Digital Day-Trip: How the Charterhouse has Entered the World of 3D

Our visitor host Kayden Rodger has been working with David Fletcher to create 3D images of some of our incredible spaces. Here she tells us about this project as an exciting finale to her time here at the Charterhouse.

An unfortunate truth in life is that there are so many wonderful places to visit across the world that aren’t always accessible to us. History belongs to the public, but the public can’t always take the necessary buses, trains, and planes to access the places that have created and lived through history.

We are lucky to live in a world of constantly developing technology. Within just the last ten years, the ability to faithfully render spaces in 3D has become so mainstream that you can purchase a pair of 3D glasses compatible with a smartphone for about £10. Put them on and suddenly you could be walking anywhere, from the Great Wall of China to the boulevards of Paris.

You could argue that it is a responsibility to make our heritage as accessible as possible, which includes gradually working our way into the online world. Museums are notoriously slow to adapt to technology (the British Museum only uploaded a high-res 2D image of the Rosetta Stone in 2015), but these days the changing pace of tech is being much more openly discussed in the sector. In some cases, 3D and video games have actually been instrumental in preserving heritage – for instance, an incredibly detailed recreation of Notre Dame in the videogame Assassin’s Creed can provide much-needed information during the forthcoming rebuilding process.

You could say that the Charterhouse stumbled rather unknowingly into the digital third dimension– we had no original plan or intent to end up there. It was through a serendipitous visit by photography and photogrammetry specialist David Fletcher that we realised the possibilities of what could be done.

As a newly open and notoriously hidden (if that isn’t an oxymoron) site just outside the City of London, we are constantly looking for ways to increase our outreach. We have played a role in 700 years of London’s exciting history, but many people have never heard of us and therefore don’t know what can be discovered by a visit. Now, through the work performed by David, a worldwide audience can explore the medieval, Tudor, and Jacobean interiors of our site (which is, as you can tell from those descriptors, a patchwork of beautiful buildings from across the centuries).

I met David after he expressed an interest in rendering the Norfolk Cloister in 3D. I’ve long been interested in the various ways that history can be taken into the world of social media and trending topics, so I was very keen to allow him to give it a go.

I admittedly knew very little of the process during his first visit, but it was shockingly straightforward. David walked up and down the cloister about 40 times, taking photos along each pass at every angle. In all, he took 1600 photos of what is essentially a (very beautiful and historic) rectangle. No need for arm day that week!

My role was considerably easier – that’s because I simply got to walk behind him and chat about the importance of his work and the sharing of culture. We have now done a few of the other spaces in the historic building, and my role has gotten slightly trickier as I have to constantly run around behind the scenes to ensure that I’m never in the photos (I imagine a random body half in the shots would pose a slight problem for the software as it tries to stitch the room together!). But the running around at least ensures that I’m never bored.

David (with my very minimal help) has now completed the Chapel Cloister, the Norfolk Cloister, the Great Chamber, and has recently finalised work on the Chapel, the most difficult room from the Charterhouse that he’s done yet. It includes an astonishing 5404 photos!

As I prepare to leave the Charterhouse after two years as a Visitor Host, I’m very proud of the legacy that we’ve left for the site. Long after these buildings have changed (and we’re already on the cusp of that as the Great Chamber is set to undergo restoration Spring 2020), we will still have a record of how they looked in the early years of our endeavour into being open to the public. These renderings spread our history, allow us to engage new audiences, and provide a snapshot into the world of heritage as it was when the 3D space was created. I always tell our guests that the Charterhouse is an ongoing story – as a living residence, our history is not at an end, and one day perhaps we will find ourselves added to the museum we’ve created. Through these digital creations, we have cemented 2019 as another pinnacle in the history of the site which people will be able to enjoy and explore for a long time to come.

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