Creating a Virtual Museum

Creating a Virtual Museum

Efforts to enhance community engagement with local and specialist museums are key to the work of modern museum professionals. Instead of acting as a repository and archive, complete with secure displays, museums must innovate to become and remain a vibrant and active local resource. Most recently, digitized versions of galleries and objects have been created by several larger museums and made widely available as virtual tours or displays through their websites. Typical examples include the British Museum, which uses themed photographs to form an on-line tour [1]; the Louvre, which has a series of 360° panoramic images [2]; and the Petrie Museum, which allows viewers to manipulate 3D virtual objects in abstract space [3]. Last year, in a first for a UK museum, the Science Museum announced the complete recreation of a display space and its objects, now available as a pre-set guided tour on their website [4]. Unlike these large and national museums, for smaller or specialist museums a lack of funding and technical skills prevents them from attempting such projects. However, developments in digital technologies open up the possibility of wide-scale virtual access, enabling museums to increase engagement with communities who might otherwise not be able or inclined to visit.

Creating a Virtual Museum in a way that is practical for smaller museums, and bringing the resulting representations to communities at the fringes of existing outreach activities is the basis of this project. We have taken advantage of a rare opportunity at the University of Reading’s ‘Museum of English Rural Life’ (MERL [5]), which has closed temporarily to undergo a major redevelopment, to provide unencumbered access to the interior space and key objects in the collection [6]. Using a novel mix of proprietary and emerging digital technologies, we are creating a prototype Virtual Museum and exploring the possibilities for enhanced interactivity. The prototype will be imported into a new form of 3D gaming headset and taken to communities who have restricted access to the museum, through reduced mobility or perceptions of socio-cultural exclusion, and to the wider public, at which time ideas and opinions can be gathered to inform future research and development.


Also see where the BM has very recently instigated a project to recreate the Museum digitally using the on-line virtual building community ‘Minecraft’.






(Ewart, Case for Support).




Key Participants

Dr. Ian J. Ewart (PI) is an ESRC ‘Future Research Leader’ (2013-16: Grant number ES/K009435/1) based in the School of Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Reading (SCME). He has graduated with an MSc in Museum Studies (2007), and a DPhil in Social and Cultural Anthropology (2012) from the University of Oxford, following a career in engineering. His research interests are at the material and social intersections of design and production, and especially the socio-cultural role of technology in these activities. He is currently PI of the ESRC funded ‘Designing Healthy Homes’ project, which is using a 3D virtual reality immersive environment to bring together technical experts and lay householders in a collaborative process of house design. He has published academic papers in journals including Housing Studies, Home Cultures, and in books including Design Anthropology (Gunn et al eds.) As a Core Member of the CCN+, he has contributed to the monthly newsletter, been on a funding review panel, and participated in a week long research visit to the Digital Ethnography Research Centre at RMIT, Melbourne. Dr. Ewart will co-ordinate activities with MERL, carry out much of the scanning and photogrammetry with assistance from a PhD student, run the focus groups, and lead the conference presentations and journal paper writing.

Dr. Chris Harty (Co-I) is an Associate Professor at SCME, Director of the School’s ‘Healthcare Infrastructure and Wellbeing’ research group, from April 2010 to November 2013 was Director of the EPSRC Health and Care Infrastructure Research and Innovation Centre (HaCIRIC) at Reading, including five post-doctoral researchers, and is currently Visiting Professor, Department of Organisation, Copenhagen Business School. He has over £2 million research funding as Principal Investigator / lead academic. He is currently PI for three Technology Strategy Board funded projects, ESRC Mentor for Dr. Ewart and his Future Research Leader Fellowship, and supervises 12 PhD and Engineering Doctorate Students in areas including immersive virtual reality in hospital design and client briefing, healthcare infrastructure provision, and public participation in hospital construction projects. He has published widely on topics including the use of digital technologies in construction and healthcare infrastructure, socio-cultural approaches to science and technology, and perceptions of architectural space. Dr. Harty will act as mentor to the project, recruit and manage the PhD student(s), attend the community engagement events, and contribute to the conference and journal papers.

Russell Lowe is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the Dept. of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney. He is a member of CAADRIA (Computer Aided Architectural Design in Asia) and has published on the use of computer gaming technology in architectural education and design. His research centres around the repurposing of computer gaming technology to engage with uses and concepts outside the entertainment industry. He has developed unique insights into opportunities for collaborative thinking that take advantage of the multiple perspectives that new media and computer game environments afford. His prize winning research on architectural space spans Clinical Simulation to Fine Art Films, which have been exhibited worldwide in film festivals as well as private and public art galleries and museums. His major projects include the ARC funded “Real-time Porosity: Using computer gaming technology to map and analyze pedestrian movement in public and private space”, with Prof. Richard Goodwin, and the ALTC funded “Learning and Teaching Technical Competence in the Built Environment Using Serious Video Game Technology”, with Dr. Sidney Newton. Mr. Lowe will act as a technical advisor to the project, remotely assisting our PhD student(s) where necessary technically, and during a two week visit to the University of Reading in April 2015, will help with the final modelling, object augmentation, importing to the Oculus Rift headsets, and presentation of the Virtual Museum to the focus groups. He will also present the project’s models and findings to a relevant conference in Australia, and contribute to any journal papers.