Research Case Studies on Architectural Heritage and Mixed Reality
Advancements in technology, particularly in mixed reality and spatial computation, allow for cultural heritage to expand its methods and practice into the digital age. This is particularly useful when considering climate change and the impacts to built heritage sites, for which current practices of material preservation may be too difficult or costly to maintain. In addition, recent neuroscientific research shows that the experience of VR simulations of built environments, in combination with fMRI scanning methods, show activity in the same brain areas as when navigating in the “real” world. We have earlier suggested that human experience of heritage in mixed reality can in some future point be similar to a physical site today. This prompts the discussion to whether such “virtual” preservation offers alternatives to physical heritage practice. We explore this theme through the master level research course in interior architecture titled “Architectural Heritage and Digital Media” – taught at HEAD in Geneva in 2020 and 2021. In the paper, we present case studies, methods, research findings, and some general conclusions about possibilities and challenges emerging from this research context. In particular, we discuss the theoretical and methodological implications of some of our research findings, which may appear to contradict some of the prevalent architectural theory and methods of heritage practice. Specifically, we claim that the correlation we find between the human experience of physical heritage sites and their digital simulations poses important contributions to theories of the “spirit of place“ and the experience of material affect. We discuss these theoretical implications in some detail while outlining future research and educational plans.