Reconstructing the St Kilda Blackhouse

28 September 2012

Posted by

Send to a friendSend to a friend

commentsComments Off

Digital survey of The Street using a Leica C10 laser scanner which generates 3D point clouds. Copyright © Alice Watterson.Digital survey of The Street using a Leica C10 laser scanner which generates 3D point clouds. Copyright © Alice Watterson.

St Kilda is one of the most romanticised remote locations in Scotland today. Lying 40 miles off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides the archipelago was once home to a small community of hardy St Kildans until evacuation in the 1930s.

Digital survey of The Street using a Leica 6100 laser scanner which generates 3D point clouds. Copyright © Alice Watterson.

As part of my current PhD research for two weeks between June and July 2011 I joined the Scottish Ten team on St Kilda to digitally document select areas on the main island of Hirta. We used a combination of different scanners and photogrammetry rigs to record the structures within the head dyke, some of the field systems in An Lag above the village and the Amazon’s House over in Glen Mor. The final result being the creation of, in effect, a ‘virtual St Kilda’, an exceptionally accurate digital model of the site which can be used to better conserve and manage this unique place.

The scanners generate 3D surface models of the structures. In the top image we see the point cloud, and in the bottom image the solid model generated from this point data. We call this stage ‘meshing’. Images reproduced courtesy of the CDDV (Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation)

Using a portion of the scan data for the purpose of my research I began to reconstruct one of the blackhouses on the Village Street which date to the 1830s. With the blackhouse I wanted to construct a narrative around the 18th and 19th century written accounts of the island together with the vast early 20th century photographic archive. We see a woman sat at the central hearth boiling a kettle, surrounded by various items essential to life on the island. A quern stone sits near the door ready to grind cereals into flour. Ropes lay waiting to be untangled and fish hang from the ceiling to smoke over the peat fire. As all these little details are added, it’s beginning to feel a lot like home.

A view inside my smoky reconstructed blackhouse. Copyright © Alice Watterson.

For me, visualising a site as it would have been in the past is not just about presenting the evidence we have, that can be done in a museum display or in an academic paper; it’s about tying together those pieces of evidence to make a compelling story. The more depth the image has the more an audience will be drawn in and will engage with the site. With my work producing an ‘authentic’ visualisation is not solely about accuracy, it’s about creating a believable sense of place and atmosphere.

A view of my reconstructed blackhouse where it would have sat on The Street, the surrounding terrain was generated and textured from the laser scan and photogrammetry data by Alistair Rawlinson of the CDDV. Copyright © Alice Watterson.

To read more about the St Kildan blackhouse, and my current research projects you can follow my blog here ( and find out about the Scottish Ten project here (


Post by Alice Watterson and was originally listed in March 2012 as part of our Sights & Sounds month…


Comments are closed.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Keep up to date with latest news

Enter your email address below to join our mailing list: