More selected projects

Tangible Digital Heritage
Creative concepts for breathing new life into 3D models of heritage site

Reviving cultural heritage has been an important focus of the EPFL+ECAL Lab for many years. As recent research projects have mostly taken into consideration image and audiovisual archives, the team is now investigating the possibilities further, particularly for three-dimensional digital heritage. 

At the beginning of this new academic year, the research assistants of the MAS in Design Research for Digital Innovation were given the opportunity to explore the potential of an emerging technology to revive tangible digital heritage during a week-long workshop.

As technologies such as photogrammetry and LiDAR scanning are being used more and more to preserve historic sites around the world. These methods produce highly faithful 3D models of ancient buildings and artefacts that are in danger of destruction from natural disasters, conflict and other threats and are often uploaded into open-source libraries. But what happens after that?

During the workshop, the challenge was to bring these 3D heritage models back to life through an innovative user experience. While using Unity software and digital models from an open-source database, the research assistants questioned common assumptions about the capabilities and limitations of these resources.

Guest speaker Ece Özdil, of Jüniör, shared her insights on how to make cultural heritage live again for public audiences. After her talk, she spent time with each participant to develop and strengthen the concepts. 

Resulting of the workshop, six very different project proposals, each with an original perspective, were presented. The research assistants demonstrated their ideas with a prototype demo made with the support of engineers Delphine Ribes and Yves Kalberer.

Peekball Time Machine by André Andrade

Inspired by mystical crystal balls, André Andrade created the Peekball Time Machine to bring the National Museum of Brazil back to life. Using a sphere as a controller and a distorted globe-like projected display, the project takes the public through the rooms of the museum, which was recently destroyed by a fire. Peekball Time Machine is intended as a temporary installation to be used by visitors whilst the museum is being renovated in order to give a more tangible memory of the space.

Reveal the Past by Hélène Portier 

Hélène Portier developed a concept for a museum installation called Reveal the Past. She explored how value and context could be given to digital models of ancient objects. Visitors first interact with a seemingly two-dimensional object, which soon becomes three-dimensional and more meaningful through a simple scrolling gesture. The interface then reveals the location of the object in time and space, contextualising it amongst other similar objects.

Digital Moulting by Margaux Charvolin

Margaux Charvolin’s project, Digital Moulting, used a game-like scenario to unearth details about a specific heritage site. At first, the player moves around a surreal and glitchy space until they find one of many glowing balls which are dotted around it. Upon finding one, a fact about the site is revealed and the environment becomes one step clearer. The player must continue exploring the space, and absorbing the facts until the site comes in to full focus.

Palafitte by Romain Talou

Romain Talou used the context of a train journey to rediscover the history of the shores of Lac Léman. His project, Palafitte, made use of the familiar action of pulling down a blind on a train window, to add an extra layer to the view outside. Transformed into a temporary screen, the blind shows a projection of the ancient lakeside topography based on the train’s real position in space between Geneva and Lausanne.

Carte Collect by Valentin Calame

Valentin Calame celebrated the history of Lausanne by linking 3D models, vintage postcards, and physical space. Carte Collect is an augmented reality application based upon ten 3D models of heritage sites around the city. Each site appears in the views depicted on several postcards from different moments in history. The user must explore the city as it exists today in order to match up and discover all of the historic viewpoints.

Throughout History by Yoann Douillet 

Yoann Douillet created a mobile game that uses interactive storytelling to uncover the reasons why different heritage sites, monuments and artworks have been destroyed throughout history. The player starts at the beginning of the life of a particular heritage object, where information about it is revealed. Two options are then given for the next step, one which is the true history and one which gives an alternative, each one inflicting different levels of damage on the heritage piece. The player takes control of the fate of the object, learning about its past through its gradual destruction.

The wide range of outcomes from this workshop shows that 3D models of important cultural heritage sites and artefacts don’t just have to be shown in a virtual museum. The potential for exploring this content is huge, and by coupling creativity with pragmatism, the future for tangible cultural heritage looks bright.