The Life of Buildings

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: The Manchester School of Architecture

Abstract

This idea centres on the digital preservation of the walls and rooms of our cities. Cities change, they have to, it's what they do. Without development cities are petrified, stultified and can become thematised versions of themselves. Development is not without its sensitivities and often involves passionate protest about preservation of buildings, vistas and space. The statutory listing process is frequently invoked in an attempt to prevent development. In some senses this may be construed as a misuse of legislation designed to preserve the best of our built heritage. Last minute attempts to save buildings under threat of demolition through listing often falter and a usual outcome is a clause in the planning approval that an archaeological record is made. This record may include a measured survey, a photographic survey and cursory written reports of the cultural history of the site. Three-dimensional surveys are frequently used only to produce two-dimensional records. Such records are hard to access and, in technological terms, are a limited means of representing lost artefacts. These records also fail to represent the cultural heritage value to the people and communities that experienced the buildings. Traditional archaeological reports are a poor vehicle for accessing the intangible heritage of place-based memories, stories and personal histories.
Imagine being able to encounter a building on a street where the building no longer exists, but once stood. Imagine being able to enter that building and to walk through its spaces and hear the stories hidden in its walls. A 3D virtual model could contain surviving architectural drawings of the buildings, digitised from archive sources - a viewer could walk at a scale of 1:1 through the architectural drawings;. It could host still images embedded within the model; it could carry oral histories literally within its walls. This project imagines the creation of a model that can recreate a rich and layered version of a building and bring it to life through the collation of social, cultural, technical and visual archival sources. A building that becomes more than the sum of its parts and has more to impart than it ever did when it was 'alive'.
The digital reproduction of three-dimensional space takes many characters and can be produced through a multitude of methods. Buildings can be modelled in detail exclusively in CAD software and rendered to produce highly realistic images; images of buildings can be mapped onto simple virtual 3D forms; multiple two-dimensional images can be interpreted by software to create 3D versions; laser scanning can produce materially rich representations of both exterior and interior environments. In this research we aim to investigate the range of methods to ascertain which might be the best in pursuit of our broader aim to produce virtual models of buildings that are also a repository for other cultural histories, such as oral testimony and memories. We are interested in the design, aesthetics and usability of such an interface and, as such, will carefully assess each existing method and its suitability for the onward development of mixed-reality experiences that are geo-located and can host other forms of media.
As well as investigating a range of methods for the recording and reproduction of space the project seeks to draw together and represent existing archival records in a rich, contextualised and accessible format. With our project partners, The Modernist Society and Archives+ at Manchester Central Reference Library, we aim to realise proof of concept through the virtual reproduction of a synagogue currently scheduled for demolition as part of a new development in central Manchester. We will collate existing archival images, recordings and drawings as well as inviting new contributions from the public to share their memories and and artefacts related to the site.

Planned Impact

This work aims to impact in five major areas: the planning and development sector, in built environment heritage, in digital humanities, in archive services and in heritage collections.
PUBLIC POLICY
We will influence new policy in the planning system to enable the recording of intangible place-based heritage. The existing planning system and the conditions attached to development often include a demand to survey and record the site or building to be developed or demolished. This project aims to create a new method for this often statutory undertaking and to enliven the outcomes to ensure that the surveys act as a lively and accessible version of the past.
PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
We will create a market for a new professional service that combines archaeology, history and urbanism through mixed-reality digital means. Our project partners, Oxford Archaeology, recognise the lack of imaginative applications attached to the sophisticated 3-D records they currently generate. Traditional archaeological services in the planning system will be enhanced and developed to include the production of VR models with the capacity to host digitised archive holdings usually confined to references in reports.
ACADEMIC & NON ACADEMIC COOPERATION
We will forge new academic approaches to cross-disciplinary working through digital platforms. In order to realise this research we have drawn on the fields of archaeology, architecture, geography and computer science and will be working with a Community Interest Company, a public body and a charity. The proposed output will combine the input and expertise of all of the project partners in a new model for public and private sector collaboration.
CULTURAL
We will provide new opportunities for the public dissemination of museum collections. This project allows for the digital curation and live experience of archive holdings in image, audio and film, to become part of an accessible virtual experience and to allow new audiences to engage with historical material in exciting ways.
SOCIAL
We will engender new community relations in the act of remembering. The act of collecting the oral histories attached to the building case study will bring together users of the synagogue with Archives+, the Modernist Society and the Jewish Museum and forge new relations from the memory of the synagogue.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Dr. Richard Brook, Dr. Kevin Tan, a computer scientist and Dr. Ben Edwards, an archaeologist have led the project from Manchester Metropolitan University. The funding allowed us to work with Oxford Archaeology North, who have considerable experience in drone based photography and its conversion into three-dimensional models, using a technique called photogrammetry.

