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Preserving Historic buildings using metaverse

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Assume you have planned a visit to an important building in architectural history, a reference work for all enthusiasts. You'd probably bring a camera or a good cell phone, as well as a pencil, notebook, and even a measuring tape, to record all of its details.

However, as some researchers are attempting to demonstrate, this is not the only way to "visit" a historically significant building today. The metaverse is being investigated for its role in architectural and cultural preservation, encompassing multiple generations.

Some significant historic structures have been recreated in the metaverse. The "digital twins" are created after a careful survey of the building with technologies such as laser scanners and telescopic tripods. The end result is a highly detailed 3D image, a "cloud of points" that, when well-crafted, differs from actual dimensions by only a few millimetres.

3D Nakagin Capsule Tower Survey. © 3D Digital Archive Project

This technology's advantages are undeniable. They make places and buildings more accessible to people all over the world by ignoring geographical barriers. Many initiatives have emerged in recent years to digitise museums and historic buildings, prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the primary goal of raising funds for the preservation of such physical spaces. Castles and museums are participating in what is now known as metaverse tourism experiences by welcoming visitors or hosting virtual events and meetings. These virtual appropriations go beyond what is physically possible, resulting in unusual experiences such as watching a tennis match in one of the Palace of Versailles' ballrooms.

3D Nakagin Capsule Tower Survey. © 3D Digital Archive Project

Imagine visiting Toyo Ito's White U residence or the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in the United States when we're talking about surrealism. Even though it may not be possible to recreate these buildings in the physical world, exploring them in cyberspace represents yet another significant risk for the metaverse's architectural and cultural preservation. Numerous initiatives have been launched to virtually recreate significant structures from architectural history that have been destroyed or, at the very least, de-characterized over time, such as the virtual mapping and upcoming metaverse exhibition of Japan's well-known Nakagin Capsule Tower. The entire building was scanned in three dimensions by combining laser survey data with pictures taken by SLR cameras and drones before beginning its demolition.

3D Nakagin Capsule Tower Survey. © 3D Digital Archive Project

However, using the metaverse as a preserving tool for the history of buildings generates discussions related to the intangible aspect of architecture. The experiences of feeling the sunlight that enters discreetly through the small gap in the roof of the White U house and warms the skin during winter, or touching the aseptic surface of the bathrooms of the Nakagin Tower capsules, cannot be reproduced in the virtual space. The "eyes of the skin" that Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa has postulated so much over the years would not apply to these virtual replicas. It is important to understand the metaverse as a new tool for preservation and, mainly, for the study of architectural culture. Nevertheless, it is far from replacing the real. In the metaverse, other parameters to experience architecture are created, and stimuli are limited to visual and sound impulses.

3D Nakagin Capsule Tower Survey. © 3D Digital Archive Project

The concept has merit because it helps new generations understand the architectural culture and its roots by translating significant buildings from the history of architecture into a simple and approachable language. Even though they are copies, these structures placed in different settings enable fresh narratives characterized by playfulness, cinematography, and a certain surrealism particular to digital culture. The trick is to understand them as a potential for analysis and appropriation from a new perspective rather than comparing them to their concrete counterparts

This article has been deeply inspired from archdaily's metaverse edition.

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