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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday January 15, 2024

Updated on Monday January 15, 2024

portrait of Chiara Piccoli

Chiara Piccoli

Research fellow and data scientist 4D Research Lab , University of Amsterdam

portrait of Tijm Lanjouw

Tijm Lanjouw

Senior 3D technician & modeller , University of Amsterdam

portrait of Jitte Waagen

Jitte Waagen

Coordinator 4D Research Lab , University of Amsterdam

The 4D Research Lab: 3D modelling and virtual reconstruction for research and education

3D technologies offer opportunities to broaden access to culture, preserve our shared cultural heritage and spur creativity and innovation. In support of the Twin It! 3D for Europe’s culture campaign, the 4D Research Lab of the University of Amsterdam shares how their work employs 3D technologies in research and higher education.

A screenshot of a virtual environment created in Mozilla hubs, showing figures with their hands up in a large classical square
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An interactive virtual environment created using Mozilla Hubs. In copyright, 4D Research Lab.

The 4D Research Lab (4DRL) at the University of Amsterdam employs digital 3D technologies and methods across a wide range of applications and assists researchers and students in their projects. Through collaborations with external researchers, museums and other cultural institutions, the lab undertakes projects in which 3D modelling methodologies are utilised to tackle research questions that cannot be addressed with traditional methods alone.

Case studies are diverse, ranging from single objects to entire neighbourhoods that are recorded, analysed and virtually reconstructed using specialised software and hardware such as drones, 3D scanners and photogrammetry equipment. The lab also collaborates in initiatives towards the development of interfaces and research hubs where 3D models and virtual reconstructions can be accessed online and explored in close association with their sources.

One of the key aspects of the 4DRL’s work is the focus on thoroughly documenting the 3D reconstruction process and on developing innovative workflows that can be generalised and widely applied. Moreover, the lab is actively involved in creating teaching materials and courses at the Bachelor and Master levels where students can familiarise themselves with 3D modelling techniques.

From urban history to Mozilla hubs - examples of 3D projects

Over the years, the 4DRL has carried out various projects where diverse 3D modelling approaches have been used to investigate research questions, aid the restoration of damaged objects and communicate historical narratives through innovative digital platforms.

For example, researchers in the 4DRL created a 3D reconstruction of the fifteenth-century town hall in Gouda to investigate the use of this public space (project commissioned by Nathan van Kleij) and a 3D visualisation of several building phases of the University Quarter in Amsterdam to visualise the changes of this complex over time (project initiated by Lex Bosman and Patricia Lulof).

A further project focussing on urban history aimed to reconstruct a part of the old Jewish neighbourhood in Amsterdam. Under the title ‘Straatleven’ (‘Street life’), this project is part of a larger initiative in which the Amsterdam Time Machine project collaborates with the Jewish Museum to aggregate various datasets from archives and collections about Jewish Amsterdam. The 3D reconstruction of the area will be used as an access point and research hub where datasets can be explored.

Some projects focus on museum objects, such as one commissioned by the Bonnefanten museum in Maastricht, which aimed to help the physical restoration of the Shigiory Torbinata. This artwork was created in 1966 by Dutch artist Ferdi Tajiri (1927-1969). To facilitate the restoration of its colourful fabric, which had suffered sun damage, a 3D scan was made of the artwork, enabling the digital restoration and reprinting of the damaged fabric.

 Examples of recent 4D Research Lab projects, clockwise: The 3D reconstruction of the fifteenth-century town hall in Gouda; a schematic geo-located 3D visualisation of a part of the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter in the early seventeenth century; two interactive virtual environments created using Mozilla Hubs; a step of the digital restoration process of the Shigiory Torbinata artwork from the Bonnefanten museum in Maastricht
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Examples of recent 4D Research Lab projects, In copyright, 4D Research Lab.
Examples of recent 4D Research Lab projects, clockwise: The 3D reconstruction of the fifteenth-century town hall in Gouda; a schematic geo-located 3D visualisation of a part of the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter in the early seventeenth century; two interactive virtual environments created using Mozilla Hubs; a step of the digital restoration process of the Shigiory Torbinata artwork from the Bonnefanten museum in Maastricht

With Virtual Past Places - a browser-based, collaborative, virtual reality platform developed using Mozilla Hubs - users can experience the past by navigating in virtual historical reconstructions or reality-based 3D models of, for example, archaeological sites and excavations. The platform also hosts virtual exhibitions such as the ‘Disability and sickness in antiquity’, a multi-media exploration of the topic created for the Allard Pierson Museum. Other environments are currently developed and tested by the 4DRL members. We are using them as teaching materials in a number of courses at the humanities faculty of the University of Amsterdam to evaluate the impact of VR on learning outcomes.

Finally, the recently granted project Museaal Verleden proposes an innovative use of 3D modelling and VR to allow a visit to past museum exhibitions. A joint initiative of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Allard Pierson Museum, the Department of Theatre Studies at the University of Amsterdam, the 4DRL and various private partners, this project aims to develop a VR toolkit to (re)construct exhibitions that are not accessible anymore. With a focus on easy-to-use software and a widely applicable methodology, the prototype will be developed using Mozilla Hubs and will take the first international scenography exhibition which took place in the Stedelijk Museum in 1922 as a case study. To cater for the designers and researchers wishing to directly access art objects from within the virtual environment, an interface for directly accessing and importing collection items from Europeana.eu has been built.

Current challenges and hope for the future

One challenge that the lab has faced in its projects is the diversity of the case studies and their unique research questions. These often necessitate the adoption of ad hoc approaches, where various methods are pieced together to create the most suitable workflow. Another significant challenge is determining the best strategy to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of the digital assets created.

We envision a future where 3D models and digital cultural heritage can be easily accessed and explored on interactive platforms, enriched with contextual data to enhance understanding and reuse in research and education. Currently, we are exploring the potential of VR and AI technologies to create immersive learning experiences, tackle complex research questions, automate workflows, and foster interdisciplinary collaborations. Ultimately, we hope that these developments will coincide with a surge in digital literacy, lowering the barrier for the use of 3D technologies among researchers, students, and cultural heritage practitioners.

Find out more

Visit the 4D Research Lab website and the 4D Research Lab youtube channel to find out more about our work. Get in touch if you are interested in becoming one of our partners in research-oriented projects (mail to the lab’s coordinator, Dr Jitte Waagen, at J.Waagen@uva.nl).

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