Future On The Past

From early 20th century architecture photography collection to database: digital humanities applied to investigate local seismic, flood, fire culture


Project financed by UEFISCDI following the PCE competition - Exploratory Research Projects 2021, through PNCDI III, sub-programme P4 Fundamental and frontier research, Grant agreement no. PN-III-P4-PCE-2021-0609.

Project Duration: 30 months: June 2nd, 2022 - December 31st, 2024

Principal Investigator: Maria Boștenaru-Dan, PhD Architect, Scientific Researcher

Executive Summary

The project proposes the transform the collection of photographs of early 20th century architecture (Art Nouveau and Modernism across Europe) gathered by the applicant over about 30 years of travel, into a database by answering the research question on how threats from the hazards of earthquake, flood and fire can be answered taking into account the local culture in the European countries covered, for buildings from a period when the architecture styles were global already that time. For this purpose digital humanities methods of image annotation (including architectural volumentric analysis) and mapping are employed. Apart of the mapping which takes also the form of story maps, being thus in dialogue with literature analysis methods of the relationship between traditional and modern in crisis times, also online exhibitions will be created. The subject is innovative as only recently the role of humanities in the fields of history and art history started to deal with the subject of catastrophes, following social sciences which entered this field of engineering and natural sciences. With this aim evaluation criteria will be developed considering the decisions which can be taken to prioritise the retrofit interventions depending on the geographic positions of the buildings. The analysis methods of philosophy of materials and technology history of these architecture objects are important, the theory of the shape from the time, but also phenomenology and the philosophy of Deleuze.

Research field and areas

Main Domain
SH5. Cultures and Cultural Production: Literature, philology, cultural studies, study of the arts, philosophy
Research Areas
SH5_12. Computational modelling and digitisation in the cultural sphere
SH5_6. History of art and architecture, arts-based research
SH5_8. Cultural studies, cultural identities and memories, cultural heritage

Project Team

Stages, Objectives and Activities

Stage 1 (2022)

Objective 1: Improvement of resilience to disasters, including climate change, by improving the understanding of the impact of the measures taken; by developing methods adequate for the geographical setting in which buildings of international currents, such as Art Nouveau and modernist buildings, might have adopted a similar architectural approach, thus disregarding their own context or needs.

Act 1.1 - Launch of the project and build and launch of the project site as milestones.

Act 1.2 - Documentation: Literature research on existing digital humanities databases in the field of natural hazards.

Act 1.3 - Field documentation

Act 1.4 - Documentation: infrastructure access (archives to investigate building plans when possible internationally)

Stage 2 (2023)

Objective 1 (continuation).Improvement of resilience to disasters, including climate change, by promoting 4 different retrofit measures for each type of disaster (earthquake, flood, fire) suitable for their respective geographical area.

Objective 3. To develop a database on sustainable retrofit models which can be differently implemented in 23 countries/50 cities in Europe: AT (Vienna), BE (Antwerp/Brussels), BG (Baltchik), HR (Zagreb), CZ (Brno/Prague), DK (Copenhagen), EE (Tallinn), FIN (Helsinki), FR (Paris), DE (Berlin/Darmstadt/Dessau/Hamburg/ Karlsruhe/Postdam), GR (Athens), HU (Budapest), IR (Dublin), IT (Cernobbio/ Como/Genova/Milan/Naples/Rome/San Pellegrino Terme/Stresa), LV (Riga), NL (Amsterdam/Utrecht), PL(Warsaw/Wroclaw), PT (Faro/Lisbon/Porto), RO (Bucharest/ Cluj-Napoca/Corbeni/Oradea/Sf.Gheorghe/Sinaia/Suceava/Tg.Mureș), SI (Ljubljana), ES (Barcelona/Madrid/Sevilla), SE (Stockholm), UK (London).

Objective 4. To develop a prototype (incl. ontology, taxonomy) for a database regarding the early 20th century buildings (Art Nouveau and Modernism) across Europe, by incorporating photographic collections accumulated by the PI in over 20 years of research. This will be an instrument of comparison of the differences between the variations of these international styles, in the above-mentioned locations. The database will be suitable for digital humanities analysis methods as well, such as mapping and image annotation.

