A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever: Documentation and Digital Archiving of Heritage
In collaboration with Vamsi Krishna Vemuri
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness, but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep...” - John Keats
The Notre-Dame Cathedral is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the medieval times and is distinguished for its size, antiquity, and architectural interest. Pope Alexander III laid its foundation stone in 1163, and the high altar was sanctified in 1189. The western facade, the nave, and the coir were constructed in 1250, and chapels, porches and other embellishments were added over the next hundred years.
Recently, during a restoration campaign, the attic of the cathedral had a severe fire accident, as it destroyed most of the roof, including Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century spire, and some of the rib vaulting.
Following the fire, there has been an outpouring of unity, engagement and financial support from many individuals and institutions, as people have rallied around for their heritage and its glory. Also, the French government has announced an architectural competition to redesign the roof-line of the cathedral. President Macron has promised to rebuild the cathedral within the next five years. Heritage Documentation In our times, documenting buildings is possible like never before, Notre Dame has already been thoroughly documented through new-age techniques like LiDAR imaging, which provide accurate and up-to-date documentation of the structure. Additionally, Assassin’s Creed Unity, a popular video game, has exquisitely recreated the cathedral as a part of its rendition of Paris city. Many people believe that the detailed 3D modelling of Notre Dame would help the architects, historians, and conservationists to restore and rebuild the structure.
TARGO, a Virtual Reality entertainment company has released a VR documentary on Notre Dame, titled The Man Behind Notre Dame. The 8-minute documentary has been shot in stereoscopic 360 VR and follows the daily life of the Cathedral’s Rector-Archpriest, Patrick Chauvet, the audience follows him on a behind-the-scenes journey of the Cathedral. The storytelling of Notre Dame through VR turns out to be a noteworthy step in appending a larger and more immersive public sentiment towards its glorious legacy.
Digital Archiving for all
The recent events have signified and re-addressed the importance of digital archiving of heritage, which is a highly crucial affair in the ‘developing– yet undocumented’ countries like India– with rich, diverse and layered cultural and historical identities. In addition to the sophisticated technologies such as the LiDAR Scanning and measured modelling in 3D software, 3D scanning is an accessible feature that is available to the masses.
3D Scanning is increasingly becoming a native feature on the current generation mobile phones and handheld devices. Video games such as Pokemon Go (by Niantic) are based on these technological foundations and they evidently have established a geopolitical augmented reality paradigm. The Millennials (or Gen Y and Gen Z), or otherwise known as the ‘selfie generation’, can harness the power of their hobby – photo/video-based documentation and the mobile software can help to reconstruct 3-dimensional space, which can be digitally archived and made accessible for all purposes. This technique of exploring the city with a mobile camera that scans and collects the generated spatial data with the help of software – can break open the canvas of the unchartered territories, comprising of different cities and villages – and can aid in preservation or restoration.The framework here can be easily deployed and the common people can contribute to the preservation and cultural inclusivity of their environments. Filmmakers and World Designers The Immersive media and storytelling is the increasingly popularized form of media consumption by the people across the world. There is an important role played by the directorial team and the videographers in capturing the essence of a space and the environment, using devices like drones and 360 cameras like iSTAR. The yesterday’s cinema was based on a flat 2-dimensional projection of space, which often was dictatorial, based on the story teller’s perspective. The new-age ‘Immersive’ media activates the power of a liberal experience that lets you traverse through the 360 degrees of freedom. The diverse narratives that can arise from the different parts of the world can initiate gratuitous documentation of the architectural spaces and be made available to all.
This digital documentation does not recreate the physical experience but serves a toolkit or a canvas to understand the nested and layered histories of various spaces as seen through the digital lens. The rendition obtained through this process is increasingly becoming immersive, accessible and realistic as close to the real architectural spaces.
The unexpected loss of an iconic structure has initiated a discourse that reflects on the universal need to document heritage structures around the world–especially in India, where a large number of heritage structures lie unattended–so that in any event of a hazard, our legacy buildings are not lost forever. Our heritage is truly our inheritance, what our past has handed over to us, what we value in our present, and what we choose to preserve for our future generations. With the advent of newer technologies, mass communication and immersive storytelling, our collective focus must lie on the need to thoroughly document our heritage as a foremost step towards its conservation.
The narrative has been jointly written by The Multilogue Collective and Vamsi Krishna Vemuri
Co-author's Profile: Vamsi Krishna Vemuri is a Speculative architect, designer and educator based in Germany and India. Vamsi had completed his Post graduate studies and is an alumnus from the Staedelschule Architecture Class, Frankfurt, Germany. He is a public speaker, actively engaged on different platforms such as TEDx, Annual NASA Convention (India) and various
other architecture and design conventions across Europe and India. He is an Associate, Organizer, and tutor with Design Morphine and Digital Intuition.x conducting educational events, workshops in Europe and Asia.