Talking about everything visible and invisible (I)

Talking about everything visible and invisible (I)

The European Collaborative Cloud for Cultural Heritage (ECCCH), created in 2023 and aimed to create innovative tools for digitizing cultural heritage objects, is a trending topic in the UE applied research to ensure the sustainable and affordable conservation of our historical legacy.

For sure digitising cultural heritage involves a wide variety of technologies and techniques, some of which serve to analyse visible issues (those what we ‘detect’ with our eyes), and others serve to discover and analyse invisible issues (those what we are not able to see). Have you ever wondered what those techniques are? Keep reading as we begin in this episode with the visible ones. Don’t be impatient, next time we will explain those used for the invisible.

Digitising the visible characteristics of cultural heritage objects requires at least this range of innovative tools and methods:

  • High res-3D scanning: to capture the shape, texture and geometry. Techniques such as laser scanning, structured light scanning, Structure from motion (SfM – by means of image sequences) or Neural Radiance Fields (NERF – adding IA to image sequences) are employed to create detailed 3D.
  • Advanced imaging methods: this can include techniques such as multispectral images (normally between 3 and 20 spectral bands not necessarily contiguous to each other); hyperspectral images (formed by a greater number of bands but always contiguous); or reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), which easily reveal details, enhance colour accuracy, and provide material analysis.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): to enable immersive experiences and interactive visualisation of cultural heritage objects. They allow users to explore digitised objects in virtual environments, providing a more engaging and educational experience.
  • Metadata and semantic annotation: to ensure proper organisation and retrieval of digitised cultural heritage objects. These tools enable the description, classification, and linking of objects to related information, such as historical context, artist information, or cultural significance.
  • Robust data storage and management solutions: As the volume of digitised cultural heritage objects is hugely growing, cloud-based platforms and digital repositories are required to provide scalable and secure storage for the vast amount of data generated through digitisation efforts.
  • Collaborative Platforms: to ease collaboration among multiple institutions and experts, facilitate sharing, exchange, and collaboration among stakeholders, enabling seamless access to digitised cultural heritage data.

We know how to do all these things at CARTIF. Do you dare to ask us?

What does decarbonization have to do with Cultural Heritage?

What does decarbonization have to do with Cultural Heritage?

Decarbonization is the “trending topic” of terms related to sustainability, energy and the environment. It is the process of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere. Decarbonization means reducing climate change and dependence on fossil fuels, which are precisely those that emit CO2 when burned (clear examples are fuel-oil and coal). Decarbonization implies the use of cleaner energy sources, but also the adoption of technologies and methods to protect the environment and to reduce these emissions (the so-called “carbon footprint”).

However, what does this have to do with Cultural Heritage? Well, you will be surprised for sure, but it turns out that Heritage contribuyes many important things to decarbonization: the preservation of historical buildings, the reuse of spaces, the promotion of sustainable mobility, the promotion of cultural tourism and technological innovation in the assessment and the conservation of historical assets. In other words, it turns out that offers an environmentally friendly approach to urban planning and rural development.

If we go into a little more detail, you will see that Cultural Heritage can play a significant role in decarbonization and the fight against climate change. Here we provide you five ways to do so, but I´m quite sure your are able to think of some more (please tell us):

  1. Technological innovation applied to conservation1 of historic buildings (where CARTIF has a lot to say): here the sensitivity required by historic buildings implies the development of specific techniques and technologies, which have broader applications in reducing carbon emissions in other fields of construction and environmental management. The digitally based technical inspection, the preventive conservation and the intervention involving H-BIM avoid both ruin and/or demolition, as well as new alternative constructions, which significantly reduces the material and energy resources to be used for these purposes. Furthermore, and this is worthy of remark, the old buildings were designed and built up with techniques and materials that are inherently sustainable, taking advantage of aspects that we are “rediscovering” right now such as orientation, natural ventilation and the use of native materials.
  1. Reuse of spaces: Historical sites and buildings can be suitable adapted for new uses and transformed into living or working spaces with a level of comfort appropriate to the 21st century, which in the medium-long term saves resources compared to the construction of new substitute structures. This reuse contributes to greater energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon emissions.
  1. Adaptation and transcription of ancient professional techniques: historic places are examples of how antique societies adapted to environmental challenges (which have always existed) and how lessons learned in the past can be adopted today through proper understanding and technological shift of traditional techniques and uses (both materials and methods).
  1. Promotion of sustainable mobility: The preservation of historic centres in cities increasingly promotes sustainable mobility. In fact, they were desgined to move on foot, on horseback or in wagons and carriages. Therefore, they absolutely favour pedestrian accesibility and the use of public transport instead of private vehicles. This reduces dependence on fossil fuels and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
  1. Development of sustainable cultural tourism: it is more than proven that sustainable cultural tourism can play an important role in the local economy and even in the region, encouraging more environmentally friendly practices such as waste management, conservation of biodiversity and the promotion of quality agri-food and crafts.