Act 2.1 – Further Documentation + Outreach + Dissemination. Development of checklists for the systematization of knowledge.

Act 2.2 - Connection between the humanities view and the technical view: how the philosophy translates in form in case of architecture. The Image annotation used for investigation of the architecture of the buildings: creation of a typical spatial model of the buildings of the time in various European locations. The buildings are subdivided into macro-elements according to the method of Lagomarsino and Giovinazzi (2006) to determine possible collapse mechanisms in earthquakes. Podestà and Romano (2014) continued my work which was previous done in the CA’REDIVIVUS project through their work on a doctorate by employing this method to the heritage subject of their paper. In early years vulnerability of buildings was assessed in Romania according to a score related to certain features. The spatial model can be translated in a simplified 3D model for digital representation (on the map) and annotation (ex. for Modernist buildings in Bucharest Marcel Iancu and his formal alphabet, see Ioan, 2012). Architecture photography used in this project is at most 30 years old and are not the historical type. For ancient collection items on slides support a scanner will be necessary. Image annotation and maps can be used in a combined way by using timelines (tools: ImagePlot, Netline, Palladio).

Act 2.3 - Ontology study: Analysis of the philosophical background (ontology) as a research method in architecture. Deleuze's (1988) philosophy on flat and striated place with reference to the street grid for disasters. "Pattern language" by Christopher Alexander (1977) on applying phenomenology to architecture and how this translates with its hyperlink organization in current digital humanities with the more sophisticated techniques such as ontology.

Act 2.4 - Defining the mapping structure for the database definition. Investigation of the maps developed by Nolli (18th century), Lynch (1960), psychogeography (Debord, 1955), Caniggia (1963) and Muratori (1960, 1963) (Cataldi, 2002) will be as prerequisite for maps to be developed in the project with digital means (zoom from landmarks to general plan of common buildings possible in different levels of detail).

Creation of maps: Story maps will be created in synergy with COST actions working groups on case studies (e.g. for arch. Marcel Iancu, see Bostenaru, 2020). But through this project, story maps will be created for all architects and/or cities to be part of the collection, far exceeding the frame of the COST action for selected case studies. However, the COST actions will contribute to international visibility.

The above-mentioned investigation methods are serving the way a story is told with a map. Network analysis (space syntax Hillier and Hanson, 1984) will be an adopted method in order to analyse the correct position of the buildings within the cities. ORA (A Toolkit for Dynamic Network Analysis and Visualization) (Carley, 2014) and Gephi will be used to connect influences between the architecture in different countries after performing a comparative analysis, since they allow network visualization independent of year as usually in historic social network analysis. But given the times in which the buildings were constructed, the timeline method will be explored as well.

Stage 3 (2024)

Objective 2. To diversify the application domains of digital humanities databases in art history by including reinforced concrete type of 20th century architecture, which is often neglected and lacks protection; by includingthis building typology, the contribution from a humanities’ perspective, including architectural history, would also act in synergy with the natural and engineering sciences, also with the recently involved social sciences.

Objective 5. Investigation of the applicability of the 4 retrofit measures selected to the specified locations in Europe, according to local culture of disaster resilience (ex. local seismic culture) and to vulnerability to earthquake, flood and fire hazards.

Act 4.1 - Image annotation will help generating online exhibits other than the arcGIS story maps classic such as neatline with Omeka online exhibition software. A prototype for the online exhibition is the work of architect Richard Bordenache, but also a glimpse in the larger content of the database. The photographs will be analyzed to identify characteristics of buildings similar to preparation of maps with Lynch (1960) method and psycho-geography and the results annotated with ImagePlot.

