Learning from Lost Architecture: Immersive Experience and Cultural Experience as a New Historiography
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In 1986, a group of Spanish architects decided to physically recreate an icon of modernist architecture. Mies van der Rohe’s German pavilion for the Barcelona World Expo of 1929 was at the cutting edge of spatial and structural innovation but its influence was limited to what we understand through drawings, photographs, limited film footage and historical interpretations. We can now physically visit the pavilion and experience it but what of all the other pavilions by famous (and less famous) architects that are no more? It would be costly and time consuming to physically rebuild all of them, however virtual reality (VR) technologies and human computer interaction (HCI) methods can bring them back to life. International expo pavilions are temporary structures designed to be at the cutting edge of structural and material technology but what makes them unique and inspirational is seldom preserved directly, their architectural insights, experiential richness and cultural significance are easily lost. This paper asks: How might immersive digital experiences of space help us to recapture ‘authentic’ experiences of history and place? What implications does this have for architectural history, heritage and conservation? The authors offer some answers to these questions by presenting preliminary results from a larger project entitled ‘Learning from Lost Architecture’: a virtual reconstruction of the Italian Pavilion at the Paris Expo of 1937. Firstly, we will contextualise the practice of digital cultural heritage and present its potential for immersive, investigatory architectural experiences. Secondly, we will critique our own practice to better evaluate the potential of virtual reconstructions to affect architectural learning, discovery and historiography.
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