LDGP: Digitizing Heritage in the Basque Country

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The Laboratory for the Geometric Documentation of Heritage (LDGP) of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) is a multidisciplinary group of technicians and professionals committed to the research and implementation of projects dealing with the collection of geometric data about heritage elements, their representation, management, dissemination, and preservation.

We started to work in 3D modeling in the 90’s, using stereoscopic photogrammetry and glass negative big format (130 x 180 mm) that was used in heavy cameras, around 50 kg. We have had the good fortune to witness the evolution of photogrammetry from stereoscopic manual analog to digital, and the current SfM systems. We have also seen the exponential evolution of 3D laser scanners in a completely digital context for heritage documentation.

Since 1997, the Laboratory has carried out more than a hundred projects related to the documentation of various types of elements of heritage, such as churches, castles, archaeological and paleontological excavations, bridges, statuary and furniture, caves, megaliths, and dinosaur footprints. Our work covers a wide time span from prehistory to the contemporary period. Most of the projects have been developed in the Basque Country and La Rioja, but a few have taken place in other regions of Spain and Italy.

The laboratory was born in the Faculty of Engineering of Vitoria-Gasteiz of Basque Country University, in the Engineering Surveying field, and linked to their photogrammetry studies. In this way, we both combine work in the field of technology applied to heritage with research and teaching at the University of the Basque Country. We have also developed a complete methodology for registering, 3D modelling and representing preservation of the information and its diffusion for a diverse typology of heritage elements. All this knowledge has been disseminated by us in PhD, master, and degree theses.

Planning Projects

The techniques and equipment for each project are selected based on a detailed planning of the work, which defines the methodology and analytical tools required to achieve the objectives of the undertaking with the available resources. One of the main aims of the Laboratory is to develop and test innovative working methodologies, tailored to the necessities of both the elements of heritage and the research in progress.

Other areas of interest are the preservation and the management of information, virtual models and Augmented Reality, monitoring the deformations and the stability of buildings, as well as the development of specific tools and ancillary components for recording data under special conditions. The Laboratory is also engaged in the training of young professionals and the dissemination of cultural heritage to society. For this reason, as soon as they are obtained, the Laboratory gives the public access to its results by means of the website, the institutional repository of the University, scientific papers, or technical workshops. Dissemination also includes the programming of specific software for documentation projects, which is available online in an open-access format.


LDGP 3d workflow

Tools and Equipment

The Laboratory headquarters are in an office located in the Micaela Portilla building on the Alava campus, located within the space of the Research Group on Built Heritage (GPAC). There are four working stations (with specialised software available for the computation, management and display of geographic information) as well as a digital stereoplotter and a web server.

Regarding fieldwork instrumentation, there are two total stations, a GNSS receiver for satellite positioning and photographic equipment (including cameras with up to 50 megapixels and calibrated lenses). In this respect, wide experience has been gained in the use and processing of information gathered with other devices, such as laser scanners and unmanned aerial vehicles that are rented when necessary.

Finally, a wide range of software is available in order to take the successive steps of data processing, the presentation of results and the management of information, including specific software for CAD and 3D modelling, point cloud processing, photogrammetry, GIS, etc.


One of the main challenges we have faced in these years has been the continuing evolution of measuring instruments and methodologies and the explosion of ways to digitally gather data, process and preserve them. For this, we must have a permanent learning capacity and technological surveillance, adapting new methods and instruments to old necessities.

LDGP website

The other great challenge has been the preservation of the digital information of heritage—especially when in some cases the information is the only thing that exists of some heritage elements that have disappeared. In this way, we have developed a complete methodology to standardise the data, incorporate the metadata, use recognised formats, and identify permanent institutional repositories for their preservation and spread.

Getting Started in 3D Digitization

We think that the instruments and the methodologies are not the key in this amazing activity—the main actors are firstly the heritage and secondly the users of the information. In consequence, if you want to start working with 3D in heritage, you should think about how you can help to preserve and disseminate heritage information, and what you should do to make information more accessible, understandable and usable for current and future users.

The Future of 3D in Cultural Heritage

Obviously, heritage organizations are working to open up to the public and to provide chances to develop products and services linked with heritage and its information. In this sense, 3D models are the perfect option to research, preserve and spread heritage, increasing social awareness about heritage and its preservation.

Favorite Model on Sketchfab

One of our favourite historical 3D model is the Geometric Documentation of the so-called “Synagogue” mausoleum in Sádaba (Zaragoza, Spain). It is the ruin of a small Roman mausoleum shaped like a cross, measuring 12 by 14 meters and 4 meters high.

The geometric documentation includes a reference network observed by means of GNSS technologies and computed in absolute coordinates, a wireframe model generated by total station and a three-dimensional model (meshes with photographic textures) obtained by photogrammetry.

LDGP repository

In our repository, which is connected with Europeana, it is possible to find “all” the information about this project, beginning with the complete metadata and including:

  • General report and plans
  • Some photos
  • 3D PLYmodels in high, medium, and low resolution
  • A 3D version in KMZ format, georeferenced to use directly in GIS programs and Google Earth
  • An Android Augmented Reality app, and the needed marker
  • Some anaglyph (red/blue) images.

The low-resolution model is available on Sketchfab.

A complete description paper has been published in the magazine Restauro Archeologico 1 | 2016 “El modelo 3D como base para la documentación y difusión de los elementos patrimoniales. Aplicación al mauseleo romano denominado ‘la Sinagoga’ de Sádaba (Zaragoza, España)

We hope you enjoy it.

WebsiteRepository of University of Basque Country UPV/EHU (ADDI)

Álvaro Rodríguez MirandaÁlvaro Rodríguez: Dialnet / Orcid / Scopus / WoK / Google Scholar



José Manuel Valle MelónJosé Manuel Valle: Dialnet / Orcid / Scopus / WoK / Google Scholar



About the author

Álvaro Rodríguez Miranda and José Manuel Valle Melón

Two lovers of Geometric Documentation of Heritage, and preservation and spreading the knowledge.

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