Act 4.2 - Database use methods: Computer based analysis according to digital humanities methods of the items in the database (mapping, image annotation etc.). For the database for each building the information will include at least location, architect, time of construction, life time of the architect. These will flow also in the metadata in XML. Training will be included in how to use XML. For location maps will be used, both location maps and arcGIS story maps. Both geographical location and the network of architects will be visualized with network methods (ORA and Gephy) generating various graphs to show interdependencies in the city where the buildings are as well as cross-city and cross country. For this the research question regarding disaster resilience is of help. For maps thoughts will be done on how to zoom between different scales from city, zone, and building in digital maps compared to the innovative maps of the 1960s (Lynch, psycho-geography, Muratori and Cannigia) and for this either Prezi presentations or arcGIS story maps new edition will be used.

Act 4.3 - Investigation of differences between requirements on retrofit methods in different countries based on former performance in disasters. Lessons from the resilient ones will lead to sustainable solutions for the vulnerable ones. The photographs will be analyzed to identify characteristics of buildings similar to preparation of maps with Lynch (1960) method and psycho-geography and the results annotated with ImagePlot. For this the identification of landmarks among the elements of the building, those which give the character in architecture language are important, such as detail. Detail is important in Art Deco and Art Nouveau, and the lack of ornament in Modernism. In Modernism however, proportions gain importance. These proportions are also important for the building resilience according to the research question and a quantitative survey will be carried out additionally to rapid visual screening in order to apply knowledge when not in field to gathered data.


Ziua Art Nouveau; Participare la Concurs Foto și Lansare Proiect – Eveniment online

Webinar Firelinks, presentation

ILP și al 7-lea simpozion de geoștiință, 6-7 octombrie 2022

Book launch, Triennale der Moderne Berlin

Poster at Research Networking Day

Science is wonderful competition, Bruxelles

Lightning talk: Retrofit of early 20th century heritage buildings based on local culture against earthquake, flood & fire disasters
Marie Curie Alumni Association Annual Conference

School different way
Maria Bostenaru Dan & Corina Rusz/ School George Cosbuc from Mediesu Aurit

Sumo Science (notte dei ricercatori SHARPER Italia)

Future Events

EGU 2023 Session Conveners. General Assembly 2023 of the European Geosciences Union (EGU), Vienna, Austria & Online | 23–28 April 2023

The second International Conference on Construction, Energy, Environment and Sustainability - CEES 2023 - Funchal (Madeira Island), Portugal, organized by Itecons in collaboration with CONST-NRC (Canada).

Firecongress 2023 Session Conveners

2nd International Congress on Fire in the Earth System: Humans and Nature, July 4-8, 2023, Granada, Spain



Journal Special issue:
Special issue in journal indexed ISI Q2: Bostenaru Dan, Maria, and Elena Petrova. 2022. "Preface to the Special Issue “Natural and Human-Made Hazards Impacts on Urban Areas and Infrastructure”" Sustainability 14, no. 21: 14307. https://doi.org/10.3390/su142114307

Article in journal indexed BDI ERIH+:
Ibric, Adrian: Innovative materials and systems for the built environment funded by EU programs, Argument 14/2022

Book chapter published by TU Berlin:
Bostenaru Dan, Maria: Rudolf Fränkels Bukarest Spurensuche in den Archiven von Bukarest und Montreal. In: Jörg H. Gleiter | Günter Schlusche | Ines Sonder (Hrsg.) Osteuropäische Moderne – Beiträge jüdischer Architekten und Architektinnen, Berlin, Universitätsverlag der TU Berlin, 2022, ISBN 978-3-7983-3262-1, http://dx.doi.org/10.14279/depositonce-15860, p. 33-44


in: Chitea, Florina, Munteanu, Ioan, Matenco, Liviu, Dinescu, Raluca, Stanciu, Irina (eds.): ILP & Geoscience 2022 Book of Abstracts, ISBN e-book.pdf – 978-606-537-578-9, Editura Cetatea de Scaun, Târgoviște, 2022

