Vol. VII, No. 3

November, 1994

Exploring Ancient Architecture - A Review

by H. Eiteljorg, II

Exploring Ancient Architecture is a computer-based multi-media presentation of information about ancient architecture intended, to judge by the very basic material included, for children. Published by Medio Multimedia, Inc., (800-788-3866; $59.95), the package requires Windows to operate. The programs and data are supplied on a CD-ROM, and installation of some software onto the hard disk is required. That process is automated; it worked without a hitch.

The material includes images, video clips, and narration. However, since the CSA PC has no sound capability, only the still and moving images could be examined. The narration could not be sampled. (The note about this CD in Lance Ulanoff's article, "The Top 100 CD-ROMs," PC Magazine, Sept. 13, 1994, p. 128, included the comment that, "the narration sounds like a sixth-grade history-class film.") Oddly, we found no text on disk to augment or duplicate the narration. Nor was there any bibliography or other assistance for someone whose appetite might be whetted by the program.

The materials on the disk have been grouped into four sections - the neolithic period, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. I looked carefully only at the section on Greece in order to try to make some comments in time for this issue of the Newsletter. I looked quickly at the materials from the other sections; they seemed to be similar.

The images of Greek architecture consisted of a group of stills and two sets of video clips. One set of clips was a tour of a restored Parthenon, and one was a tour of a reconstruction of the Ecclesiasterion at Priene. Each set of video clips had enough complexity to permit the user to branch off at certain points. The result seemed to be an ability to navigate freely, but, on closer inspection, it was clear that the navigation was limited to pre-determined paths, as is required with prepared video clips.

The number of still images was surprisingly small, and the number of monuments included was equally unrepresentative.

It would be unfair to try to judge such a program on scholarly content, but basic accuracy should not be a problem. Sadly, it is. The Ionic columns and capitals in the opisthodomus of the Parthenon are Doric in the images. The Grave Circle at Mycenae is called the Treasury of Atreus. There are other such unfortunate errors, as well as generally poor labels in too many cases, labels that may not be wrong but are not helpful either.

Plans were included for only the two buildings for which there were video clips ("tours"), but the plan of the Parthenon has the east side at the top and no north arrow. For the Ecclesiasterion north is at the bottom As mentioned before, there is no bibliography or other aid to further study.

The problems of errors and mediocre information on screen - which may have been improved by the narration - may arise from a level of ambition unmatched by architectural expertise. However, the tools for navigating among the still images were also poor. After the first image of the Parthenon appeared, for instance, the images which followed could not be accessed individually, at least not with tools we could find. They simply appeared on screen and cycled through the sequence according to a timed schedule.

The video clips are meant to be the most appealing parts of this CD; there are two sets of clips, called tours, for each of the sections except the Roman one. There is a tour of only one Roman building. The video sequences are impressive at first glance, but not particularly interesting after the first look. Unfortunately, they require enormous quantities of disk space (especially since many are available at two levels of resolution); so the disk is full, despite the fact that there are so few monuments included, no text, and no suggestions for further reading. I do not think the video clips are good enough to warrant that cost.

In short, this attempt to present the architecture of the world can only be said to be in need of further refinement.

For an index of other CD and Web site reviews available on the Web pages of the CSA Newsletter, see the review index.

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