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Rebuilding the story of L'Aquila

On April 6, 2009, a powerful earthquake registering 5.8 on the Richter scale struck near L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, Italy. Most buildings in the city center and surrounding areas were damaged or destroyed. If you were to visit today, you’d find most of L’Aquila remains in ruins. But take a look on Google Earth and you can see it rising again before your eyes.

In the months and years following the devastation, the absence of a master plan meant L’Aquila’s citizens couldn’t know their own future. Then, architect Barnaby Gunning hatched an ambitious effort to encourage citizens to use Google SketchUp to build a digital 3D model of the city in its current state.

This innovative use of geo-modeling offered a means to preserve L’Aquila’s collective history, strengthen a community and stimulate discussion about the city’s reconstruction. Creating a more realistic view of the current state of the town left local architects better able to develop a plan for rebuilding.

The church Santa Maria Paganica after the powerful earthquake in L'Aquila.

"Rebuilding a community in the aftermath of this kind of natural disaster is often an overwhelming task. It is humbling to see the passion with which people in L'Aquila have engaged in our project and I am hopeful that with the support of Google's software tools it will make a real difference to the future of the city." -- Barnaby Gunning, Architect and Noi, L'Aquila project founder

At Barnaby’s invitation, Google organized workshops to help volunteers learn how to use available modeling tools available. SketchUp engineer Simone Nicolò traveled to L’Aquila to offer modeling classes in Italian and over the course of two months taught six full-day classes to 200 volunteers. “Their desire to do something for their beloved city was contagious,” he says.

Over 400 volunteers have taken nearly 60,000 photographs of the city, and the modeling phase of the project is now in full swing. Volunteers’ models have already been accepted into Google Earth, and anyone can take part by helping to model the city no matter where they live. With Google Earth, it’s possible not only to explore and remember L'Aguila, but also to join the virtual reconstruction and imagining of the city’s future.

3D modeling is only one way in which L'Aquila's citizens can remember the days before the earthquake. They can also contribute to the city's collective memory by visiting and sharing local stories through video, photos, text and 3D modeling.

The church Santa Maria Paganica modeled with SketchUp in Google Earth.