Papers For The International Journal Of Architectural Computing

From Talking Monuments up to Interactive Virtual
Environments for Cultural Heritage
Antonella Guidazzoli
Interuniversity Consortium
Responsabile Visit lab
Via Magnanelli 6/3, 40033 Casalecchio di Reno, Italy
[email protected]
Mauro Felicori
Bologna City Council
Direttore Settore Cultura e Rapporti con l'Università
Via Oberdan 24, 40100 Bologna, Italy
[email protected]
This paper presents a framework where interactions among computer science , history
communication issues can provide new tools to broaden knowledge.
Interactive virtual environments can improve the understanding of monuments and cultural landscapes
3D digital scenarios can be used as new accessing interfaces to history and memory. The final aim is to
transform research models into new narrative spaces.
Scientific visualizations connected to VEs (Virtual Environments) reconstructions can broaden our
perceptual faculties and allow the interaction between numerical models and empirical data.
Graphics applications came about to make it easier to understand complex numerical constructions via a
synthesis through images, as they create original modes to surf the Net and to make inquiries in visible,
invisible, hypothetical and imaginary worlds.
A Virtual Environment is therefore, per se, a complex system and for its realization it is in fact necessary
- to know how to build a virtual digital scenario;
- to obtain validation and certification for the related digital sources/information or simulations
- to design an interactive interface with “readers/viewers”.
Products based on interactive Virtual Environments, therefore, not only do retain the information available
to the scientific community, but also store them more effectively and make them more user-friendly.
Thus VEs are an alternative to both the need to simplify most communications and to the passive stance
imposed by most media1.
The approach that can be suggested to surfers is the ancient myth of Ulysses, where journey and knowledge
join together, a sort of space for “augmented knowledge” [1] available to everyone and able to
communicate complex multidisciplinary research results to a broader audience.
The technologies and the skills in the field of Cultural Heritage developed by Cineca 2 involve the use of
Virtual Reality systems in order to generate, navigate, explore and inquire reconstructed historical
environments, which are connected to databases and simulations whenever available.
In fact, the Open ViSMan framework (Open Virtual Scenarios Manager, developed on an open source
graphic library OSG) [2] has been designed in order to navigate complex reconstructed cultural scenarios
characterized by different LODs (Level of Details), with each level representing an interactive graphic
interface available to the user, enabling access to a corresponding database and providing if necessary a bi
univocal response: a graphical one inside the model and a traditional one as a response to a query of the
This feature enables a user to make relationship between models and historical sources and the
interpretations underlying the models themselves gathered under the same graphic interactive “roof” that
unifies even apparently disjointed information usually provided by different cultural institutions such as
Superintendences, museums, archives and universities and other research institutes.
This technological experience, together with our recent approach to issues concerning the world of communication, urges two considerations. The first
recalls a statement by Kaplinski “…We live in a world that goes towards simplified modes for understanding ourselves and the world itself …” and the
second concerns Sartori’s fierce criticism that TV viewers are unable to develop abstracting thinking. SARTORI G. 1997, "Homo Videns". Laterza.
Figure 1 Talking monuments : Certosa Virtual Museum . Interface to II WWW multimedia database
However, to reach the public emotionally new communicative spaces are mandatory, environments able
where three dimensional philological models developed in a research context become new narrative
Since the Open Visman framework has been designed [2] with a high degree of compatibility with the
Virtual Set technology it allows to work also with communication experts for a complete integration of
the reconstructed models in a narrative space as in the case of the exhibition Vivere il Mediovo Parma al
tempo della Cattedrale, the medieval Parma Cathedral and Square philological models have been used by
Studio Azzurro [3] as digital scene pictures inside a virtual set where real actors following a screenplay,
written in collaboration with the historians, played daily life scenes in the Medieval Square as well as
religious ceremonies inside the three-dimension model of the Cathedral interior.
Particular attention was given to the way these technologies fit into the general context of the exhibition, which was
displaying historical exhibits of various types and dimensions in a traditional way.
We strove to insert “intangible objects”, the electronic images, alongside real objects, whose history had made their
presence even more physical.
In order not to contrast with the museum project and its contents, the settings of the Cathedral and the Square were
created by recalling architecturally such spaces, instead of reconstructing or imitating them as accurately as possible.
Visitors are admitted to these settings and invited to relive these places through the picture story, the narration of short
stories, the participation in small day-to-day facts, not in big historical events, a transverse and more human look
bringing visitors to have a “point of view” on the work surrounding them, not an external “point of view” on the work
in front of them.
Figure 2 Vivere il Medioevo
Philological model of the Middle Ages Cathedral in Parma .
