A new online spatial exhibition showcases the next frontier in digital preservation and architectural archiving using 3D spatial data capture (3D scanning) and visualisation.

The Shoei Yoh Archive, an online interactive showcase developed by designers from UNSW’s School of Built Environment, recreates the iconic architecture of Japanese architect and pioneer of digital design, Shoei Yoh, in an immersive virtual environment.

The design team has utilised 3D scanning techniques to map Yoh’s living buildings and archival assets, creating a digital repository of his architecturally significant buildings. The team used the data to then generate new digital renders and animations that bring the architecture to life in an experiential digital exhibition space.

Co-curator UNSW’s Senior Lecturer in Computational Design Dr Nicole Gardner says the Archive shows the potential of 3D scanning to reimagine cultural and architectural heritage in new ways.

“For us, the 3D scanning of data meant that we have far more accurate digital models to work with to translate the archive of his work into something experiential,” Dr Gardner says. “It’s both a repository of these incredible archival assets, but also a celebration of his work in a really unique way with animation, soundtrack and interpretive sonification.”

Digital render of the outside of Naiju Community Centre

Shoei Yoh contributed to modernising timber architecture in Japan by using computer analysis techniques. Image: Daniel Yu.

The Archive itself is part of the Revisiting Shoei Yoh project, a research collaboration between UNSW Sydney and the Environmental Design School, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan, investigating digital technology innovation in the preservation and promotion of architecture.

Dr Gardner says the project explores the exciting opportunities in the emerging digital cultural heritage space and the potential of such practices to enable new and more sustainable ways of enhancing the accuracy and scope of cultural heritage documentation.

“It’s helping to foster an understanding of architecture’s cultural value and significance, as well as enhance the interactivity with architectural archival materials,” Dr Gardner says. “It’s also opening up new opportunities for analysis and interpretation of architectural heritage sites with compelling and meaningful opportunities for audience engagement.”

Similar methods have also been used to guide the restoration of cultural sites in the real world. Recently, 3D digital scans of Notre Dame have been used to assist with rebuilding and restoring the cathedral in a historically accurate way.

“In terms of preservation and sustainable heritage practices, [digital archiving] could also help protect vulnerable heritage sites from over visitation and simultaneously raise awareness to assist with conservation efforts as well.” Dr Gardner says.

The online archive also has an important message about sustainability in its own right. In the 1980s, Yoh contributed to modernising timber architecture in Japan by integrating early computer analysis techniques into his exploration of three-dimensional timber truss structures. By using advanced computational methods, Yoh was able to make use of local forestry cedar with smaller lengths and diameters in the three-dimensional timber truss structures.

Digital render of the inside of Naiju Community Centre

The new Shoei Yoh Archive shows the potential of 3D scanning to reimagine cultural and architectural heritage in new ways. Image: Daniel Yu.

“Yoh’s architecture made such a concerted effort to connect with its environment through his engagement with digital technology,” Dr Gardner says. “There’s an environmental sensitivity at the heart of his work, particularly the buildings we’re showcasing in the exhibition.”

The presentation of Yoh’s work as a spatial experience is also helping to push the boundaries of exhibitions today.

“In this context, particularly where we are unable to travel as widely as we used to, projects like this are incredibly important in that we can bring these parts of the world to us,” Dr Gardner says. “In bringing Yoh’s buildings to us, we can celebrate that heritage on a much more global scale than we have been able to do in the past.”

In addition to the online Shoei Yoh Archive, the team have developed a physical exhibition presented by the Australian Design Centre. Tracing the trajectory of experimental design practice across five key buildings completed by Yoh between 1979 to 1994, the physical exhibition showcases archival architectural drawings and photographs and digitally fabricated parametric architectural models.

Revisiting Shoei Yoh is on display at the Australian Design Centre until 25 January 2022.

The digital archive, exhibition and symposium are funded by an Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia Japan Foundation Grant (2020-2021), supported by project partner, micro global agency doq and presenting partner Australian Design Centre.