  1. KARST AQUIFERS AND THERMAL BATHS – CASE STUDIES. Maria Bostenaru Dan, Mirela Adriana Anghelache, Cerasella Craciun, Anca Cezarina Fulger, Mara Popescu, p. 109
  2. NATURAL PARKS AND UNDERGROUND BUILT HERITAGE COMMUNITY VALORISATION. Cerasella Craciun, Maria Bostenaru Dan, Mara Popescu, Adrian Ibric, Mirela Adriana Anghelache, Anca Cezarina Fulger, p. 110
  3. ARCHITECTURE OF GEOLOGICAL MUSEUMS. Maria Bostenaru Dan, Mara Popescu, Adrian Ibric, Mirela Adriana Anghelache, Cerasella Craciun, p. 112
  5. PIONEER WOMEN GEOLOGISTS: ELIZA LEONIDA ZAMFIRESCU’S MEMORY. Maria Bostenaru Dan, Mirela Adriana Anghelache, Roxana Mihaly, Cerasella Craciun, Adrian Ibric, p. 114

Bostenaru Dan, M., Ibric, A., and Popescu, M.: Strategic decisions for retrofit of heritage buildings in different geographic areas of Europe, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-6703, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu23-6703, 2023.


Journal Special issues

- Special issue in journal indexed ISI Q1: Natural hazards’ impact on natural and built heritage and infrastructure in urban and rural zones 01 Feb 2023–29 Nov 2023 | Maria Bostenaru Dan, Adrian Ibric, Mara Popescu, Orsolya Kegyes-Brassai, Margherita D. Ayala, Cerasella Crăciun, and Animesh Gain, In Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences

- Special issue in journal indexed ISI Q2: Maria Bostenaru Dan "Architectural Heritage Conservation Management and Environmental Sustainability" Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Green Building".

- Special issue in journal indexed SCOPUS: Natural hazard impacts on technological systems and infrastructures (EGU2022 NH9.5 session) 01 Jul 2022–30 Apr 2023 | Elena Petrova, Maria Bostenaru Dan, Orsolya Kegyes-Brassai, and Margherita D Ayala, In Advances in Geosciences (ADGEO)

In review

Article in journal indexed BDI ERIH+:
Bostenaru Dan, Maria, Ibric, Adrian: Mapping perception, Argument 2023

Articles for conference:
2nd International Conference on Construction, Energy, Environment & Sustainability, Funchal - Portugal

Book chapters

published by Springer:
Maria Boștenaru Dan, Cerasella Crăciun, Adrian Ibric: Decision systems in disaster management with application to fire

published at publisher indexed CNCS A:
Maria Boștenaru Dan: 5 essays about museums in Lisbon, Rome, Berlin

published in Romania
Maria Bostenaru Dan, Mirela Adriana Anghelache, Cerasella Craciun, Anca Cezarina Fulger, Mara Popescu: KARST AQUIFERS AND THERMAL BATHS – CASE STUDIES –

Review in journal indexed SCOPUS:
Book review: Wieczorek, A., Schenk, G. J., Juneja, M., Lind, Ch. (Eds.) (2014) Mensch. Natur. Katastrophe. Von Atlantis bis heute [Human. Nature. Disaster. From Atlantis till Today], Schnell und Steiner, Regensburg, Germany.

In progress

Article in journal indexed ISI:
Bostenaru Dan, Maria, Ibric, Adrian: Decision systems for nature based solutions to mitigate floods, Special Issue "Urban Green Infrastructure in Sustainable Development" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (ISSN 1660-4601). This special issue belongs to the section "Environmental Science and Engineering".

Article in journal indexed BDI:
Bostenaru Dan, M.; Ibric, A.; Popescu, M., 2023. “Strategic decisions for retrofit of heritage buildings in different geographic areas of Europe”, ADGEO

Monograph Richard Bordenache

Book chapter published by publisher indexed CNCS A:
Bostenaru Dan, Maria, Jianu, Octaviana, Buzila, Ciprian: Totalitarianism and the emigration of Romanian architects of the interwar time to the USA. In: Call for Book Chapters: Creative Negotiations. Romania – America 1920-1940. In: Book edited by Dr. Sonia D. Andraș (The “Gheorghe Șincai” Institute for Social Sciences and the Humanities, Târgu-Mureș, Romania) and Dr. Roxana Mihaly (The “Gheorghe Șincai” Institute for Social Sciences and the Humanities, Târgu-Mureș, Romania)