Revisiting District Six: A Case Study of Digital Heritage Reconstruction from Archival Photographs

This paper investigates the digital reconstruction of destroyed buildings from small sets of old, uncalibrated photographs. The application domain is the heritage preservation of District Six – a mixed race area in Cape Town that was leveled during the South African Apartheid regime and whose residents were forcibly removed. Our framework uses a combination of semi-automatic camera calibration, model-based architecture-specific photogrammetry, and texture synthesis to reconstruct the geometry and texture of a building so that it can be incorporated into a heritage-based virtual environment, such as a museum display. These techniques are well established in isolation; the purpose here is to discover if they can be adapted to damaged and uncalibrated photographs, where the time periods and chromatic schemes differ or where, in the worst case, only a single photograph is available. To test the effectiveness of the reconstruction framework we consider three representative cases of District Six architecture. All three cases were reconstructed successfully with some provisos concerning uneven ground, intricate building features, and unfavourable camera angles.