Figure 3 : A picture of the Pentecost festival
It was very useful for carrying out our work to have 3D models of the spaces we wanted visitors to relive, and in which
visitors would have been walking around.
The 3D models allowed us to choose the most suggestive and human points of view for the shooting, and to study the
peripheral positions of common citizens compared with the central, elevated positions of authorities.
The software capability to manipulate light sources gave us a further possibility to insert suggestive narrative elements
such as the characterisation of daily hours, and the study of the conditions of the night light at the glimmer of torches,
or of the brightness of the moon.
Cemeteries are, for people who want to hear, similar to books, narrating small dealings and major events of
villages, towns or even whole nations. Though, with the passing of time, these places become less and less
readable. First hand knowledge of the people remembered there fades away and, after a while, only
unknown names and, sometimes, faces are left. The Certosa cemetery in Bologna hosts, besides the graves
of ordinary or eminent citizens, two Monuments and Ossuary dedicated: one to the partisans dead during
the Liberation War (1943-45); the other to the soldiers fallen during the First World War.
The New Institutions for Museums of Bologna City Council, aware of the increasing forgetfulness in which
these Monuments lay, conceived the Certosa Virtual Museum, 3 an integrated plan of intervention in
collaboration with CINECA, as the main technological partner, and the Parri Institute for the History of
Resistance and the Museum of Risorgimento, as main content deliverers.
Traditional and technological approaches mingle together in order to focus attention toward these places.
Real tours become virtual guided tours to a 3D world reconstructing the Monuments; historical research is
the basis for complex databases accessible on site, through PDAs, or off site, thanks to PC placed inside
Museums and through the Internet
The Certosa Virtual Museum aims to connect past and present, inside (the dead in the cemetery) and
outside (the wider world). As remembered by Thackeray in Vanity Fair, talking about Napoleon’s last
campaigns: “…think of the condition of Europe […], where people were fighting, not by thousands, but by
millions: each one of whom as he struck his enemy wounded horribly some other innocent heart far away”.
The aspiration is to propose again the wider net both of historical events and of personal sorrows thanks,
for example, to the private and official documents gathered about the IWW soldiers and their relatives and
friends. At the same time, battles, skirmishes, political proposals, enterprises of local authorities and every
day life join explanatory cards, trying to set these people inside their historical context.
Figure 3 Talking monuments : Certosa virtual Museum . Interface to I WWW multimedia database
Figure 4 Talking monuments : Certosa Virtual Museum . Database interface
The Interactive Virtual Environment conceived for the Vesuvius area is a scenario for the presentation of
quantitative analysis of explosive eruption and the evaluation of the likely effectiveness of possible
mitigation measures such as land-use planning, engineering interventions in buildings, emergency planning
and community preparedness in the frame of the EXPLORIS project 4.
The specific aim of the visualization and communication project is to integrate the results of the
eruption numerical simulations with geographic datasets for a fully interactive 3D high-resolution
navigation around the volcano preserving a correct perception of the quality of the simulation.
Exploris project (Explosive Eruption Risk and Decision Support for EU Populations Threatened by Volcanoes) funded by the European Unions’s
research programme into the “Energy Environment and Sustainable Development” chapter (Proposal no. EVR1-2001-00047, Contract no. EVR1-CT2002-40026).
Figure 5 Wireframe representation of the Digital Terrain Model of Vesuvius area , the simulation and
GIS data
It is based on Open VisMan ( Virtual Scenarios Manager ) developed for cultural application, as described
before, but in this case the framework has been used for creating real-time visual simulation and other
performance-oriented 3D graphics applications.[4]
3D reconstructions are the starting point for the interaction with the virtual world: with the simple click of
the mouse button, 3d objects can be connected to information coming from relational databases,
multimedia files, GIS, and so on.
Each 3D linked object is highlighted by a hint that appears when the mouse cursor runs over the object.
Also automatic 3D search is possible from the linked information, for example looking for a 3D object
from the related database record.
The navigation is similar to “first person shooters” videogames with collision detections with the virtual
world. Thanks to naming conventions, special nodes inside the scene graph are recognized and treated in
particular way, and also some GUI is created to handle the behavior of those nodes; for example particular
nodes are switches, links to database or multimedia files, evolution nodes, Image Based Render, scene
switch nodes (model deepening), and some others.
The simulation, that has been saved in RAW format, has been processed in the VTK format. 5
A further opportunity was located in the use of models for the realization of a TV documentary. Since the
communication tool, described before, has been designed with a high degree of compatibility with the
Virtual Set it took just a few days work for adapting the models and interactions to it.
