This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site
Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury
August 6, 2012
A “Virtual” Update
In earlier blog entries, we introduced Virtual Williamsburg and the digital reconstruction of the armoury property happening at the same time we are physically rebuilding the site. The previous posts showed the first stage of modeling, or research models in which the buildings are recreated as accurately as possible. We are now working on the second stage in which we apply textures and lighting to make the computer models look as realistic as possible.
So why create a photo-realistic digital model when the physical site is being reconstructed? As we discussed in a previous post, one important use of digital modeling is as a research tool: we have been able to assess different hypotheses suggested by the evidence prior to physically rebuilding a structure. Visualizing the buildings as well as the 18th-century terrain—which is harder to physically recreate today—has been especially valuable for understanding the relationship between the kitchen, armoury, and tin shop, all constructed side by side by side. The digital model, however, also has applications for visualizing the site even after the physical reconstruction has been completed. The virtual world can never replace the onsite experience, but spaces or particular viewpoints that might not be easily accessible in the real world can be presented virtually. For example, while visitors to the Public Armoury site can watch the blacksmiths work, they cannot get too near the hot forges for obvious safety reasons. However in the virtual world users can examine the forges more closely and even access information about their archaeological remains and learn more about the 18th-century iron-working process. Attic spaces, which were typically reached by ladders or narrow stairways in the colonial period, often cannot be accessed today because of modern building codes. In the computer model, however, virtual guests will be able to explore the storage space in the armoury attic as well as the living quarters of the enslaved workers who resided upstairs in the Anderson kitchen.
Another advantage of the virtual model is the ability to represent the same building in multiple time periods. For example, the Anderson kitchen was modified between 1776 and 1779 when it changed from a domestic kitchen to one that needed to support the more than 40 workers living in the industrial armoury complex. In 1776 it likely had small windows, typical of a domestic kitchen, but by 1779 the two-pane-wide window on the building’s north wall had been exchanged for a larger, four-pane-wide window to let in more light. Archaeological evidence has revealed that brick drains were added to the lot to control water run-off and handle increased water usage when the Public Armoury was built. During the construction, one of the drains was run under the northwest corner of the kitchen, nearly to the hearth, and on top of it a sink was constructed to allow for the disposal of liquids directly into the drainage system without the cooks having to leave the building.
The modeling process is still ongoing, but the images below provide a sneak peak of some of our progress to date. Stay tuned for further updates as we continue virtually—and physically—rebuilding the Armoury complex!
By Cynthia Decker, Assistant Modeler, and Peter Inker, Digital Architectural Historian
Thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS); the estate of Mark Hicks; the Grainger Foundation; the estate of John O’Donnell; and the estate of Joan J. Woods. We are extremely grateful for their support of the Digital History Center’s 3D Visualization Lab and the Foundation’s 3D modeling initiatives!
Funded by a generous gift from Forrest E. Mars Jr., of Big Horn, Wyoming.