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Using 3D modelling to create a immersive historic recreation 

Digital image of Turku before the Great Fire in 1827.

Through the power of modern technology, Turku, the previous capital of Finland has been brought back to life using the power of 3D modelling and visualisation.    

At the MuseumNext Digital Summit 2022, Biz Medina, Senior Producer at ZOAN, and Joanna Kurth, Project Director for the Museum of History and the Future in Finland, discuss the process of recreating a virtual Turku as the centrepiece of an exciting new museum. Their talk focuses on reconstructing the social and cultural history of Finland’s former capital after the Great Fire of 1827 reduced the city to ashes.   

Building an immersive historic recreation 

Present-day Turku is home to a number of museums and, as the oldest city in Finland, has a great deal of culture heritage and collections owned by a range of private foundations and museums. What is missing, is a city museum where the history of Turku can be told by residents of the city through time.

Turku was a medieval city and is almost 800 years old so when developing plans for the new museum, the team created the Turku 1827 project. The aim of the project was to work with researchers to create an immersive 3D model of Turku in 1827 before the great fire destroyed the city. It also gives people the opportunity to use the building blocks of Turku 1827 to create games or other kinds of new material in addition to the educational programme of the museum. The project team are happy to support hackathons into Turku 1827, allowing game developers the chance to code vampires or aliens walking around the streets. The material will be restriction-free to support the creation of wider creative content.

Turku 1827 was initially built out of a research project in 2011 with Science Centre Heureka to create a model of Turku that would replicate the Great Fire in 1827. Not wanting to waste the research and time that went into creating this model, the museum initiated a tender to turn the model into a more technical model – which is where ZOAN became involved in the project.

Creating the 3D cityscape

One of the major challenges in creating Turku 1827 was the lack of documents. Many of the original representations of the city were lost in the Great Fire. ZOAN instead relied on the few surviving artworks of the era but also insurance documentation to establish the written descriptions of how each house used to look to create a 3D visualisation of the city.

Given the size of the city itself ZOAN split the urban centre into different areas to give priority to specific spaces in terms of detail. The 3D model was largely accurate but some buildings – such as the Bonuvier Theatre – had to be imagined as there was no real documentation available to show how it looked.

The museum wanted all the material to be open source which presented some challenges to ZOAN in that all technology had to be universal and compatible with other devices.

Moving to a virtual maquette of the city once the actual 3D buildings had been developed really helped the team to understand the whole context of where each building belonged within the architectural style of the city. Using the 3D maquette, ZOAN were able to visualise 200 years of history and research.

The future of Turku 1827

In 2021, the project was upgraded to a new platform that allowed the developers to load the entire city without necessarily worrying about optimisation. Turku 1827 could then support photos and videos and in the future, creating more interactive experiences and utilise VR tools. For example, currently, the team are working on an augmented reality application for one of the neighbourhoods of the city.

Turku 1827 is a constantly evolving project as technology improves and small details are added. It is a project rich in its value to visitors and researchers alike. As the technology improves and becomes even more accessible, creating virtual experiences of this type are increasingly plausible for institutions of any size or type to take immersive experiences to the next level.

Biz Medina, Senior Producer at ZOAN, and Joanna Kurth, Project Director for the Museum of History and the Future in Finland. They spoke at the MuseumNext Digital Summit in June 2022.


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