VR project shows how Romans built their houses to be eye-catching

After the eruption, much of Pompeii was surprisingly well preserved. Image via Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 4.0
After the eruption, much of Pompeii was surprisingly well preserved. Image via Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 4.0

Volunteers were given VR headsets to look around a 3D version of the House of Epithets in Pompeii as part of a study conducted by Lund University. The house was partially destroyed in the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, but many of the artworks in the house still survive.

Researchers re-built the Pompeiian house as a 3D model in the video-game engine Unity. The virtual house was designed based on the preserved structure in Pompeii. Therefore, it looked as it would have in Roman times, including the wall paintings and original features. Volunteers then walked around the house wearing VR headsets. While they did this, eye-trackers in their headsets recorded where they were looking.

Researchers could use the data from the eye-trackers to see what the volunteers found “eye-catching” in the house. The designer of the house would have wanted to draw visitors’ attentions to fancy or expensive parts of the building. Areas that were more intriguing to modern viewers could be digitally pinpointed.

Using the 3D tools, researchers were also able to change the lighting conditions, which showed how things might differ between day and night, as well as the importance of shadows.

Whilst this project was small, the researchers are optimistic about the technique. There is a lot of literature that tells us how Romans designed their buildings to be looked at in a certain way. However, this is the first time that technology has been used to test this. Larger-scale projects could teach us more about Roman architecture.

The full research project can be found as an open access article at Antiquity.

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