With features such as touch interaction and 3D glasses integration, it’s no wonder that simulation-rich museums are quickly becoming a staple of preserving our heritage; and where should this virtual teleportation stop?

Computerised representations of worlds long gone are not new. I have fond memories of the “3D Virtual Tour” on my Encarta 2002 CD-ROM, which enabled me to wander Microsoft’s renditions of the Egyptian pyramids and the Acropolis. Back then, I was astounded not only by the possibility of seeing what these ancient worlds looked like, but also that I was treading sand dunes and weaving my way around the citadel’s columns. I was transported through time, and I had control over where I went and how long I stayed.

Nowadays, such simulations, which embody the synergy of cultural heritage and technology, are commonplace in museums and art galleries. In La Musée Imaginaire (1952),art theorist André Malraux used the term “museum without walls” to describe the status of Western cultural heritage from the 19th century onwards. In his original formulation, however, this “museum” was not constrained by space and place but, rather, was housed in the mind. With artefacts from Asia, Africa and even prehistory introduced into the Western collective consciousness, there was a breaking down of cultural “walls”. But with the increasing use of visualisation, computer graphics and virtual reality in today’s museums and galleries — known as Virtual Heritage — are we in a position to use Malraux’s term literally?

 Words: Adolfo Aranjuez

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This story appears in the May 2014
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