But, does Cultural Heritage really do that much? Obviously yes. Indeed, a lot. In line with the priorities of the European Green Deal and the EU´s climate ambition for 2030 and 2050, the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper emerged in 2021, where indeed it is already considered a driver of decarbonization and mirror upon which citizens see themselves as key actors in the actions needed on this regard.

Historic building and decarbonization is a bionmial over which the Cultural Heritage & Regeneration Committee of the European Construction Technology Platform has been working for years (CARTIF takes part of the Executive Board). Its latest strategic research agenda for the period 2021-2027, promptly refers to this. And it is an issue that has been deepen into recent plenary assemblies. It is no wonder when 24% of the residential buildings in Europe date back to before 1945, nearly half of them have historical value, and of this latter, 73% are located in cities, which is precisely where the alrgest carbon footprint is made.

From now on, will you see Heritage with an additional view further than cultural, religious and tourist ones? Another thing for you to know.

1 In line with UNESCO and ICOMOS usage related to tangible heritage, conservation is considered as the umbrella term to cover a range of preservation, conservation, restoration, (re)use, interpretation and management activities.

If you own an old sculpture or painting, take it to the dermatologist

If you own an old sculpture or painting, take it to the dermatologist

A wood lamp emits ultraviolet (UV) light and is a diagnostic tool used in dermatology to determine whether a person has a fungal or bacterial pathology on the sking or scalp. If so, the area illuminated by the wood lamp will fluoresce, becoming apparent in different colours associated with different pathologies. Perhaps you have ever undergone this test. The doctor will have told you to close your eyes to protect your vision and the light in the room where you are he will have turned off to highlight the fluorescence. Among other possibilities, if it turned out light blue means that you have normal and healthy sking; yellow is oily skin with acne; brown is for pigmentation and blackheads; and if white spots appear, drink more water, because you have dehydrated skin.

But surely you had not stopped to think that his technique is also applicable to diagnose similar pathologies in movable cultural heritage assets made of organic materials, for example wood or resin sculptures, or paintings covered with varnishes madre from three resins. The passing of the years, inadequate conservation conditions and dirt are defining aspects in the appearance of fungi or the yellowing of varnishes, so that if sculptures or paintings are illuminated with a wood lamp, we can clearly distinguish fungal conditions, and the extent of dirt (even where they are not yet perceptible to the naked eye), or if a painting has been touched up because the yellowing of old varnishes turns fluorescent.

Heart of Jesus inspected with wood lamp

In the ITEHIS project a wood lamp that emitting light around 365nm (UV) and producing fluorescence around 500nm (perceptible by the human eye) has been used to inspect a statue of the Heart of Jesus from the late 19th century, validating the fungal infection (especially mold) and making evident its true extent.

A wood lamp thus becomes an absolutely effective, eay-to-use, non-invasive and economically admissible mean, even for a person like you and me, to help clean and restore our heritage. A true example of a “low-cost” technique to keep it there. But this does not end here, because further R&D is required to associate new colours with new pathologies in a moment where climate change and human globalization bring “bugs” that do not correspond to the latitudes where they currently appear. But don´t worry about that, CARTIF is already taking care of it.

Heritage and Cultural Tourism: A marriage of convenience?

Heritage and Cultural Tourism: A marriage of convenience?

Cultural heritage, in the broad sense, is the legacy received from our ancestors, which becomes the testimony of their worldview, their ways of life and their way of being, having to be passed down to future generations. Knowing the cultural heritage is to know the identity of a specific society and let me dare say that, without doubt, it even helps us to discover ourselves.

When we are traveling to a certain place to “pick up” that knowledge, but being far away from stereotypes and trivializations, we are doing cultural tourism. Despite the fact that this type of tourism is sometimes controversial (fundamentally due to how resources are managed), it is unquestionable that it has nothing to do with sun and beach tourism. Even though Spain is the second country in the world for highest quantity (and quality) of cultural (and even natural) heritage, it surprisingly continues to present and sell ‘sun and beach’ tourism as almost exclusive. Cultural tourism represents a great opportunity for local development, decisively contributing to conserving and making heritage sustainable, since it has already been proven that generates resources and employment for the community. But for this to happen, it must be oriented not only for the benefit of cultural heritage in itself, but also for the people who inhabit the place where it is located. Only if the inhabitants are really an active component in tourism development, can the spark arise between heritage and cultural tourism, and then it will end up being a well-matched marriage beyond convenience.

