Using Digital Tools to Reimagine Cultural Heritage Spaces 


It is one thing to document a space or place, another to build a project that takes the next step to bring the audience into that space or place. Today, advancements in technology offer a plethora of methods to digitise environments, including photogrammetry (using photographs from at least two different vantage points to obtain depth and perspective), drones, and 3D modelling with quantitative data. 

In this blog, we will explore these strategies and discuss the ways in which visual data can be utilised, ranging from processing research to storytelling and speculation and drawing from both historical facts and fictional narratives.

First – data! 

A space or environment can be captured in seemingly infinite ways. The simplest is photographic documentation – with a camera or even a phone, you can collect different vantage points of a place, space, or environment. 

A more rigorous process includes specialised equipment. For example: 

360-Degree Cameras:

These are specialised cameras that capture a 360-degree image from one spot. Sometimes they are a two-sided device with two 180-degree wide lenses, so when the image is captured the final result is stitched together. These can capture stationary images or video. 

ADH’s Gede Ruin Digitisation Project produced panoramic documentation to build a virtual tour of the settlement. Gede is a coastal town north of Mombasa, settled between 1041 and 1278 as a trade hub. The goal of the project is to document the structures as they appear today while situating the ruins in the context of present day community life.


Drones collect static images and video from above-ground- with this method you can capture images of a large area quickly. This is also convenient for hard to reach areas.  Check out this handy guide for a how-to. 

Laser scanning: 

Three Dimensional or 3D scanners use lasers to collect visual data – they measure distances between surfaces to create 3D representations of environments and objects. This works better for smaller areas and objects. (more

There is also Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a technology that measures distances between surfaces by measuring how light travels to and from the device. This works better for larger areas. (more)  

These technologies simplify the process of digitising environments, but the equipment is much more expensive and difficult to access. However, this may be a passing challenge- smart devices like Apple iPhones are starting to incorporate remote sensing software

Stories: When recreating places that no longer are, or in order to visualise what a space could look like when brought to life, we have to look outside the box. Oral and written histories, songs, books, maps, and more can contribute to 3D reconstruction. 

Sources for 3D Reconstruction
Oral testimony – The Kamiriithu Virtual Reconstruction relied heavily on oral histories from community members and former thespians and cast members to create the visual reconstruction. This process involved going through interviews that Makau Kitata and Kenny Cupers had conducted during their research, as well as frequent consultations with the original cast members, where knowledge gaps existed.
Written / Visual sources – Descriptions of the theatre that existed in archives, books, newspapers and academic papers, also contributed to the reconstruction.

Unlocking Insights

Once the visual data is captured, the real magic begins in the processing techniques i.e., 3D modelling and photogrammetry. Photogrammetry, in particular, utilises photographs taken from different vantage points to construct highly detailed three-dimensional models of objects, landscapes, or environments. This process not only facilitates precise measurements and analysis but also enables virtual exploration of spaces that may be challenging or impossible to access physically.


By using the power of digital processing, researchers can draw out valuable insights and information. Whether it’s studying archaeological sites, analysing geological formations, or monitoring changes in landscapes over time, these techniques provide a rich framework for visualising complex phenomena with accuracy, and a canvas for further exploration. 

Studying and Creating the World in a Digital Environment

The integration of digital tools into research methodologies has transformed the way we approach studying the world around us. Beyond traditional methods, cultural heritage practitioners have access to a wide array of digital resources that support their questions and projects. Mapping technologies make visualisation of spatial relationships and patterns possible, while speculation becomes more informed by simulating various scenarios.

Furthermore, there are many different ways of curating and engaging with visual data, including  web-based experiences, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) platforms. These immersive mediums not only enhance the presentation of research findings but also encourage greater engagement and understanding among audiences. Whether it’s creating interactive exhibits or conducting virtual field trips, cultural heritage practitioners, educators, and communities can leverage these tools to communicate their findings in compelling and accessible ways.

MetaReality Project by Jiwe Studio
The first chapter of the MetaReality Project is situated in 18th century Bunce Island and the wider estuary around it, in what is now Sierra Leone., The project is focused on digitally rebuilding Bunce Island and the present-day ruins. Through a narrative structure, the users will be guided through an immersive digital experience to learn more about the area’s nuanced history.

 The spatial documentation of the Lamu Fort took place in 2006, using terrestrial laser-scanning (TLS is a stationary system that scans a specific area from a fixed point, as opposed to LiDAR’s mobile system that scans a larger area from a moving platform, such as a drone, or aircraft.)

Embracing the Future of Visualisation

As we continue to push the boundaries of technological innovation, the fusion of drones, digital processing, and research methodologies holds immense promise for the future of visualisation. From uncovering hidden archaeological treasures to monitoring environmental changes in real-time, these tools empower us to explore and understand the world in ways that have so far been unimaginable.

Hidden In Plain Site: Richmond is a VR exploration of distinct, but easy to overlook sites around Richmond, Virginia, that tells the story of the Black experience throughout history. Featuring actual examples from various angles and ages, these sites will be vibrantly brought to life through augmentation of its current appearance combined with historical imagery. Our goal is to inform and educate while changing how residents and visitors see and experience their city.

However, with great power comes great responsibility. As we harness these technologies for research and exploration, it’s essential to consider ethical implications such as privacy concerns, data security, and environmental impact. By approaching visualisation with mindfulness and integrity, we can ensure that these transformative tools are used for the greater good.

The Other Dakar tells the story of a little girl that receives a message and discovers the hidden face of Dakar. A homage to Senegalese mythology and a stunning visual debut from Dakar-based artist and designer, Selly Raby Kane, this magical 360° film transports viewers to a place where past and future meet and where artists are the beating heart of the city.

The convergence of drones, digital processing, and research methodologies represents a paradigm shift in how we visualise and study the world, and who has the power to do so. Here at ADH we’ve had the opportunity to explore digitising environments using 3D modelling, photography, and mapping. 

Leveraging primary and secondary data from archaeological sites, oral histories, archives, and more, we have stewarded projects such as our Mau Mau detention camp project with the Museum of British Colonialism, Gede Ruins Project with Unesco, Save the Railway project Samburu Railway reconstruction, and most recently the Kamiriithu Theatre Virtual Reconstruction project. I am excited to see how we experiment with environments next – I am personally interested in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).

Stay tuned to see what ADH works on next!

Ultimately, by embracing these technologies with curiosity and care, we have the opportunity to unlock new insights, inspire discovery, and shape a brighter future for generations to come. 

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