Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Virtual Palimpsest and Pentimenti for an Architecture in Reality

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Version 2 2022-09-01, 23:46
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:44 authored by Hannaway, Keegan

Behind every site is an unseen history. Before us, countless people have lived their lives through an ever evolving environment. This research examines how a process of uncovering site specific architectural and cultural histories using virtual reality can facilitate for the development of a design intervention that builds upon former histories of the site.  This has been done through a process of digitally unveiling traces of historic architectures, using notions of palimpsest and pentimento.   Palimpsest and pentimento are terms from art and literary studies which are concerned with the physical traces of historic processes left on parchment and canvas, the reworking and adding to a new piece that reflects what was before. Palimpsest as an architectural theory is somewhat related to ideas of historicism in 1980s post-modernist architecture.  This research was undertaken initially through conventional historical research using archival plans and photographs of former buildings on the site. These were obtained from sources such as the Wellington City Council and National Library of New Zealand in order to accurately determine what has previously existed. This history was then visually represented in three-dimensional digital models and overlaid onto a model of the site.  By digitally rebuilding each built intervention, users can occupy each phase separately or simultaneously in a virtual reality environment. This full scaled model enables an accurate visualisation of how the historic architecture really existed. Ideas such as scale, phenomenology, depth, form, and detail can be represented in virtual reality in a way that allows a greater understanding than simple flat images and plans.  This process then leads to a way of developing an architecture based off what made the previous buildings successful. Once Again using virtual reality, this time as a design tool, to root the new building in to its historical context, creating a deeper architectural experience.  Developing this process of using the history of a site as a tool for generating a new architecture allows for a greater meaning of the site, and for a deeper meaning to the architecture.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Pelosi, Antony; Dudding, Michael