Computer Reconstruction: Temple Site at Phimai

A United Nations World Heritage site, Phimai is the site of a walled complex of reconstructed temples, libraries and ancillary structures, one of the most important Khmer monuments in Thailand. Reconstruction of the temple site in Phimai serves as a case study highlighting the potential of computer visualization as a tool in heritage resource management. Besides offering archaeologists, historians and museum curators a non-evasive environment for testing reconstruction scenarios, virtual worlds offer the public access to important historic monuments without the wear of excessive visitation.

Software/Hardware: 3D Studio VIZ, Premier, Photoshop, Windows NT Workstation

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Historic Background

The computer reconstruction of the temple site in Phimai in Thailand will serve as a specific case study highlighting the potential uses of computer visualization technology as a tool in Heritage resource management. A United Nations World Heritage site, this walled complex of reconstructed temples, libraries and ancillary structures is considered the most important Khmer monument in Thailand. Located 60 km south of the modern capital of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korhat), Phimai was a center of royal patronage for Suryavarman II (1113-1150) and Kauavarymam VII (1181-1219). The site was first inventoried by Aymonier in 1901. Begun in 1964, the Thailand Fine Arts Department under the auspices of Prince Yachai Chitrabongse completed reconstruction in 1969 (Siribhadra and Moore 1992. pp. 33, 233)


Computer Modeling of Historic Sites

The author built the model to include in an educational video and website in order to promote the site for tourism. In 1999, an initial site visit was made to collect data and discuss the scope of the modeling effort with the museum staff at Phimai, and with Dr. Walter Jamieson, Director of the Urban Management Program at AIT. The computer model of the Temple site began as a demonstration project to illustrate the value of new media in the promotion of an historic site. During the course of constructing the computer model of the site, interest also emerged in using the model as a vehicle for communicating ideas about the site's reconstruction.

In the restoration of a site, models offer archaeologists and museum curators a non-evasive environment for testing various reconstruction scenarios. In Phimai, the galleries and naves, through centuries of neglect, are currently in a state of partial ruin. By extrapolating from knowledge concerning vault architecture of other temple complexes in Thailand and Cambodia, it was possible to show how the site may have looked site in the 12 century. An on-going process, this model could serve as a vehicle for archaeologists and art historians to consider other possible architectural interpretations in preparation for future reconstruction efforts. Future research aims to use computer modeling to analyze the construction technology of the temple complex at Phimai. By virtual testing of sections of the galleries and temples, the distribution of forces in these stone structures may be revealed. In addition discovering how these early builders constructed this complex, this structural analysis in virtual space will provide museum curators and archaeologists with an understanding of how to reconstruct areas of the temple complex that are in disrepair or have the potential to collapse.

For this historic site, images and animations based on the model of the temple site will be used as part of the museum's education program. In addition, images and QTVR movies will be placed on a national website sponsored the Thailand Department of Fine Arts. The website is constructed to provide a virtual tour of all of the major temple sites in Thailand. Other potential uses of the model will be the creation of a VR environment of the Temple grounds. A virtual environment would give students and members of the public the opportunity to explore the Temple grounds while at the Museum at Phimai or from their home computer. As an educational armature this computer model could be used to host a wide variety of information about the past culture, dance music and religious practices.


Virtual Worlds a Tool in the Preservation Strategy

Virtual space offers the advantage of showing ruined sites as complete architectural forms without endangering archeological data from these sensitive sites (Forte and Siliotti, 1997). There is a tendency to reconstruct ruins, in order to make them safer and more attractive to tourists. In the process of rebuilding sites, existing remains may be destroyed. In contrast to actual reconstruction, a virtual representation leaves the site intact and even offers the potential for alternative interpretations to be viewed. In addition, virtual sites can protect historically important archaeological remains from destruction due to excessive visitation. In the future, virtual models may be the only means that the public can experience certain historical sites, particularly where public safety risks occur or where human traffic poses a serious danger to the integrity of the structure.


  • Forte, M. and Alberto, S., Virtual Archaeology, New York, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1997.
  • Siribhadra, S., Moore E. (1992) Places of the Gods, Khmer Art & Architecture of Thailand Bangkok. Thailand: River Books, pp. 33, 233.

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This project was made possible through assistance from Multimedia Advanced Computational Infrastructure, University of Calgary who supplied the computing for this project. Special thanks to Dr. Walter Jamieson, Director of the Urban Environmental Management Program, Asian Institute of Technology at AIT and Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, whose generous support and assistance was critical to success of this project.

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