Now, once that documentary has been shown on TV on the national channel, it has entered an archive
created by RAI 6: Mosaico, a TV mediateque for educational support. In a framework called Mosaico,
people, teachers in particular, find a list of educational TV programs and can ask for their programmed
broadcast on the RAI Educational satellite channel. People need just to be registered and then they will be
notified about the date of transmission. Therefore models developed in a research context can be easily
transferred into a TV Virtual Set .
Figure 6 A screen shot taken from a TV documentary. Casa del Centenario reconstruction , Pompeii
Such applications should offer not only flexibility from the usability point of view, but also portability, hence enabling
the application to run on many different visualization platforms available today.
In order to make such virtual environments more user-friendly, it is necessary to improve access to and understanding
of contents by providing the general public with new paradigms for access and use.
Virtual Reality applications and interaction via palmtops will grant a better surfing experience inside the reconstructed
environment. Different communication forms, such as the Internet, streaming videos, virtual worlds within Virtual Sets
will most likely increasingly integrate. It is necessary to understand the specific features of each medium while
foreseeing possible synergies between such new communication modes within the specific framework of Virtual
The creation of virtual scenarios implies a new organization of work. For example, within the framework of Virtual
Cultural Heritage, the creation of real-time applications based on 3D digital models develops within a multidisciplinary
environment where computer experts, architects, archaeologists, historians, scriptwriters work to bring about Virtual
Reality applications.
The development of a VR product relies on a working method that makes use of different professional skills and
foresees constant feedbacks between technical, computer-oriented and liberal arts experts. Moreover the usage of a
framework based on an open source software, can be considered an important added value for a real “open
heritage” .
The use of open source tools is changing the approach to Virtual Reality applications in the heritage sector, leading to
the creation of personalized spatial tools useful to link/connect all the data acquired during survey campaigns; keep the
same geographical projection used in GIS projects; maintain the same GIS data formats; generate quality paged and
tiled terrains of the area from GIS data; maintain the same modeling formats of three-dimensional monuments and sites
reconstructed with photo-modeling or scanner-laser techniques and processed with external software; create libraries of
3d models and vegetation typical of the area and of the period; connect directly inside the three-dimensional
geographical space the models and the vectorial themes; work dynamically at the reconstruction of the visible
archaeological landscape, testing hypothesis, using the same data even for complex VR applications, useful for
example for museums with a story-telling approach; and finally publish the results of surveys over the Web, updating
them at each new campaigns through web plug-in.
The ability to use open source technology allows the dissemination of content without additional cost and the
customization of applications.
Anyway, we believe that due to enhancement in both network bandwidth and spread of 3D client graphics
performance, the ability to produce web-accessible content and application is a key issue in 3D content production
Moreover the correct use of the product will then be guaranteed by communication experts who will coordinate all the
project components. It is usually necessary to involve several institutions to bring together such well-structured teams,
and this is exactly our experience in the Vesuvius’ scenario reconstruction.
Our experience somehow highlighted how the concept of media morphosis can also apply to a medium
such as VR. The latter will necessarily involve more media and maybe it will force other media to change –
the same happened when TV ushered in the transformation of the radio.[5]
Today Virtual environments – just like early cinema – are new media that still goes through an
“amazement effect” stage, but VR will soon need to devise its own language and its own specialized
genres. VR curators must be able to interact with different disciplines and to exploit the potential of
computer science in order to accompany users as they surf complex scenarios. The scientific results of the
Exploris project have produced a new research project with archaeological purposes.
Starting from the reconstruction of the Roman time Vesuvius’ topography based on geological data and historical
sources, a new simulation of the past is going to be run.
This experience demonstrates that Virtual Reality experts must be able to interact with many different scientific and
artistic disciplines. They must also be able to take advantage of computer science tools in order to help people to
understand and navigate these historical scenarios which have been scientifically reconstructed but are ready to be used
as narrative spaces.
VELTMAN, K., 2006. Understanding new media Augmented Knowledge and Culture, Calgary:
University of Calgary Press
GUIDAZZOLI A. et al.: Databases and virtual environments: a good match for communicating complex
cultural sites. In Proc. SIGGRAPH 2004
3 VIVERE IL MEDIOEVO - Parma al tempo della Cattedrale. SilvanaEditoriale, 2006
4 GUIDAZZOLI A., DELLI PONTI F., CALORI L. et al.: An Interactive Virtual Environment to communicate
Vesuvius eruptions numerical simulations and Pompeii history. In Proc. SIGGRAPH 2006
Mc LUHAN, M., 1964. Understanding Media Mc Graw
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