The funding also allowed us to develop a relationship with Fablr, a digital agency, who will help us share this project and partner in its subsequent development. It has let Richard, Ben and Kevin bring their specialisms together in the study, recording and representation of this building. As an architectural historian, most of Richard's work is archival and in the field. Ben has used photogrammetry techniques and crowd sourced data to recreate Neolithic monuments in virtual 3D. Kevin is an expert in games design and VR. The Modernist Society have delved into the social history of the building and Archives+, Manchester Central Reference Library has provided unlimited access to the materials they hold.

The digital output of the project is twofold - a website, which will continue to act as a way to share its onward development, and a VR experience, best encountered in a headset, but accessible via web platforms. Both the website and the VR are intended as repositories for digital and digitised information from a range of sources. Of course, making digital copies of maps, photos, plans, audio and film and presenting them online is not new, the site is intended as a record of this activity. What is new however, is the idea of hosting digital material within the same 3D space as the building.
Exploitation Route The VR app as developed is a prototype for the types of mixed-reality experiences we might expect to encounter in the future, especially in the built environment. We have been in close consultation with Ordnance Survey's digital team and the engineers Arup about further partnerships to address the technical gaps outlined above. The use of an operable MR version of the idea has countless commerical and heritage applications in the (virtual) built environment.
Sectors Construction,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.thelifeofbuildings.org.uk/about-the-project/
 
Description The community of the synagogue that was used as our test case have a digital record of their building. The VR experience was launched at an event attended by over 120 members of the community and those interested in post-war architecture. As PI I have been asked to advise on projects with similar problems in realtion to the capture of buildings in VR.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Partners 
Organisation Allen Archaeology Ltd
PI Contribution As a team we brought architectural, archaeological and computational expertise to this collaboration. In a VR project, working with tangible and intangible heritage assets a range of knowledge was essential. As an architect and architetural historian, my skills in recording buildings, dealing with planning processes, archival research and project managment were all deployed during the course of the project. The Co-I, Dr. Ben Edwards, brought his experience of photogrammetry in historic environments to the project. The Co-I, Dr. Kevin Tan, brought his expertise in porgramming virtual reality environments and working with animation to bear on our final outputs.
Collaborator Contribution The Modernist Society helped to recover privately held archive materials, directed the oral histories aspect of the project, disseminated project findings and managed our launch event. Manchester City Council, specifically the archives+ service at the Central Reference Library, aided our search and recovery of extensive archival records and provided space in their estate for meetings and some of the administrative tasks related to scanning and recording materials. Oxford Archaeology North undertook the drone based survey and the production of a 3D photogrammetric model for use in the VR app. Fablr developed and designed the web and digital interfaces for the site and the app.
Impact Output: website Output: VR application Outcome: New relations between project partners and client - Manchester Reform Synagogue. Outcome: Work shared at AHRC showcase event in York. Outcome: Work shared at AHRC/JPICH Workshop on Re-use and continued use of historic buildings, urban centres and landscapes, Leicester 26 Nov. 2018
Start Year 2017
 
Description Partners 
Organisation Manchester City Council
Department Manchester Central Library
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution As a team we brought architectural, archaeological and computational expertise to this collaboration. In a VR project, working with tangible and intangible heritage assets a range of knowledge was essential. As an architect and architetural historian, my skills in recording buildings, dealing with planning processes, archival research and project managment were all deployed during the course of the project. The Co-I, Dr. Ben Edwards, brought his experience of photogrammetry in historic environments to the project. The Co-I, Dr. Kevin Tan, brought his expertise in porgramming virtual reality environments and working with animation to bear on our final outputs.
Collaborator Contribution The Modernist Society helped to recover privately held archive materials, directed the oral histories aspect of the project, disseminated project findings and managed our launch event. Manchester City Council, specifically the archives+ service at the Central Reference Library, aided our search and recovery of extensive archival records and provided space in their estate for meetings and some of the administrative tasks related to scanning and recording materials. Oxford Archaeology North undertook the drone based survey and the production of a 3D photogrammetric model for use in the VR app. Fablr developed and designed the web and digital interfaces for the site and the app.
Impact Output: website Output: VR application Outcome: New relations between project partners and client - Manchester Reform Synagogue. Outcome: Work shared at AHRC showcase event in York. Outcome: Work shared at AHRC/JPICH Workshop on Re-use and continued use of historic buildings, urban centres and landscapes, Leicester 26 Nov. 2018
Start Year 2017
 
Description VR experience launch event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Over 100 members of the synagogue community, public and students attended the launch of the website and VR. The PI gave a 20 minute talk and the Rabbi reported their appreciation of the research. People used the website and with 3 headsets we allowed over 100 people to experience the VR model we have built.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://modernist-society.org/events/2018/10/31/life-of-buildings