The fact is that since the 1970s, when UNESCO launched the Convention on World Cultural and Natural Heritage, together with proposals to conserve and promote it, cultural tourism has experienced huge growth throughout the world, but especially in Europe, where it became really important since the 1980s. In fact, currently there are 1121 declared World Heritage Sites; the majority of them spread around three countries, two of which are European: China (55), Italy (55), and Spain (48).

Europe is a key cultural tourism destination thanks to an incomparable cultural heritage that includes museums, theatres, archaeological sites, historical cities, industrial sites as well as music and gastronomy. According to CARTIF’s analysis in 2021 for the TExTOUR project, it is estimated that cultural tourism accounts for 40% of all European tourism. This is generating 5 million direct jobs and contributing 143 billion Euros per year to the EU economy.  Indeed the EU promotes a balanced approach between the needs to boost growth on one side, and the preservation of artefacts, historical sites, and local traditions on the other.

patrimonio cultural

Pandemics apart, it is estimated that cultural tourism will remain one of the key markets in Europe. Interestingly, cultural tourists spend 38% more per day and stay 22% longer than other tourists. Germany is the largest European source market in terms of market size, followed by the United Kingdom, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Spain. Trends show cultural tourism is slowly changing into creative tourism. With it, tourists actively participate in cultural learning experiences, getting in touch with local people and culture.

Cultural tourism originally was primarily driven by the interest of the baby boom generation (born late 1950s – mid 1970s) to visit major cultural sites and attractions, such as museums and monuments, often travelling in groups. The generations after them: generation Y (millennials: born 1980–1995) and generation Z (centennials: born 1995 – 2010), drive the demand for more authentic, unique, small-scale and personal experiences, plus the demand for popular and everyday culture. For them it is more important ‘to be’ somewhere, rather than ‘to go’ somewhere. These generations prefer to travel on their own, thus flat rental platforms and personally-driven services at local level are growing and growing.

Of course technology has made a substantial change in the habits of travellers. The recent publication of five new standards by the Spanish Standardization Committee (UNE) contributes to providing solutions to the challenges that destinations as well as the companies and agents that operate in them must address through a digital and sustainable model that definitely fits like a glove to the cultural tourism. This model strongly needs to be equal in technological and social development to the digitization of cultural heritage, which is the great pending issue, but CARTIF is ready to help. Do you need us?

Digitizing cultural heritage: what are we talking about?

Digitizing cultural heritage: what are we talking about?

The word “Digitization” is ubiquitous today. The term is extremely used but its meaning is worn out when taken to a specific terrain. Answering to how?, with what?, for what?, and even, why? for the particular case of Cultural Heritage it is not an easy taks, nor closed. Digitization and Heritage is a Romeo and Juliet style romance (to make a cultural simile), where the respective families view the matter with suspicion, even when it is destined to be a well-matched marriage, not one of convenience.

Digitization sounds technological, state-of-the-art. Heritage sounds archaic, old-fashioned. Putting one together with the other, and avoiding formal definitions (otherwise non-existent), it is proposed to define digitization in this case as the incorporation of digital technologies (those based on electronics, optics, computing and telecommunications) to the products, processes and services that organizations follow and offer for research, protection, conservation, restoration and dissemination of Cultural Heritage.

Digitization affects the way of facing work, the proper way of working and the organization in itself, modifying its structure and managing. This alteration in the organization schema causes an atavistic fear of losing the artisan and professional-knowledge supported value that features the companies in the Cultural Heritage sector, made up of more than 90% by SMEs in the EU. This is the real reason why they take the longest to “digitize”. It is not just an issue about buying, installing and operating computers, software and wireless networks. The change is deeper: it is not a question of appearance; it is a fundamental question. But it is well worth remembering that the workshops and people who appear in history and arts books today because the works they have bequeathed, are indeed famous for having innovated and used the best technologies available on their time.

But, what are the technologies at stake today for the Digitization of Cultural Heritage? Without being exhaustive, and also being aware of leaving things in the pipeline, the most demanded technologies are summarized below:

Multidimensional modelling and simulation (including Heritage BIM -HBIM[1]-): exact 3D virtual replicas of movable and immovable assets; mechanical, electrical, acoustic, lighting and signal coverage simulations with specialized software; 4D (evolution in time). The HBIM parametric modelling is remarkable to complying with Directive 2014/24/ EU and also to addressing extra dimensions: 5D (costs); 6D (sustainability and energy efficiency); 7D (maintenance).

Sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G: multipurpose devices for capturing, combining and communicating all kinds of data over the Internet. The 5G allows making between 10 and 20 times faster the traffic of these data compared to current 4G mobile communications. These technologies are typically used in structural and environmental monitoring for condition assessment.

Data analytics to get useful information: cloud computing (to archive all kind of information and making it accessible and searchable from anywhere and from any device connected to the Internet); edge computing (local computing -on the axis-, to improve response times and save bandwidth); big data (massive treatment of structured and unstructured data – in the order of Petabytes: 1015 bytes-). The determination of causes and effects, together with the prediction and characterization of behaviours (including visitor flows) are common examples

Artificial intelligence (AI): machine learning (ability to learn without specific coding) and deep learning (learning based on neural networks that mimic the basic functioning of the human brain) are well-known. One example is the Gigapixel technology to enlarge images to see tiny details thanks to intelligent computer processing of extremely high-quality photographs. Another example is the automatic recognition of symbols or animal species in a prehistoric rock engraving on which a-priori nothing can be distinguished.

Systems dynamics and informational entropy: they are ways of studying adaptive mechanisms in complex and changing systems (such as all those that humans forge -which are precisely characterized by creativity and culture-) to make predictive models or to support decision-making and management.

Computer vision: capturing and processing of images by cameras that operate in one or more spectral ranges to see beyond our eyes also at all scales (from space with COPERNICO satellites, to the microscopic world): search for patterns, detection of pests , humidity, alterations, irregularities and falsifications, definition of authorship and artistic techniques, conservation assessment. Applied to video analytics, it is very effective in guaranteeing the security against theft, vandalism or looting. 

Digital twins: combining some (or all) of the previous aspects (multidimensional modelling, simulation, computer vision, sensors, IoT and AI) upon a virtual replica ready to remotely work  under a multidisciplinary approach, allows to anticipate possible problems and experiment safely before performing any intervention, helping to its optimal planning. It can be applied to movable assets, but it has special significance in immovable ones.

High-quality audio and video: Hi-Res for audio and FullHD, 2K and 4K for video are words already entered in our lives. They allude to the highest attributes and durability of the audio and video formats that can be used for the registration of intangible heritage or the broad dissemination of heritage in general.

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (XR): to recreate spaces, decorations and configurations, past or future, even to look into planned interventions upon 3D models using special glasses or smartphones.

Ontologies and semantics: to uniquely name and hierarchically structure the constituent elements of movable or immovable assets and cultural landscapes so that they are understandable both by specialists and laymen regardless of their language and cultural background.

Interoperability: to synchronize data, systems and processes nevertheless of their origin and format.

Cybersecurity: to defend against malicious attacks on computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks and data. Blockchain allows avoiding falsifications as well as guaranteeing the authorship and the digital visa of projects.

Robotization and 3D printing: configurable robots (adaptable, shippable and remotely-assisted) allow the modular construction of specific elements in-situ. They also allow the automation of inspection, cleaning, assembly, conservation and restoration processes in dangerous or hard-to-reach places, quickly and accurately. It can be combined with 3D printing for sealing, insulating and watermarking in different materials and finishes. Particularly 3D printing allots functional replication (total or partial) at different scales to create prototypes, parts, mock-ups and test series. 

Nanotechnology and new advanced materials: the continuously increasing processing power of computers and their combination with the hardware of machinery allows the study and manipulation of matter in incredibly small sizes (typically between 1nm and 100nm), resulting in a wide range of materials and techniques usable in conservation and restoration.

In March 2021, the European Commission published a report that reviews and evaluates the actions and progress achieved in the EU in the implementation of the Recommendation (2011/711/EU) on digitization, online accessibility and digital preservation of cultural heritage as one of the main political instruments in those matters[1]. The ecological and digital transitions are, in fact, the keys to the agreement on the so-called Recovery Plan for Europe[2]. EU Member States have agreed on the need to invest more in improving connectivity and related technologies to strengthen the digital transition and emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, transforming the economy and creating opportunities and jobs for that Europe into which citizens want to live. During the confinement society has shown that Cultural Heritage in digital format was a true social balm, with museums and collections open online 24 hours a day.

Thus it is the right time and there are no general solutions for “digitization”. Cultural Heritage is not about producing thousands of cars, parts or packaging per day. Quite the contrary: each company, each project, each asset must be considered for what it is: something unique. To make a clear example, imagine somebody getting into the supermarket and asking ‘what is there to eat?’ The answer, consonant with the perplexity, could be: there are from precooked to fresh, meat, fish, eggs, dairy and sweets in all possible varieties. It depends on your culinary tastes, your hunger and the time you have, your nutritional needs, the time of day … In short: particular problems require particular solutions.