needed different orientation, different spaces, different styles and this could have changed the aspect of Venice as we nowadays know it. Thus, this project aims to be a building block of this broader analysis of the history of Venice and of what the history of Venice could have been.

Keeping this in mind and with the supervisory of doctor Isabella di Lenardo, three alternative models have been chosen proposed by: Andrea Palladio, Vincenzo Scamozzi, Guglielmo Di Grandi. In order to be able to recreate 3D versions of these projects the references are:

  • “Rialto: le fabbriche e il ponte”, by Donatella Calabi and Paolo Morachiello.
  • “Public buildings in early modern Europe” by Deborah Howard.
  • “I quattro libri dell’architettura” by Andrea Palladio.

Ultimately, the software chosen for the 3D model development was SketchUp, an application with 30 days of free trial of professional version and a completely free version with reduced number of tools and features.

The challenge

We started the project with two main issues, one unexpected and the other one well known. The unexpected one was the fact that originally the team had 3 members, but after the first semester one quit the programme. This put us in a tight spot since the beginning because the workload and the schedule were planned for three persons. The second issue was already taken into account: none of the team members had previous experience with 3D modeling. This fact was known and starting from this point we agreed with the supervisors to find some achievable goals and that was also the reason why we allotted at least 3 working weeks for each model. These 3 weeks were not even overlapping, even if we were already planning to work split the versions and simultaneously work on them.

Nonetheless the problems started even before the actual modeling process. In fact, in order to start building the bridge with SketchUp we needed all the dimensions and measures. We have been provided with a .dwg file with the planimetry of the Rialto area and in particular the Rialto bridge. So we had to find all the information about height, width, depth, arch measures and so on. The only way to do that was to read through the references. The main book we used was the first one mentioned. The problem was that the sections were divided in order to cover different historical period and there weren’t part dedicated only to the version we wanted. So we had to read almost the entire part dedicated to bridge and this took quite long time. Moreover there were some sparse measures in the book but not so many details. Luckily there were also historical documents with original sketches and plans or reproductions of the model we wanted. So, basically that’s what we had to work on: a couple of images and few measures for each version of the bridge.

Once finally we gathered this scarce data, our inexperience with 3D modeling started to play an important role. All the tools and all the feature of SketchUp have been learned on the fly. Often after hours and hours of working you discover some new feature that could have saved you a lot of time. Anyway the learning curve has been incredible. For example for the first model we worked on the time needed was about two weeks, but for the last model it was only 5 days. We should take into account that we started with the two most elaborated model out of the three (i.e. Palladio and Scamozzi) and this also explains why it took that long initially. In the end, SketchUp is not that hard to use and once you figure out the best way to proceed in order to extrude volumes and carve out details, the tools you need are no more than 5.

The models

This is the part where finally you all can see what all this project was about: the 3D models. In figure 1 there is the .dwg file with which everything started. The file is in CAD format, so we first had to change into .skp, the SketchUp extension. Starting from this planimetry we extruded all the volumes we needed in order to recreate the images we found.

– Figure 1: planimetry of the bridge.

We can see for example  different stages for the Scamozzi’s version of the bridge. Figure 2 is just an intermediate step. There are the structure, the three arches typical of this model and the main staircase.

- Figure 2: Intermediate stage of the modeling.
– Figure 2: Intermediate stage of the modeling.

Then we go directly to final version in Figure 3, Figure 4, and Figure 5.

- Figure 4: Scamozzi's version upper view.
– Figure 3: Scamozzi’s version upper view.
- Figure 4: Scamozzi's side view.
– Figure 4: Scamozzi’s side view.
- Figure 5: Scamozzi's front view.
– Figure 5: Scamozzi’s front view.

The Di Grandi version is less elaborated. In this case we have only one arch and the staircases are much more prominent. In particular we have also that the two sides buildings of the bridge remain separate and there is an upper floor connecting them, whereas in Scamozzi’s bridge the two parts connect centrally with a sort of temple.

In this case we skip the intermediate step and we can look directly to the final version in Figure 6, Figure 7 and Figure 8 .

- Figure 6: Di Grandi front view.
– Figure 6: Di Grandi front view.
- Figure 7: Di Grandi side view.
– Figure 7: Di Grandi side view.
- Figure 8: Di Grandi upper view.
– Figure 8: Di Grandi upper view.

The conclusions

Comparing what we’ve managed to do with what we proposed to do, we’ve been able to reach the main goal, that is build the three models. Main goals aside, we had planned to create a GIS file with some information and detail about the alternative versions of the bridge and to write a brief essay considering what could have happened if Palladio’s version would have been the version actually built in Venice.

Considering the overall experience, maybe someone is wondering why we chose something that we have never dealt with like 3D modeling. The answer is very simple and represent the spirit and the essence of our approach to this SHS course. That is the challenge, the novelty and all the difficulties it implies. This course is very different with respect to our academic career and our background, that’s why the whole experience was not only demanding and for some aspects hard, it was interesting and stimulating.

Marco Liborio Biancolillo, Omar Flores.