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Plaster ReCast at the Carnegie Museum of Art

Augmented Reality App Provides New Look at Old Technology

By Maya Henry Posted on November 16, 2017

Plaster ReCast app in use, photo by Bryan Conley

Augmented reality app Plaster ReCast has launched for play-testing in Carnegie Museum of Art’s (CMOA) Hall of Architecture. The Hall is the world’s third-largest architectural plaster cast collection, which includes monumental replicas of portions of buildings and fragments from across the Western world.

When it opened in 1907, the Hall of Architecture brought portions of important monuments to the public and allowed them to be viewed in 3-D.  Plaster ReCast brings new life to these objects and connects them not just to their geographical context but also gives historical context to their selection.  Plaster casts were also used regularly in architectural education because the models allowed architects see true proportions in 3-D.

Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection survives today as the largest architectural cast collection in the country rivaled internationally only by collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and in the Musée National des Monuments Français, Paris. Pittsburgh’s architectural cast collection is distinguished for having remained essentially intact in the grand skylit space designed especially for displaying the collection.

The app layers on top of a camera view of the gallery information often inaccessible to visitors, including 3-D scans of plaster casts, 3-D CAD models of the original buildings from which the casts derive and historical and archival documents.

Plaster ReCast is one of the projects featured in Copy + Paste: Hall of Architecture, an eight-month investigation into the museum’s spectacular Hall of Architecture. Over the course of Copy + Paste, curators, technologists, students, architects, and artists will test new ways of presenting information about this special collection. These activities and visitor feedback will inform future efforts to create a dynamic, active and inspiring Hall.

Copy+Paste includes the Plaster ReCast App, a revolving exhibit of archival material providing an inside perspective on the HOA founding, a “Copy Shop” with hands-on demonstrations, including a 3_D printer and a plaster-casting demonstration and finally a CMU Design Studio that will take place in Spring 2018, led by Joshua Bard, CMU assistant professor of architecture.  The design studio will explore the material culture of architectural plaster, examine its historic importance and possible future robotic applications. Students will work in the exhibition galleries, and their resulting experiments will join the Copy + Paste presentation.


Plaster ReCast, augmented reality app, courtesy of Josh Bard and Francesca Torello

For students and educators, Plaster ReCast “creates a new tool to make an old technology legible,” says Francesca Torello, CMU adjunct professor of architectural history.  In 1907, the architects who helped to create the Hall of Architecture were creating, in essence, an innovative design laboratory using plaster as the technique to exhibit portions of these monumental wonders.

By studying the Hall of Architecture today, we can view a moment in time, seeing not just the monuments, but also an encapsulation of what architects in the early 20th Century used as their reference and inspiration.  Torello points out that the objects are primarily from the Western Canon, as was taught at the time.

A direct reflection of this is seen in local examples such as Henry Hornbostel’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum which closely resembles The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus or Tomb of Mausolus in Turkey.  A large cast of a column from the Tomb is featured in the Hall of Architecture which opened the same year Hornbostel designed Soldiers and Sailors.  This cast is one of three that are featured as prototypes in Plaster ReCast.

Visitors can check out Google Tango Tablet’s in order to try out Plaster ReCast during Copy + Paste: Hall of Architecture which runs through May 6, 2018.

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