Culloden Visitor Centre – Modern architecture meets contested heritage

Culloden Banner 3This is the first of two articles on Battlefield Heritage Centres. Opened during Scotland’s Year of Highland Culture in 2007 and designed by Hoskins Architects, the Culloden Visitor Centre in Scotland is a large and recent, bespoke heritage destination in Inverness-shire located adjacent to the eponymous battlefield where on 16 April 1746, the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart were decisively defeated by loyalist troops commanded by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland Two hundred and seventy years on in 2016 heritage aspects surrounding the Jacobite Risings in Britain are still contested. The consequences of this conflict for the many ordinary people in the highlands of Scotland were profound and long-lasting and are still with us today for example in calls for Scottish independence and land reform which remain hotly debated political issues. It’s therefore interesting to look at how this turning point in British history has been portrayed by the Scottish National Trust on the site where it occurred. The exhibition begins with a gallery explaining the political background of the Jacobite rising in 1745 and offers at its end an audio experience of the “Derby Council” the point at which the Jacobite army, having marched from Scotland down into middle England turn around and fall back to Scotland and the arguments that led to this action. There is further audio experience reflecting the “Night March” undertaken by the Jacobite army and this then leads onto a gallery looking at the protagonists immediately before the Battle of Culloden and their relative preparedness. There is a “Battle Immersion Theatre” and following this a “Battle Exploration Zone” where one can see original and reproduction artefacts, clothing and weapons from the battle itself and talk to staff demonstrating the use of some of them. 

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Digital heritage interpretation is certainly present here in a number of forms, most successfully at two points in this process, at the beginning and the end of the walk-through experience in projection mapping displays. The first tracks geographically the course of events of “the ’45” over Britain and its surrounding seas, the movement of forces and their relative numbers. The second, and much larger installation within the “Battle Exploration Zone” does the same for the course of the battle of Culloden itself, showing the lines of combatants as individuals in a birds-eye-view. These exhibits convey the facts of events as they occurred, in what could be at times a somewhat noisy and distracting environment but one which none-the-less has attractions for most age groups. The interiors of all of these galleries are quite dark, with very little or no natural light. While this may be a necessary expedient for conservation of the artefacts and some of the digital displays it does detach one from the architecture of the building and the historical landscape setting in which it rests.Culloden Banner 1

This changes when you emerge from the “Battlefield Exploration Zone and pass through glazed doors to the outside to view the “field.” Here you can turn around and examine the building itself, a long low structure recumbent in the landscape with long timber screen walls visually and physically separating the approach, car park and public entrance to the building from the battlefield. The design plays upon perspective, distance and lines, lines of battle, lines of sight, building lines and lines of barriers. A most successful aspect of this modern architecture is the use of traditional building materials, particularly stone, from the paving inside the building to the walls outside. It has a tactility and well-crafted precision which gives every indication that it’s going to weather well over the coming years and improve with age.

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This is a deliberate architectural palette of materials which echoes an important location only experienced when you do go outside. Huddled down at the end of a long screen wall about two hundred meters north from the main building is a 19th century rebuiding of one of the few inhabited structures that existed on the site in 1746, Old Leanach Cottage. Originally it was a turf walled bothy but after falling into ruin was rebuilt by Duncan Forbes the landowner in the 1880’s as part of his memorialisation of the battle site. What now exists is a cottage with reasonably authentic heather thatch and un-rendered, random rubble stonework walls.  It’s here that you begin to feel the reality of the events surrounding the Battle of Culloden, its authenticity, survival and resonance with today, not least because having emerged from the somewhat artificial environment of the exhibition you can see the Scotland of today, the distant hills of Wester-Ross and Sutherland behind the cottage to the north, with (on the day we visited) rolling clouds in a big sky above. The contrast is welcome.

Old Leanach Cottage

Going back into the exhibition building, the final gallery is the most poignant. It treats the aftermath of the battle, the long-term consequences for the victors and vanquished. On show are a few of the looted spoils from the defeated Jacobite baggage train, portraits of the two leaders in later life, a copy of the exiled Charles Edward Stuart’s death mask (there is another bronze version in Inverness Museum) along with prints of and texts about the harrowing of the highlanders which followed in the months and years after the battle. All of these and the other artefacts in this gallery focus the mind on the real cost of conflict, ideology and allegiance, themes which still have a contemporary relevance. Overall the visitor receives a reasonably balanced view of the competing factors which impelled the protagonists in the courses of action which they took, but it is clear that the tone of the exhibition is one of a battle (and a way of life) lost by the Jacobites rather than a battle won by the Scots Hanoverian forces. Having said this, although there were “winners” and “losers” – the exhibition does well to leave the visitor with the intuition that neither come out of the sorry business with any laudable moral compass. On the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden The Scottish National Trust are to be commended for the handling of this difficult subject on this beautiful countryside site with a modern building and an ambitious exhibition which I am sure will continue to evolve to reflect new insights and the changing frames of reference of a modern world.

