sat 11/07/2020

Explore Soane review - the museum restored and in 3D | reviews, news & interviews

Explore Soane review - the museum restored and in 3D

Explore Soane review - the museum restored and in 3D

Two favourite rooms remain accessible via a digital twin

Sir John Soane's Model Room was opened to the public in 2016, and can be visited via a 3D digital modelPhoto by Tom Ryley

The former home of 19th century architect Sir John Soane has long been celebrated as one of London’s hidden marvels, an astonishing treasure trove of architectural models, paintings, sculptures and historical artefacts concealed behind an elegant but unassuming facade. Now, parts of Sir John Soane’s Museum can be accessed even in lockdown, the result of an ongoing project to create a 3D digital replica of the site and its contents, accessible online by anyone, anywhere.

Created using 3D scanning technology, the digital replica follows a major restoration project, intended to return the museum to the condition in which Soane left it to the nation on his death in 1837. Though he stipulated that the house, already functioning as a museum, should be preserved as it was to inspire and educate amateurs and students alike, considerable changes were made, with large areas of the museum repurposed as offices, and the second floor turned into an apartment for the curator. In 2011, work began to return the museum to a state that Soane would have recognised, culminating in 2016, with the opening of the newly restored second floor, complete with a room Soane dedicated to his collection of architectural models.

A screenshot of the sepulchral chamberThe Model Room (main picture) is one of two rooms included in the virtual tour, which flies you into a ghostly simulacrum of the house, its walls and floors dissolving as you go. The Model Room is reassuringly substantial when you arrive there, and though you find yourself hovering at rather an odd height, you can move around easily, in a manner that is more like picking something up and turning it over than walking through a space.

Dotted about the room are hotspots allowing you to focus on selected objects, including cork and plaster models of the Roman Temple of Vesta, Tivoli, or a model of newly-excavated Pompeii. In most virtual exhibitions such hotspots open photographs, but here you are presented with a 3D model, which you can zoom in on, or turn over and inspect from any angle using your mouse.

The second room on the tour contains perhaps the most famous object in the museum, the sarcophagus of the Egyptian king Seti I which Soane acquired following its discovery in the Valley of the Kings in 1817. Like the Model Room, the Sepulchral Chamber (pictured above) provides much additional information, as well as related objects, and the virtual tour will clearly be an extraordinarily rich resource when it is completed. In keeping with the museum’s mission to teach and inspire, high resolution images and even 3D models of the objects can be downloaded for personal use, an innovation of which Soane himself might well have approved. Also available on the museum website is the three-part TV series Opening Up the Soane, which follows the museum’s six-year restoration.

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