The VIMAC virtually reproduces the architectural evolution of the medieval complex of Barcelona’s Palau Reial Major


The rise of the Palau Reial Major has made possible to clarify and visualize how the adjoining buildings, such as the Plaça del Rei, the Santa Ágata Chapel, the primitive Episcopal Palace, were absorbed


The facade from the Plaça del Rei


Model of the Palau Reial Major and adjacent buildings of the medieval complex


Chapel of Santa Agata

A technological benchmark in architectural visualisation

The Virtual Innovation Laboratory for Modelling Architecture and the City (VIMAC), which emerged from the City Virtual Modelling Laboratory, was created in 2000 upon the proposal of the Centre for Land Valuation Policy (CPSV) and the Barcelona School of Architecture. It deploys advanced technology and methodologies to carry out technological innovation projects in the fields of architecture, heritage and urbanism.

It specifically uses geographical information systems, digital mapping, terrestrial laser scanning, studies and photogrammetry to produce maps, plans, 3D models and interactive applications.

The end result is achieved by processing georeferenced parametrised information to determine the location of certain elements in a coordinate system and transform them into specific reference points in a digital system, which can thus be processed for later visualisations. 

The VIMAC has extensive experience in developing architectural documentation on unique buildings and historic urban areas and performing urban and territorial studies based on the analysis of georeferenced databases, such as activity location maps or social and residential characterisation maps. Recent projects include the 3D architectural model of the Sagrada Família’s Nativity Façade.

The UPC’s Virtual Innovation Laboratory for Modelling Architecture and the City (VIMAC) has performed laser scanning and drawn up the plans of Barcelona’s Palau Reial Major, a work that has allowed researchers to explore and accurately virtually reproduce the architectural evolution of the medieval complex over the five golden centuries of the city as the capital of the Mediterranean, and unveil previously unknown details. The work is part of the virtual historical restitution projected at the exhibition “La metamorfosi medieval, segles XIII-XV” extended until 5 January 2020 at the Tinell Hall in the Barcelona History Museum (MUHBA), on the Plaça del Rei.

Jan 13, 2020

The Virtual Innovation Laboratory for Modelling Architecture and the City (VIMAC) has drawn up the 3D plan of Barcelona’s Palau Reial Major, the Chapel of Santa Àgata, the Romanesque vaults and other elements of the site, which has allowed to accurately digitise and reproduce the architectural evolution of the medieval complex on the Plaça del Rei, which was the background of the public and private life of the counts of Barcelona and kings of Aragon.

The Laboratory, which belongs to the Barcelona School of Architecture (ETSAB) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC), has used advanced laser scanning, photogrammetry and topography techniques to carry out the project.

Pilar Garcia-Almirall, the director of the VIMAC, explains that they have managed to “overcome one of the first hurdles in creating any visual reproduction or simulation on the evolution of the Palau Reial Major: the lack of sufficiently accurate plans of the structural remains and the missing parts in such a large heritage complex, with a long, complicated evolutionary life and several interventions and historicist restorations carried out over time.

She also states that “the main contribution of our laboratory was producing the point cloud with terrestrial laser scanning and drawing up new floor plans, elevations and sections to make an exact and accurate copy of the building”. This has allowed historians, archaeologists and heritage conservation professionals to confirm, review or discover the structural and architectural aspects of this three-building complex, one of which is the Tinell Hall. This has also helped to explain and represent how adjacent buildings, such as the former Palau Episcopal, the Chapel of Santa Àgata or the porticoed Plaça del Rei (with its large gateways), were incorporated to expand the complex for new uses.

Juan Corso, the technical coordinator of the VIMAC, states that “the methodology and technology used in this project provide more accurate knowledge of the architectural elements and, therefore, the keys to better preserve the complex as a whole”.

According to Garcia-Almirall, this methodology and technology “can be applied to other architectural complexes or urban or archaeological sites and can be useful to reflect on new communication and dissemination techniques for introducing, interpreting or raising awareness of heritage and architecture”.

Five centuries projected in eight minutes
The models developed by the VIMAC were used in the pre-production of the Restitució històrica virtual. El Palau Reial Major de Barcelona, segles XI-XV [Virtual historical restitution. Barcelona’s Palau Reial Major, 11th-15th centuries], a schematic eight-minute continuous reproduction of the expansion and transformation of the medieval complex on the Plaça del Rei over five centuries. It is one of the key projections in the exhibition “La metamorfosi medieval, segles XIII-XV”, which was initially scheduled to end on 29 September but was extended until 5 January 2020, at the Barcelona History Museum (MUHBA) on the Plaça del Rei.

This visual synthesis is a unique representation of a monumental complex and an example of cross-disciplinary work for the study and conservation of heritage. The interpretation of the virtual historical restitution is based on the script and historical research by Ramon J. Pujades, the director of the MUHBA and the project, and the historian Reinald González.

The architect and engineer Marc Viader created the transparent 3D evolutionary model and New Division produced the video, based on the previous work of the VIMAC and VECLUS, a company specialised in heritage management that performed the archaeological analysis of the surviving late medieval and modern structures.

Innovation within the reach of historical heritage

The work on the Palau Reial Major was presented on 12 June 2019 to professionals and managers of companies and institutions during the sector meeting “Innovació i Futur a l’Abast del Patrimoni Històric”, organised by the UPC’s Innovation and Technology Centre and the MUHBA, in which several UPC groups presented the latest technology trends and advanced digitisation techniques that can be applied in the fields of architecture and heritage dissemination and recognition.