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Posted in Battlefields, Jacobean Architecture, Museum Installations, Museum Installations, Projection Mapping, Scotland | Comments Off on Culloden Visitor Centre – Modern architecture meets contested heritage

Groam House Museum – Pictish Art in the Black Isle

Click on image to go to 3D interactive model. Left - The Rosmarkie Stone in Groam House Museum. Right - A photocaptured 3D digital model at low resolution of the stone in situ.

Click on image to go to 3D interactive model. Left – The Rosmarkie Stone in Groam House Museum. Right – A photocaptured 3D digital model at low resolution of the stone in situ.

A visit to Groam House museum ( ) is a rewarding experience if you have an interest in insular art or just a curiosity about local pre-history in the north of Scotland. Groam House Museum Ltd is a small independent, award-winning museum in the Black Isle village of Rosmarkie, fifteen miles north-east of Inverness in the UK. It displays an internationally important collection of Pictish sculptured art.  Of no small interest is the architecture of Groam House itself, a late 18th/early 19th century, 2 story, Grade ‘B’ listed structure (Historic Scotland Building ID: 31848). With its gable facing onto the street, a centre door flanked by 12-pane sash and case windows at ground and first floor levels and the exterior walls covered in traditional whitewashed lime-harl under a slate roof this is a gloriously typical example of a respectable Scottish tradespersons house which, after extensive restoration following a fire in 1978 has found a new use as a heritage hub at the centre of its community. The centrepiece of the museum’s exhibition on its ground floor is the Rosemarkie Stone, carved around the year 800 AD and there are fourteen other fascinating examples of this kind of insular art in their display, all mainly from the 7th to the 9th century.

Groam House Exterior (small)The Rosmarkie Stone is unusual in that the side of the slab with a well-formed Celtic cross on it is also covered with very fine ornamented patterns, a regular interlace on the upper half and arrangements of animal ornament on the lower (image top left). On the reverse (image top right) in the middle of the slab is a panel containing a cross with equal arms – which is quite unique. The top of the slab has been lost but originally on the reverse side it is supposed to have had three crescent symbols and their associated V-shaped rods, only two of these now remain. There are other symbols, the “Double Disk and Z Rod” and the “Mirror” and the “Comb” and rather than the traditional hunting scene which is common in Pictish slabs of this type there is a Christian cross. Parallels have been drawn with Northumbrian illuminated manuscripts and it seems likely that this particular devotional or memorial art-work was produced in an ecclesiastical setting where the governance was episcopal rather than aristocratic hence the absence of a hunting scene. Like a number of the other cross slabs on display at Groam House the Rosemarkie Stone has recessed panels on its face at the crossing of the crucifix which are edged with a border, and similar, shallower cavities at the centre of each arm. These depressions may have contained decorative glass or stone inlays and may have given the appearance of metalwork crosses in jewellery of the period. Because of the low degree of weathering of the stone surface on this 1200 year old artefact it is likely that for much of its life it was indoors, possibly within a church, and if so it could have formed a reredos at the back of an altar or had a position in the centre of the nave in front of the sanctuary. Despite the large number of ecclesiastical Pictish stone carvings found in and around Rosmarkie there is as yet no sign of the monastic buildings or church compound with which they may have been associated, however it was likely that there was one and that it was part of the Columban federation of churches whose main bases were on Iona on the west coast and Lindisfarne on the east coast.  It is possible that the site of Rosemarkie’s church or monastery has long since been covered by the later village. The first systematic account of the slab is in John Stuart’s Sculptured Stones of Scotland published in 1856. Stuart published a handsome, if somewhat inaccurate, double-page spread depicting the front and back of the slab. Prof. Isabel Henderson in her “Art and Function of Rosmemarkie’s Pictish Monuments” (1990) states that she believes “There is a strong probability that the cross-slab stood originally somewhere within the confines of the modern graveyard.” It is therefore possible that further evidence of the presence of a Celtic ecclesiastical establishment exists beneath the present church and its grounds.

