Konzerthaus Berlin: Cultural participation through digitisation

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We are Albrecht Sensch and Annette Thoma from the “Virtual Konzerthaus”. The “Virtual Konzerthaus” is an EU-funded cooperation project between the Konzerthaus Berlin and the University of Applied Sciences Berlin (HTW). For three years, we have been exploring new approaches to classical music, focusing on techniques such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). In addition to a VR application that offers insights into how a symphony orchestra is structured, we have also published the AR app “Konzerthaus Plus”, which anyone can download for free in the App Store or Play Store. We are convinced that digitisation offers a wonderful opportunity, especially to reach younger, more socially disadvantaged people with little access to culture. It provides an easy and democratic approach to learning and cultural content.

At the Konzerthaus Berlin, AR allows new narrative forms and formats that facilitate interaction and participation in the area of digital music mediation. For this project, we decided to concentrate on this technology, with content ranging from texts, graphics, animations and videos to static and moving 3D objects that enable the public greater access to music. We began integrating 3D models into our app back in 2016. These can be accessed by anyone via AR – whenever and wherever they like.

The beginning

The first 3D model we depicted in the app in AR was Melos, the official mascot of the Konzerthaus Berlin. Using a postcard or our 2017/18 season brochure, visitors could take a digital version of the dolphin home with them.

Readers will also find a 3D model of the Konzerthaus in this year’s season brochure. App users can view the model from all sides while listening to classical music – however, this model does not yet allow direct interaction. Using Sketchfab, we looked at other 3D models for inspiration. On the platform, we found out what was possible and which features would make sense for our case.

Our first 3D model of the Konzerthaus Berlin in front of the original backdrop. Photo: Albrecht Sensch

New models

By the end of 2017, we had decided to further expand the 3D model of the Konzerthaus Berlin. We wanted to create the exterior facade and the most important halls in a photorealistic manner, so that they could be integrated into our AR app in a next step. We also increased the interaction level and added more features.

Our goal is to allow people to experience the concert hall digitally and also arouse their curiosity. Since only the vestibule of the Konzerthaus Berlin is open during the day, a view into the halls is denied to most tourists when on a visit. Every month, some 10,000 people enter the vestibule. We want to provide not only people who drop by, but also concert visitors, with a digital look behind the scenes, thereby familiarising them with the Konzerthaus. And this is easy in the vestibule – since May 2018, our digital exhibition of five VR and AR installations showing some of the results of our work can be found here. The new 3D model is one display that can be explored with one’s own smartphone plus the app “Konzerthaus Plus” or with a loaned tablet.

In the app, one can also download all the AR markers to print at home. All our AR content, including the 3D model, can be viewed anywhere in the world with the app – so visitors do not need to come to Berlin to experience it live.

The 3D model in the digital exhibition is realised by a cube marker and visualised through AR. Photo: Pablo Castagnola

Workflow

We were able to implement an extensive update of the 3D model with the help of “Eve Images”, an architectural visualisation firm. The path to the finished model took place in several stages and would not have been possible without the support of Eve Images.

First, the individual models had to be created in the proper scale. Fortunately, the Konzerthaus Berlin has detailed plans of all its architectural elements, which greatly facilitated the preliminary work. In a second step, every detail of the architecture was documented in individual photos to ensure realistic and authentic texture.

From model to textured object. Photo: Eve Images

The Great Hall before and after texturing. Photos: Eve Images, processing: Albrecht Sensch

In the last step, the lighting was adjusted. The finished models of the exterior facade and the halls were also provided with annotations which convey even more information. Fitting music accompanies all the models.

Challenges

The richness of architectural detail and the size of the halls made the work all-encompassing for everyone involved. In particular, the 3D Asset Creator Michael Kollmann from Eve Images had to take countless photos and build the models over a period of months. He even made a secure climb onto the roof of the Konzerthaus Berlin in order to digitally reconstruct it.

If you want to create a large, high-quality, interactive 3D model, you need a lot of time to get good results. However, one nice thing is that we can build on this model in the future and expand it as we wish. Next year, for example, we are planning a VR application that allows users to stroll through the individual halls. Currently, all Sketchfab models are VR-ready.

The 3D Asset Creator Michael Kollmann photographing the roof of the Konzerthaus Berlin. Photo: Annette Thoma

Cultural participation through digitisation

Sketchfab is a good platform to become acquainted with and test various 3D models – but it is also a source of inspiration for developers. 3D models are definitely a worthwhile investment, especially to preserve cultural heritage, create awareness and bring this heritage to life in a surprising and innovative way. Integrating these models into AR is a wonderful opportunity for cultural institutions to sustainably invest in cultural education and make contributions to contemporary cultural mediation in a forward-looking manner.

The enormous potential of digital cultural education lies in providing new media-based access points to knowledge – and we are just beginning to take advantage of them. In the future, its hallmarks: immersion, interaction and participation will be enhanced even more strongly by older linear mediation approaches. Due to the extensive mobility of the associated technology, it can make a huge contribution to cultural participation.

More information about the project “Virtual Konzerthaus” can be found on the Konzerthaus Berlin website (English) or on our blog (German).

About the author

Annette Thoma

Musicologist and member of the “Virtual Konzerthaus” team at the Konzerthaus Berlin.


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