We used to consume architecture, near and far, with ease. But this year, our travel wings were cut off, heritage sites found themselves having to accelerate their digital aspirations.
Marcel Proust imagined that a day trip could be possible without traveling to “strange lands” but “having other eyes”. In 2020 this became reality: virtual reality allowed the public to remain still but engaged with the architecture and historic buildings.
From the comfort of our home, we can join a virtual guided tour of the wonderful home and museum of the English architect John Soane in the heart of London.
The intricate and well-preserved Georgian interior, including the basement of the “Burial Chamber”, where Soane installed a 3,000-year-old pharaoh’s tomb in 1824, is accessible from multiple angles that magically make the stone walls solid.
Fans of Modernism can visit Farnsworth House in Illinois, designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1945, where the relationship between glass walls, interior and exterior minimal landscape is emphasized.
Quiet Kettle’s Yard House in Cambridge is a seemingly simple mid-20th century English house, beautifully transformed by art collector Jim Ede. Virtual visitors can even check through the museum’s gift shop.
In Australia, you can take online tours of the Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian War Memorial Museum.
But despite their rapid evolution, most virtual reality tours don’t replace the real experience.
Practically entering Melbourne
Under lockdown, the annual Melbourne Open House was unable to host its physical program. Instead, they produced a series of virtual tours, lectures, and resources in collaboration with immersive technology company PHORIA Studio and the sites themselves.
The most successful projects weren’t just based on virtual visualization. They fused technology with the content of architects, designers, curators and caretakers. And they have reached a much larger audience than physical tours can normally accommodate.
Park Life House in Williamstown, designed by Architecture Architecture, can be visited on a tour organized by the architect of the house, Michael Roper.
Park Life House was completed in 2019, a modern extension into a 1940s Housing Trust house. Roper leads us to consider the relationship between the rooms, their materials and the frame of the views from inside to outside. But the intimacy and modesty of this project are somehow lost on a digital platform.
At the award-winning restoration of Trades Hall and the Literary Institute, visitors can slip inside and see the meticulously preserved interiors in amazing detail, right down to reading the names on union plaques and the layers of wallpaper and paint uncovered in the restoration.