Overall the collection at Groam House is distinguished by its generally high standard of artistic representation and inventiveness. Its sources are of some architectural interest. The art of carving in relief appears to have been lost in Northern England after the departure of the Roman army from the British Isles in the 5th century. In order to construct masonry churches in Northumbria masons had to be brought from Gaul in the 7th century AD because there remained only a tradition of timber building in the north. The beautifully decorated jambs on the doorway at Monkwearmouth built in 674 AD are of a Germanic type which may reflect this introduction. An impressive cross marked slab at Monkwearmouth dedicated to one Herebericht is dated to the early 8th century and it’s at just this time that the Pictish king Nechtan, son of Derile was in communication with Bede’s abbot Ceolfrith of Jarrow and “…asked for builders to be sent to build a church of stone…promising that it would be dedicated in honour of the blessed chief of the apostles [St. Peter].” It’s likely this church was eventually built at Restenneth near Forfar in the early 8th century and if introduction of masons led to stone church building in Pictland then it’s likely Northumbrian artistic decoration (including monumental sculpture) came with it, leading within a generation or two to a diffusion of this artistic tradition within the pre-existing Pictish arts. Evidence to support this view is that Restenneth is close to Aberlemno which has an outstanding concentration of Pictish sculpture. The early cross-slab (Aberlemno 2) in the Aberlemno Churchyard has the same proportion (height to width) as the Herebericht slab and has carved designs very similar to those found in the Lindisfarne Gospels which date to circa 700 AD. The stone is reputed to show scenes of the Battle of Dunnichen or Nechtansmere. This is usually believed to have taken place at Dunnichen, four miles south of Aberlemno, on 20 May 685. The battle was fought between the invading army of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria and Pictish defenders under King Bridei III. The battle was a decisive victory for the Picts.

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Details of the relief carving on the Rosemarkie Stone.

The Rosemarkie cross slab which is 144 miles north of Restenneth, has more slender proportions which indicate that it is later than Aberlemno 2 which would conform to a view of initial northward propagation of Northumbrian-Celtic sculptural tradition from 700-800AD, and very probably the architecture of church building in stone progressed in the same way at the same time as well.  This was not a one way traffic, there was widespread communication between Pictland the rest of Britain, Ireland and the continent. Within this context Prof. Isabel Henderson sums up the wider importance of the Rosemarkie stone and others like it thus; “Because the Irish and the English sent missionaries to Germany in the eighth century, Insular Art was known on the Continent and interacted with the art produced at the court of Charlemagne. The Rosemarkie slab in spite of its array of uniquely Pictish symbols is a Christian monument decorated in an international art style…it would not have seemed alien or barbaric to a visitor from Canterbury or Ravenna in the ninth century.” This international dimension to the understanding of later Pictish sculpture like the Rosmarkie stone highlights a vitally important role regional museums like Groam House play in preserving and explaining the rich creative, cultural legacy early British art and architecture has within a wider European context.

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Medieval “Lantern of the North” gets LED Projection Mapping

IMG_5502 small JPGThe opening of a new exhibition by Historic Scotland on Good Friday 2016 at Elgin cathedral was an opportunity to see arguably the best collection of medieval architectural sculpture in Scotland and one which has been inaccessible to the public for over twenty years. It was too good an opportunity to miss and we were not disappointed. Presented in a sensitive and imaginative series of displays in the chambers of the two surviving west towers of the cathedral the climb up the spiral stairs between the several chambers in which this permanent exhibition is now housed is amply rewarded by the plethora of sculptures – there are approximately 126 in the collection as a whole. Well considered LED artificial lighting brings the human and animal figures and faces to life, not just statically but in one case using projection mapping. This is used here for the tomb effigy of Bishop Archibald a 13th-century bishop of Moray (1253-98). Researchers at Napier University have designed and built an enclosed and highly effective projection mapping display which shows the paint colour scheme that the tomb effigy would originally have had. This reconstruction was based on paint samples which are still visible on the surviving stone. The effect is remarkably vivid – the colours are very bright. The opportunity has also been taken to exploit the animative potential of projection mapping and show the figure in various stages of weathering and to highlight areas of interest, including parts that have been replaced or are missing. For a young audience, the blinking eyes of the effigy under the projection mapping display are a surprising treat! Historic Scotland have had all the stones professionally photographed in detail and these images have been used to create a digital database of the entire collection which visitors can explore on the ground floor of the North West tower.

Head and detail of the LED projection onto Bishop Archibald's tomb effigy at Elgin Cathedral.

Head and detail of the LED projection onto Bishop Archibald’s tomb effigy at Elgin Cathedral.

Started in 1224 Elgin Cathedral was a powerhouse of Catholic faith in the north of Scotland and was lavishly enriched with architectural and ecclesiastical ornament.  Archibald became Bishop in 1253 and for 20 years he managed his dioceses quietly. However in 1270 a fire broke out which devastated the cathedral and the cannons’ houses. Archibald rebuilt the cathedral and expanded it, and he chose a prime location for his own tomb, in the choir, close the high altar where he was placed on his death in 1298. His tomb effigy under the projection mapping shows Bishop Archibald with a jewelled mitre, kneeling angels supporting his head on a decorated cushion, a red cope painted to show folds and with a black geometric pattern in the lining and a full length tunic under the cope decorated with a floral pattern and on his hands embroidered silk gloves.

Typical example of one of the exhibtion installations in the towers of Elgin cathedral.

Typical example of one of the exhibtion installations in the towers of Elgin cathedral.

