Recently a new reconstruction project has gotten underway. No, we have not begun rebuilding another site in town, but instead we have started reconstructing the Armoury Site…virtually. Using skills that would be foreign to our 18th-century predecessors, computer modelers from Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital History Center are hard at work creating a “Virtual Armoury” to complement the ongoing physical reconstruction.
Why build a virtual model when “the real thing” is currently under construction? While our physical reconstruction will depict James Anderson’s Public Armoury at the height of its use (between 1778 and 1780) a virtual model can show multiple time periods to convey how a site grew and changed. Through the virtual model, rendered on a computer screen much like a video game, guests will be able to explore and learn about the development of James Anderson’s property from supporting a small blacksmith shop in 1776, to a bustling industrial complex three years later. In the virtual world, buildings may be added or dismantled, aged, and renovated based on what we know from a wealth of documentary, architectural, and archaeological research. Best of all, none of these virtual changes requires a building permit!
Virtually modeling the site is also an important research tool for the reconstruction project. By visualizing the site on a computer, we can analyze evidence and test hypotheses before any bricks are laid or posts put into the ground. We can use computer modeling to examine the evidence about where tin-smithing was taking place and to learn more about the site’s landscape. For example, the ongoing excavations around the “Mary Stith Tin Shop” have revealed that the building was literally built in a ravine and that the ground level to the west and north of the building was at least five feet lower than it is today. This new landscape evidence is raising intriguing questions about the location of the door and the building’s height in relation to the Armoury, only 1 1/2 feet to the east. Using 3D modeling we will be able to visualize various scenarios to determine which ones are more plausible and which ones can be conclusively ruled out.
The images below show the kitchen—the first building to be virtually reconstructed—in the preliminary stage of modeling, in which a building is reproduced to scale using computer drafting software. The second stage will involve applying appropriate textures, colors, and lighting to make the computer model appear as realistic as possible. The virtual reconstruction of James Anderson’s Blacksmith Shop and Public Armoury is part of a larger undertaking to create Virtual Williamsburg, an interactive 3D computer model of the town in 1776.
As the physical reconstruction of the site continues, we will post periodic updates about the virtual modeling of the site to show how it is progressing, so stay tuned!
-Contributed by Peter Inker, Digital Architectural Historian.
Virtual Williamsburg and the Foundation’s new 3D Visualization Lab have received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We are extremely grateful for this support.