It’s easy to forget that some of the most long-lived and durable assets in heritage interpretation are traditional physical models. Architectural models have long been used to convey the appearance, spatial sequences, structure and other aspects of buildings and they can become historic artefacts in their own right, just as historic buildings do in reality. There’s a fine collection of gorgeous historic architectural models going back to the 17th century at the V&A RIBA gallery in London for example. A physical model has tangibility and permanence, aspects which give them a trusted place in museums and have ensured their popularity and longevity. However digital technologies do have an important role to play in making the next generation of architectural heritage models using 3D printing. With 3D printing architectural models can now be produced as part of a range of outputs (including digital only assets like flythroughs and mobile device apps) from the mainstream 3D digital documentation and CAD modelling process. What hasn’t changed is the high level of skill and craftsmanship at all the stages of the design and production process that’s required to make really good 3D printed models.
The Digital Building Heritage Group has for a number of years been producing 3D printed architectural models for heritage interpretation and exhibition. Recently we were asked to produce a relatively large and very detailed 3D printed sectional model of the Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin of St Mary of the Annunciation in the Newarke for De Montfort University’s new heritage centre, a now lost historic royal chantry chapel which’ve blogged about before here. The model had to be sectional (down its long axis) so that visitors to the heritage centre could see the interior of the church and it had to be relatively large (0.5m / 1.6ft long and the same height) in order to adequately convey the architectural detail. The overall form of the church was pieced together digitally in 3D from available evidence using a quality control and authentication process which we recently presented at the Computer Applications in Archaeology 2015 (CAA2015) conference in Sienna in April this year. It then went through a preparation process where it was engineered to minimise the amount of material required and allow accurate jointing of its various components. The finished model is made out of resin bonded powdered gypsum with many of the detailed parts produced in 3D printed nylon. Presented in a custom made acrylic case with an American white oak base, we hope this model will be a useful and attractive asset in De Montfort University’s new Heritage Centre which will help to better explain an important, lost medieval building from the beginning of the University’s history.