Ninety years later the cathedral was infamously sacked and burned in 1390 by Alexander Stewart the Earl of Buchan also known as the “Wolf of Badenoch” in revenge for Bishop Alexander Bur (1362-97) excommunicating him. It was rebuilt and attacked again in 1402 by Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles. Elgin’s position near the edge of the Highlands was a major problem in the later middle ages. The last major building work was the re-modelling of the chapter house by Bishop Andrew Stewart (1482-1501). The Reformation Parliament of 1560 began the decline of the cathedral, worship was moved to the local parish church of St Giles, the lead roofing was stripped from the cathedral in 1567-8 and 70 years later in December 1637 the choir blew down in a gale and the rood screen was broken up for firewood. The central tower collapsed on Easter Sunday 1711. The stone sculptures laid buried as debris until the 1880’s which accounts for their marvellously crisp detail. The west towers and chapter house remained roofed and form part of the most magnificent ecclesiastical ruin in the north of Scotland but one which now boasts a superb exhibition of medieval sculptural art thanks to Historic Scotland. Elgin is 3 ¾ hours’ drive north of Edinburgh or just over 4 hours on the train.

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A quick 3D Photocapture of a green man sculpture at Elgin Cathedral's medieval sculpted stones exhibition.

Click on image for 3D interactive model. A quick 3D Photo-capture of a green man sculpture at Elgin Cathedral’s medieval sculpted stones exhibition.

Posted in Archaeology, Churches and Ecclesiatical, Medieval, Museum Installations, Museum Installations, Photogrammetry, Projection Mapping, Scotland | Comments Off on Medieval “Lantern of the North” gets LED Projection Mapping

Guerilla Photogrammetry

   Christ head Banner #5-1Photogrammetry has garnered much publicity recently as a means of capturing 3D data about heritage assets and here at the Digital Building Heritage Group we’ve been using it professionally for a number of years to do this. For much of this time it has been a highly specialised process but recent advances in technology such as tiny, very high resolution cameras in modern mobile phones and the availability of reliable and free-to-use software like Autodesk’s 123D CATCH has brought the technique well within the reach of everyone who has a modern mobile phone and an internet connection. This is the theory at least but from experience with our architecture students studying digital reconstruction of historic buildings we’ve seen that in reality the process can be more complex than this, requiring considerable care and planning to achieve high quality, exhibition ready results that have real usefulness. We routinely use a high quality 35mm digital SLR and the industry standard Agisoft PhotoScan for creating high quality 3D point clouds, Triangulated Irregular Network (TIN) meshes and Digital Surface Models (DTM’s) for our digital models and 3D prints and this an excellent software package for doing so. It does come with price tag which can place it beyond the amateur or student user’s reach so we thought we’d look at how easy it was for this sector of the user community to engage with photogrammetry and the kind of results they could hope to achieve. For this we turned to the most commonly available form of cameras – mobile phones – and Autodesk’s 123D CATCH, a free-to-use photogrammetry package. Autodesk’s blurb says that 123D CATCH “….captures places, people and things in 3D using your Windows Phone or Mobile device, iPhone, iPad, Android device, or any camera. Share your catches, or 3D print a real object!” We thought we’d test the voracity of this claim by using an ordinary iPhone and a visit to cathedral and see what could be achieved. A day out at Lincoln Cathedral provided a typical user opportunity to grab some tourist snaps of the architecture using an iPhone 6S. In the north aisle it also provided the opportunity to walk round a stone copy of a medieval Christs head sculpture which was on a table display and take 21 photographs of it over a period of about 3 minutes in a roughly structured double circuit of the object, the first circuit at a low level, the second circuit at a higher level. The resulting photos, taken with the autofocus and auto lighting compensation activated in the phone’s software but without flash were all reasonable quality and good resolution, more as a result of the 12 megapixel camera within the phone than any great skill on the user’s part. Triangulated facePhotogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs, especially for recovering the exact positions of surface points and is a technique which is enjoying increasing popularity in the arts and creative design sector for the digital capture of 3D objects and scenes. These then are most often manipulated as 3D models for use in architecture, product design and engineering, performance art, fine art and conservation. The underlying method of creating a 3D mesh of surface points is actually called stereo photogrammetry. It involves estimating the three-dimensional coordinates of points on an object by making measurements in two or more photos of the same thing but taken from different positions. Common points are identified on each image. Methods related to triangulation, trilateration and multidimensional scaling are used to calculate the relative x,y,z positions of the camera and the points on the object. These can then be aggregated to reconstruct the 3D form of the object using the points identified on its surface. There are a number of good pieces of photogrammetry software available which do this and a great deal more, including capturing bit-maps of the object’s surface and “wrapping” them as textures onto the 3D mesh to give the model a lifelike appearance. Some programs like Acute3D’s Smart3DCapture, now part of Bentley Systems and renamed ContextCapture, Pix4Dmapper, Photoscan, 123D Catch, Bundler toolkit, PIXDIM, and Photosketch have been made to allow people to quickly make 3D models using this photogrammetry method. Irrespective of which is used, it’s likely that there will be gaps in the resulting mesh where data was not available or could not be calculated from the photos so additional work on the mesh with software like MeshLab, netfabb or MeshMixer is often still necessary to create whole, “water-tight” models. We use NetFabb Pro ( ), and occasionally Magics ( ) for cleaning up the the .obj files which Autodesk’s 123D CATCH produces. Once they have been cleaned up (“fixed”) they are exported as STL files for 3D printing.

