University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Reconstructing the Baths of Caracalla
Taylor Oetelaar

Last modified: 2011-12-20


The Baths of Caracalla are a large public bathing complex or thermae built by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (known as Caracalla) between 212 and 216 CE. The building itself, located in the southeast portion of ancient Rome, covers an area of approximately 2.4 hectares and the perimeter wall encloses an area of 10.9 hectares. The initial purpose of this reconstruction was to recreate the caldarium – a room similar to a very large modern sauna with hot tubs – for a thermofluid analysis to determine its thermal environment (temperature, humidity, air velocity, etc). However, this quickly morphed into an interesting, yet difficult, reconstruction of the entire bathing complex for the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) project, Rome Reborn – a project designed to rebuild the city of Rome digitally as it existed in the fourth century CE. Its goal is to provide another tool for specialists and non-specialists alike to look at the spatial distribution and urban landscape of ancient Rome. With a 3-D digital model of Rome, scholars can better investigate questions such as the visibility of monuments from different vantage points or how the setting changed under different Imperial building plans. This project has relied on detailed models of strategic complexes, such as the Flavian Amphitheatre (or Colosseum), in a panorama of apartment blocks, shops, and private homes. The details of these key buildings have created a semblance of life in the enormous model of Rome at 320 CE.

As the most intact thermae in Rome, the Baths of Caracalla are one of these strategic complexes. Therefore its reconstruction required careful attention to many different facets, from room dimensions to mosaic patterns. Even though much of the structure still exists, the published, publically available data were surprisingly sparse. Given the complexity of the Baths, the data gaps and the need for an engineering-based geometry, the best option was to use two software suites – one for the geometry and the second for the application of textures, though the latter will not be covered here. To create the appropriate geometry for a thermofluid analysis, the ideal program was a parametric one. Parametric design uses modifiable parameters to dimension the model instead of scaling a generic shape and, because of this built-in flexibility, is the standard in most engineering applications. This poster provides a methodological overview of the software programs used, the overarching issues that arose, and a case study of the intricate insertion of window glazing.


digital reconstruction; Baths of Caracalla; parametric modelling