Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Digital Excavation of Mediatized Urban Heritage: Automated Recognition of Buildings in Image Sources

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Abstract:  Digital technologies provide novel ways of visualizing cities and buildings. They also facilitate new methods of analyzing the built environment, ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) to crowdsourced citizen participation. Digital representations of cities have become so refined that they challenge our perception of the real. However, computers have not yet become able to detect and analyze the visible features of built structures depicted in photographs or other media. Recent scientific advances mean that it is possible for this new field of computer vision to serve as a critical aid to research. Neural networks now meet the challenge of identifying and analyzing building elements, buildings and urban landscapes. The development and refinement of these technologies requires more attention, simultaneously, investigation is needed in regard to the use and meaning of these methods for historical research. For example, the use of AI raises questions about the ways in which computer-based image recognition reproduces biases of contemporary practice. It also invites reflection on how mixed methods, integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches, can be established and used in research in the humanities. Finally, it opens new perspectives on the role of crowdsourcing in both knowledge dissemination and shared research. Attempts to analyze historical big data with the latest methods of deep learning, to involve many people—laymen and experts—in research via crowdsourcing and to deal with partly unknown visual material have provided a better understanding of what is possible. The article presents findings from the ongoing research project ArchiMediaL, which is at the forefront of the analysis of historical mediatizations of the built environment. It demonstrates how the combination of crowdsourcing, historical big data and deep learning simultaneously raises questions and provides solutions in the field of architectural and urban planning history.

Keywords:  artificial intelligence; automated image content recognition; big data; computer vision; crowdsourcing; image repositories; urban heritage



© Tino Mager, Carola Hein. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.