Texture Maps #1Back at the Office the 21 pictures taken of the Christs Head at Lincoln Cathedral were uploaded to Autodesk’s 123D CATCH software (this software is free to download here – ) just as one might do at home or even by Wi-Fi from your phone (there’s an app of course for this). The processing of the images once they were uploaded was straightforward and took about 4 minutes. The resulting OBJ file was pretty good, with what we’d describe as a medium resolution mesh density. It had only a few extraneous bits of mesh to be cut away and of course a hole underneath where the object’s underside had been sitting on a table and so could not be photographed. We used NetFabb Pro to fix this OBJ file by cutting away unwanted mesh of the table etc. and filling any holes and scaling it to the size of the original. We then used a hollowing function in Netfabb Pro (not available in the free version) to void the inside of the object and give it a 4mm wall thickness, and cut an access aperture in the back of the model where it would not be seen so allowing the interior of the hollowed out model to be inspected. To create a 3D print it’s not strictly necessary to do this but it greatly reduces the amount of material used and so reduces the cost. Normally we would print this ourselves but we wanted to be true to the experiment and recognised that most people do not have a 3D printer at home (yet), so we sent the finished model as an STL to our friends at John E Wright in Nottingham ( ) who have a public 3D printing bureau service using Makerbot Replicator Z18’s ( ). Anyone can use this commercial service. A couple of days later the 3D printed model arrived at our office. The resolution of the model reflects the relatively quick capture method, the medium level of TIN resolution automatically applied by 123D CATCH and the 0.5mm resolution of the Makerbot 3D printer. This is a cheap, quick model, using widely and publically available resources. Because of this we think the workflow we tried here makes a useful teaching demonstration of Photogrammetry 3D capture and 3D printing of artefacts and this is what we’re using it for. The resulting 3D print is interesting and so are the questions it raises about what you would do with this capability at this level of resolution beyond instruction.IMG_4943 #2 small

Posted in Churches and Ecclesiatical, Medieval, Photogrammetry | Comments Off on Guerilla Photogrammetry

Projection Mapping and Medieval Virtual Reality

PJ Banner 2Over the past couple of months we’ve been examining a range of delivery methods for historic building reconstruction visualisations beyond apps and on-screen video fly-throughs, in particular for museum and exhibition settings. A couple of techniques have been of particular interest, projection mapping and VR headsets. Projection mapping also known as video mapping and spatial augmented reality is not a new technique, it’s been used widely for projecting images and particularly polychromy reconstructions onto real buildings at 1:1 scale for some time. However as far as we can determine it’s been little used in conjunction with 3D printed heritage exhibition models, which is something we thought would be worth exploring. Our intern Romylos created a polychrome reconstruction of the internal south wall of the nave of the St. Mary of Annunciation 3D printed model we made last year for the De Montfort University Heritage Centre to try out the technique. With the assistance of collages at the Heritage Centre Romylos carried out some tests, in situ in the exhibition with a micro-projector to see what the projected polychrome elevation would look like and examine the practical issues of this kind of projection within a live exhibition setting. In low light conditions the overall effect was remarkably effective with an ability to switch easily between alternative polychrome reconstructions within the same 3D printed model. It’s also possible to project video instead of still images and animate the projected surfaces which has a number of narrative possibilities. At a technical level beam divergence does not appear to be a significant issue on sectional models like this where the variation in projection plane is relatively small, nor does transmission loss or diffraction through a layer of 5mm Perspex case cause any noticeably deleterious effects, though focus has to be precise, and the flatter the sectional model the better. Of greater issue are foreground obstructions within the model itself which if not accounted for the in the composition of the projected image will, when illuminated have the wrong surface image and will cast a shadow behind them (e.g. see the tombs and altar to left of model in the image above). Overcoming this requires careful thought in designing the model and the projected images together so that complement one another.

