From 3D reproduction to laser-cut models, heritage sites around the world are getting a makeover thanks to digital innovations.
The world heritage of humanity amounts to much more than crumbling old stones. New technologies have long rejuvenated archaeological sites, the most inaccessible historical artworks are now rendered in 3D, forbidden temples can be visited in virtual reality, and museums are tapping into crowdfunded resources. 360° panorama of advanced technologies serving our ancient heritage.
Drones and 3D modeling
In France, the Parisian start-up Iconem is specialized in assisting architects and curators of endangered heritage, especially in Syria (but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Italy, Haiti) using aerial photography shot by a customized drone. 3D image-processing algorithms then sculpt this footage into 3D reproductions enriched by notes, sketches and archives.
Such is the case with the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, built in the 8th century and ravaged by war in Syria. Iconem reconstructed it in 3D images, and the French ministry of culture set up a website including information about the project and 3D models, inviting anyone to participate in the restoration, either by making a micro donation to protect the heritage of the Middle East or by sharing their photos of sites under threat or attack to help build 3D models of already destroyed sites.
Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria (Iconem, 2016):
Around the world, high-tech companies are working to preserve heritage sites, such as Heritage Technology in the UK, or Factum Arte in Spain, which produces finely detailed copies of great artworks that are often more eye-catching than the real thing… as a way of rendering them more accessible, and potentially more moving to the general public, according to the artist founder Adam Lowe.
The international ScanPyramids project, conceived and coordinated by the French institute Heritage Innovation Preservation since 2015 (which we covered in French here), in addition to photogrammetry by drones and a dozen lasers scanning the famous monuments of Dahshur and Giza in Egypt, uses infrared thermography and radiography based on muons, heavy particles of cosmic rays whose positions indicate density levels. In Japan, Nagoya University has been contributing to the mission using this same technique formerly employed to probe the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
First discoveries of the ScanPyramids mission (Oct. 2016):
Bigger than life
Some of the newest museums also owe their existence to the latest advances in digital technology. A replica of the Chauvet Cave in southern France, made from a model of the original prehistoric cave in 16 billion points, opened in 2015. In Japan, the historical site of Gunkanjima, the abandoned island off the coast of Nagasaki made internationally famous by Unesco and James Bond, now has its own “virtual” museum in a dedicated building facing the “Battleship Island”. Museum visitors can examine the former mining site through high-definition images captured by drone mapped to a 3D rendering of the island, and operate an almost vertical 1km descent into the mineshaft.
Immersion and realistic renderings are also two essential ingredients of a successfully augmented heritage site. In Japan’s cultural capital, Bits of Kyoto Gardens presented immersive films realized last year by D-Lab in collaboration with the architecture department of ETH Zürich, producing audio-visual reconstructions of the physical spaces of gardens and old buildings, both recorded and scanned in 3D. Relaying conservation efforts into full-blown virtual reality via HTC Vive, the start-up Kyoto VR, launched in June by entrepreneur Atticus Sims and film director Alessandro de Bellegarde, is dedicated to preserving and popularizing access to local heritage, such as the city’s machiya wooden houses.
How Kyoto VR renders cultural heritage:
Open to the public (currency here)
The latest techno trend among heritage museums and curators is appealing for public donations and citizen participation. In Paris, through July 15, 2017, the Quai Branly museum is holding its first crowdfunding campaign to restore the suspended garden near the Eiffel Tower. Its virtual double is a vegetable wall that becomes greener as the campaign nears its goal.
Buddhist priest Gyosen Asakura chose to adopt a more original approach. The 50-year-old spiritual guide had the idea of reviving his teenage passion for techno music to serve his temple in Fukui, in western Japan, by reassuming the role of DJ. Since 2016, in May and October, there’s a rave (or a service) at Sho-onji temple—3D projection mapping, psychedelic lighting, rhythmically monotonous recital of the sutras. His crowdfunding campaign raised ¥398,000 ($3,600), or ¥98,000 more than this goal.
More experimental, the town of Hirosaki in northern Japan invites people to make their donations in bitcoin, in in partnership with Coincheck, to maintain the 2,600 cherry trees and stone wall that surround its famous castle. In early May, nearly a hundred individuals had donated about $2400 (according to the Japan Times, it costs around $2 million annually to maintain the trees and wall).
On the southern end of Japan, in Kyushu, Kumamoto Castle found another way to help publicly fund the serious restoration work necessary after the 2016 earthquake, using a laser cutter. All the sales proceeds from the miniature cardboard models of the landmark will go toward repairing the full-sized castle.
Campaign to build your own miniature Kumamoto Castle: