The exhibition’s North American debut at the Museum takes place on the third anniversary of the 2019 fire that ravaged the UNESCO World Heritage site and runs through Sept. 26. An inaugural exhibition launched on April 7 in Paris at the Collège des Bernadins. The experience is the first interactive technology exhibition on display at the National Building Museum.
To navigate the exhibition, each visitor will use a HistoPad, an augmented reality touch-screentablet developed by Histovery. The handheld device creates immersive and interactive reconstructions, visually transporting visitors back in time. They can choose their own experience to explore the cathedral being built in the Middle Ages, witness the coronation of Emperor Napoleon I, see the iconic Viollet-le-Duc spire being erected, or be guided through the operation designed to safeguard the structure since the fire, prior to the start of the restoration.
The Histopad experience is designed to appeal to visitors of all ages, regardless of their comfort level with technology. Visitors can choose between 11 language options, and a self-guided children’s virtual treasure hunt encourages exploration of the cathedral’s history and identification of items secretly imbedded within the augmented reality screens.
The exhibition is offered in an immersive physical setting. Vinyl replicas of the cathedral's flooring, stained-glass transfers on the Museum’s historic windows, audio of Notre Dame’s organs and tolling bells, as well as a projection of the cathedral’s famed rose window that survived the fire, complete the multi-sensory experience.
Large photo panels and 3-D models of the cathedral and its details (including a full-size chimera and statue) serve as visual cues and “portals” for the Histopad’s immersive explorations into the 12th-century cultural and architectural masterpiece. Interactive reconstructions show how builders and craftspeople laid the first stones in the 1160s, constructed the Gothic Choir in 1180, the arrival of the Holy Crown carried by Saint Louis in 1241, coronation of Emperor Napoleon I in 1804, and illustrate the building’s ornate evolution with the addition of the towering spire in 1859. Visitors can scroll through a timeline of the cathedral’s construction history and select options on each screen for more detail. They will learn about the cathedral’s complex architectural structure and construction techniques -- including the design and engineering of the flying buttresses, which left very little margin for error.
Current restoration of the building is a major focus of the exhibition as the HistoPad technology allows visitors to see workers in action reconstructing the elaborate architecture and rebuilding the sacred cathedral including the stabilization required after the fire ended. The experience provides insight into how the restoration team is using historical and scientific evidence to inform the ongoing repair work.
“The National Building Museum is the perfect venue for this exhibition to debut in the U.S.,” says Bruno de Sa Moreira, co-founder, chief executive officer, Histovery. “The Museum was established to preserve and celebrate the building arts and its mission is to inspire curiosity about the world we design and build. That focus, and its commitment to prioritize the role of innovation in their programming, is in total alignment with our goals.”
“We are thrilled to bring this premier exhibition to the United States, and believe it provides a new way to experience one of the world’s most iconic buildings,” says Aileen Fuchs, president, executive director, National Building Museum. “Visitors will experience firsthand how technology can contribute to our understanding of buildings. The unique and immersive virtual nature of the exhibition provides a window into this World Heritage site.”
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