VR headset banner 1 smallFor the same reconstructed church we’ve also been using a Samsung Gear VR headset, to create 3D virtual interiors. It uses a Samsung Galaxy S6 Flat 128 GB SIM-Free Smartphone to deliver the sphere photo / render of the 3D environment and you can have a connected series of locations which you can navigate through using a slider on the side of the set. This is a relatively low cost, accessible and well-understood way for users to engage with VR and delivers a remarkably convincing immersive experience for the cost. The key factor in the experience beyond the content of the image is the screen resolution of the phone, the Galaxy S6 has a screen resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels (~577 ppi pixel density) which is good by current mobile phone standards, but you’re still conscious that you’re looking at a digital image because although they are small, the pixels are still detectable. It’s very likely that continuing improvements in phone screen resolution will overcome this in the next couple of years just as flat screen technology has done in other applications. As it stands, it’s the immersive 360 degree real-time interaction with the virtual environment which is a significant attraction to users and consequently for heritage visitor experiences that are considering adopting it. From being a novel technology 3-4 years ago, with prices to match VR headsets are now rapidly approaching something that could be described as mainstream, and the technologies comprising its immediate on-site use are becoming much more integrated and mature. Given this we are looking carefully at the methodological and epistemological issues which bear upon how and why to employ these technologies for presenting and understanding heritage buildings, what effects the technology may have upon that understanding and whether other alternatives may be more appropriate in certain circumstances. In particular we are interested in the institutional, museological, operational and interprative advantages that hybridised approaches using both tangible exhibits like 3D printed models and digital assets like 3D VR interiors can bring to heritage interpretation.

Posted in 3D Digital Modelling, 3D Printing, Churches and Ecclesiatical, Medieval, Museum Installations, Museum Installations, Projection Mapping, Textures and Rendering | Comments Off on Projection Mapping and Medieval Virtual Reality

Architecture Students Study Heritage in Malta

Banner 1 smallThis month (January 2016) De Montfort University architecture students specialising in Digital Building Heritage spent a week on an overseas study trip to Malta. Based in Vittoriosa the oldest part of the historic Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, the field trip was an opportunity to explore the architecture and history of a well preserved medieval urban fabric and the profusion of baroque churches palazzos and streets both here and across the bay in Valetta. Fortunately the weather was very good, sunny with outdoor temperatures of 18 degrees centigrade which encouraged extensive exploration on foot. This is one of the great advantages of the City of Valetta and the Three Cities, everything is very walkable, even the water taxi/ferry between Cospicua and Valetta only takes ten minutes. The students will be working on architectural designs to adaptively re-use sites and derelict buildings in Vittoriosa over the next five months with all of their  schemes addressing present day social and economic needs in the area. In order to better undertsand the complex cultural and phyiscal context they were exploring they visited a number of historic sites with heritage presentation facilities; the maritime museum, the inquisitors palace, the archaeology museum and the Palazzo Rocca Piccola. This latter was one of the high points of the visit, a private Palazzo, still in use and completely furnished. We are most grateful to Frances Elizabeth the 9th Marquise de Piro for providing Victoria, our marvellous guide and for saying hello to us.

Banner 2Of course another high point of a visit to Valetta is the remarkable St. John’s Co-Cathedral, established, like Valetta itself by the Knights of St. John with donations from 16th and 17th century aristocrats from all over Europe. Attracting highly talented artists (including Caravaggio) the Co-Catherdal is an extraordinarily exuberant example of the baroque (on the interior – the exterior is plain), housing chapels for the eight Langues of the Knights of St. John as well the tombs of the Grand Masters, vast ceiling and wall paintings by Mattia Preti, the largest collegion of Flemish tapestries in the world as well as fine collections of church silver and vestments. The sheer richness of the interior, the density of art, sculpture, architectural enrichment and artefacts is breathtaking.

Banner 3 smallValetta was a planned city, established by the Knights after their heroic and successful defense of the Three Cities during the Great Siege against the Ottoman Turks. Fortifications are everywhere, built by the knights and then later added to and adapted by the British Navy for whom Valetta and the Great Harbour was the home base of the Mediterranean fleet for nearly 200 years. This produces an architecturally fascinating topography, great defensive ditches and walls criss-cross the urban landscape, punctuated by star-forts, bastions and batteries all interwoven around a complex of peninsulas and harbours. As such Vittoriosa and the three cities is changing, for some time economically depressed, it has in recent years been undergoing a transformation with European Union investment in roads, infrastructure, tourism and conservation. Recently twinned with St. Tropez, Vittoriosa has the feel of a historic city in transition, shaping a new future for itself. Adapting and re-using historic buildings and sites in such a way that the uniqueness of its physical fabric and its lively and colourful culture is preserved for future generations has to be the most important guiding principle of any new development. De Montfort University’s architecture students were deeply impressed with the need for this approach and the insights this UNESCO World Heritage Site brings to their education.

Vissoriaso Waterfront from Senglea (small)

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3D Printing Architectural Models in ABS

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For the past six years we’ve been making architectural models using our Z-Corp 420 and 650 3D printers which use resin boned powdered gypsum as the build material which are then treated with a hardener. This produces fine white, exhibition quality architectural models but the process can be laborious, time-consuming and the models, like all plaster models will break if you drop them. We’ve also made models in ABS using our Dimension SST 1200 FDM machine which requires a support material and we’ve made paper models using our MCor. Recently we’ve been experimenting with Makerbot 3D Printers, printing with 1.7mm ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) extruding at about 225 degrees C that doesn’t require support materials. We had our Makerbot supplier John E Wright in Nottingham print a sample model for us on the latest Makerbot Replicator Z18 to evaluate the finish and usability of its output, using an STL file digital model of a 17th century design by Nicholas Hawksmoor which we made a few years ago. The results have been encouraging and we think this process is particularly good for architecture students where robust and cheap 3D models are needed in design development and sometimes for mechanical parts. It’s also ideal for product design, interior design and museum exhibition design students.

For our purposes in Digital Building Heritage ABS as a material is useful because it’s durable and inert, it’s also soluble in acetone allowing us to weld parts together and assemble much larger models than the admittedly large bed of the printer can accommodate (305L x 305W x 457H build chamber). ABS is much more easily recyclable than PLA and it’s inexpensive, very much less expensive than the Z-Corp print powder we use. ABS is also tough, you can drop it, saw, sand and file it, and overall it’s ideal for our postgraduate students making models of historic buildings and their interiors. On the downside, even with an ABS filament size of 1.7mm, the striations on the finished models are visible but we feel that a little time hand finishing, filling and smoothing where necessary can overcome this. We have considered PLA as an alternative thermoplastic material (it’s made using plant by products) and the Z18 will use it, but its main disadvantage for us is its low deformation point (it can deform in temperatures as low as 40 deg C, a house radiator can be at 60 deg C), so we wouldn’t want to take the risk in say an exhibition setting where a cased, highly illuminated model can get quite warm. We think our results have been encouraging and we’ll be looking to explore the potential of this low-cost form of 3D printing for a number of uses.

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Bradgate House Digital Reconstruction

Bradgate House BookletArchitecture students at De Montfort University are in the process of developing a digital reconstruction of Bradgate House in Leicestershire. This important early Tudor manor house (actually a minor palace by Tudor standards) has a complex architectural past, with several phases of building and the documented re-use of even earlier thirteenth century timber framed buildings brought from Derbyshire. Careful study of the documentary and archaeological evidence as well as the extant ruins and more complete examples of buildings from the same period elsewhere in the midlands have allowed a structured, evidence based reconstruction that starts to tell a rather more interesting story about the house’s past than has perhaps been fully realised. The existing ruins of the house were laser scanned using the latest techniques to create a very detailed digital data set of their physical form. This was the basis of the reconstruction using computer aided design techniques and through showing small changes in alignment and shape of walls and rooms has suggested new ideas about the sequence of construction and the reasons for changes during the long evolution of the building. Of particular interest is the relationship that the designs of Bradgate House have had to the wider development of early Tudor palace and manor house building in the first half of the sixteenth century in England, and the influence that renaissance ideas from France, the low countries and Italy had upon ideas about how English aristocrats should live and the houses they should build for themselves. The work that the De Montfort University architecture students are doing is helping to test some of those ideas by giving them physical form and examining how well understood design processes used by master builders and patrons elsewhere in the period may have been used at Bradgate and to what extent they may have been modified and / or adapted to cope with changes in the circumstances and finances of the Grey Family who owned Bradgate Park and built Bradgate House.

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Lutyens and the Leicester Arch of Remembrance

Leicester Arch (Small)The 11th November 2015 marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice which brought the First World War to an end in 1918. In a timely act of governance the UK the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport The Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP has listed or had the existing listings upgraded of all 44 of Sir Edwin Lutyens’s war memorials in the UK. This is a long overdue measure of protection to some of the finest architecture and memorial sculpture in the world. We are very fortunate to have one of the best (and largest) of these memorials here in the City of Leicester in the form of the Arch of Remembrance in Victoria Park, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate the nearly 10,000 men of the city and county who fell in the Great War. It was unveiled on 3rd July 1925 after a long campaign of fund-raising and changes of potential site. It’s a remarkable demonstration of what has been described as “Stripped Classism”, a style of architecture which Lutyens made his own and perfectly reflected the sense of loss and emptiness felt by British society in the years after 1918. But Lutyens was more than just a memorialist, he was a profoundly gifted and ingenious designer, obsessed with puzzles and blessed with a fertile and mathematically inclined mind as well as an artist’s eye. For many years after his death in 1945, it was widely understood that he had used mathematical methods and proportional systems of great complexity and intricacy to create his architecture, including his war memorials but no-one knew, in detail, what these actually were. In 2008 the late Professor Dennis Radford and me (Douglas Cawthorne) of the Digital Building Heritage Group at De Montfort University published the first in-depth analysis of Lutyens’s mathematics and geometrical methods using Leicester’s Arch of Remembrance as a case study, in a paper in the journal ARQ called – Unlocking Lutyens: A Gateway to the Hidden Legacy of John Pell and Sir Christopher Wren. Through careful analysis and computer modelling we were able to show precisely how Lutyens used an elegantly simple numerical and geometrical system to achieve a beautifully balanced design which was redolent with inbuilt symbolism and connections to antiquity, in particular the temple of Janus in Rome. The magazine Leicestershire and Rutland life was kind enough to allow us to draw their readers’ attention to these observations about the Arch’s connections to antiquity in their December 2007 edition. In a two page article for the first time I noted the solar alignment of Lutyens’s Arch of Remembrance but regrettably the editors could not find space to show the photos of it. Sunrise at Leicester War Memorial Banner (Small)A couple of years ago I was talking with someone who said to me that they’d heard that this alignment was just an urban myth and of course I realised it was my fault, I’d neglected to publish any confirmatory evidence on this aspect of the Arch. So here’s some for you to mull over (see above), both were images taken just after sunrise on 11th November 2007. It was in that year (2007) that I’d first accurately measured and photographed this remarkable solar alignment and on a couple years after this I have been back to Leicester’s Arch at sunrise (07:18-32 am GMT) on the 11th November, long before any of the crowds arrive for the memorial services to watch the sun burst above the horizon and shine directly down the main axis of the Leicester Arch. When the weather permits (and this sadly infrequent) it’s a deeply moving experience, eerily still and life affirming, with the light of a new dawn casting long shadows down Lancaster Road and Peace Walk.  But I hear you say, the sunburst is actually slightly out of alignment! Well the reason as you will quickly see, is that the trees on the south side of Victoria Park in Leicester were either absent or much smaller in 1925 and so the effective horizon was lower than it is today. Trees and possibly buildings have increased the vertical distance from the horizontal of the effective horizon since then, actual rather than astronomical sunrise is delayed very slightly now from what it would have been then by about 4 minutes and just over 2 degrees of azimuth (horizontal distance – in this case West – to the right of the image). The Arch was aligned with sunrise on the 11th of November which anyone could have seen from the site in 1925. Today I do not think the 2 degree difference makes that much difference to the overall effect but I could be wrong. Maybe if the trees could be “pruned” we could find out for sure! In any event I like to think of Sir Edwin, standing in a long coat against the morning chill with pipe in mouth and pocket book in hand, quietly noting this unique aspect of the site, the only place in the city where it could occur. I also like to think it’s why he picked it and I’m delighted that this and his other WW1 memorials now enjoy the protection they deserve and that future generations will continue to be moved by their form, beauty, detail and meaning.Wreath Colour Small

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On the Road – Architectural History and Student Field Trips

DBHG MA Album Cover Country #1 smallIt’s the beginning of another exciting academic year with the Digital Building Heritage Group at De Montfort University and we have a great programme of field trips which is now under way for our LSA MArch Architecture students to historic houses and sites in the East Midlands of England and beyond. This term we have a late medieval and Tudor theme, examining great halls, brick-making, kitchens, moats and renaissance influences on early modern English architecture. A long day last week saw staff and students driving up to Lincolnshire with a morning stop at the National Trust’s Tattershall Castle to see the extraordinary early Flemish brickwork of the donjon and the sheer scale of Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell and Treasurer of England’s architectural ambition between 1430 and 1450. At a time when the English nobility were aspiring to more comfortable, continental modes of living but were still part of an unstable society where civil warfare was the norm, Tattersall was the epitome of a powerful noble house that was both more comfortable than an earlier medieval fortification and yet still defensible. Importing Flemish brick-makers and building techniques (but with English masons carving the fireplaces in stone) it was also fashionably advanced, and set a style that would be copied over the next 100 years. Brick had an aesthetic appeal but had practical advantages over stone in speed of construction and availability in areas where good building stone was in short supply. A brick kiln or clamp of the period could fire 100,000 bricks in a week, and a couple of months of firing over the winter could keep a summer crew of masons and bricklayers occupied for six months on a large project like this.

Tattershall Banner #1 smallIts real glory is the peristyle on the roof, which immediately suggets a very English version the cortille of an Itallian renaissance palazzo. Although very heavily restored in the 1920’s the possibilities of this are historically intriguing.

In the afternoon the destination was English Hertitage’s Gainsborough Old Hall, via the ancient city of Lincoln, to see the mid 15th century Great hall, original kitchens and private rooms in near as-built condition as it’s possible to experience in England. As with any survival of this kind Gainsborough Old Hall has been added to and changed over the years but its th fact that there is so much that has survived from its original form that is interesting, such that’s it’s relatively easy to appreciate how it would have looked in 1460 when it was built by Sir Thomas Burgh. This is particularly true of the kitchens which are a very rare survival, complete with roof, lantern, fireplaces and ovens. One of the nice things about English Heritage’s treatment is the furnishings and exhibition of clothing and tableware. This really does lend much to the atmosphere and makes it far easier to imagine the place inhabited. Of course accretions like this are never a snapshot in time but an amalgam of various periods but if one accepts this the overall impression is generally convincing, informative and dare one suggest, entertaining.

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