The Falstad Center - geolocated digital reconstruction
Participating in the EU-funded HERA research project IC_ACCESS: INCLUSIVE STRATEGIES FOR EUROPEAN CONFLICTED PASTS, the Falstad center (Falstad) and the Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems group (SPECS) at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology agreed to jointly develop the FMA of SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad 1945, targeted towards both student visitors and educational programs as well as museum visitors to the memorial. Eodyne Systems s.l. took charge of the technical realization and FMA launched in the summer 2018 and has been part of the museum offering to all its visitors since. The Falstad Center: The Falstad center is today one of the seven national human rights centers in Norway. Falstad is both a museum, memorial and educational center, each year educating more than 7500 students ranging from 15-18 years on human rights and democracy based upon its history as prison camp from World War II The SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad was established in 1941, and until liberation on seven May 1945, more than 4300 political prisoners, Jews, Soviet and Yugoslavian slave laborers were imprisoned at what was the only SS operated camp in Norway. More than 200 prisoners were executed in the Falstad forest, located 1 km from the campsite. Before the establishment of the Strafgefangenenlager in 1941, the main building was a reformative school for boys, including a special facility for convicted youth. Immediately after the liberation, the Innherrad collaborator camp was established at Falstad, with over 3000 convicted collaborators serving their sentence in the same buildings that once housed the prisoners of the Nazi regime. From 1951 until 1992, the buildings were again used as a school-home, this time for students with special needs. SPECS and EODYNE: The Synthetic Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems Laboratory (specs-lab.com) at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalunya is a research lab addressing fundamental questions on mind and brain. SPECS elaborates a unified theory of mind and brain, validates this theory using empirical and synthetic methods and applies it to technologies that support and advance the human condition. SPECS comprises 30 researchers and technical staff with backgrounds in mathematics, physics, engineering, psychology, neuroscience and design and is directed by Dr. Paul F.M.J. Verschure who is a Research Professor with the Catalan Institute of Advanced Studies. SPECS' research spans Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Complexity Science, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Mixed Reality and the application areas of Neurorehabilitation, Education, and Cultural Heritage. Eodyne s.l. is a spin-off company of SPECS to bring its science to society. Eodyne develops and commercializes novel science-grounded neurorehabilitation, education, and cultural heritage technologies. Eodyne has expertise in advanced technology development using state-of-art approaches in virtual and augmented reality, geolocalization, and reconstruction, data visualization, big data processing, mobile applications, user experience design, mobile app development.
The Falstad Center - geolocated digital reconstruction
During World War II, SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad was one of the largest and most brutal prison camps in Norway, and the only one directly operated by the SS. Visitors to the Falstad center meet a completely different landscape and building structure than the one from 1945. What was once a double-fenced area, guard towers and barracks is today a beautiful park nearly without remains other than the main building visitor center. The Falstad center and partners have developed a new approach towards conserving and presenting history in the so-called, Future Memory App (FMA). FMA combines geo-localized digital reconstruction with historical source materials to deliver individualized spatial narratives. Users of the tablet-based outdoor augmented reality landscape guide explore the SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad 1945. FMA combines this virtual/augmented reality reconstruction with drawings, photographs, diary fragments, and recorded survivor testimonies. The Falstad FMA is in use since July 2018 and unique through its integrated approach that requires visitors to actively learn and reflect by exploring the entire outdoor area as an authentic, yet virtual environment of information. In contrast to the more traditional approach of navigation inside a museum with or without an audio guide or off-site using a desktop application. FMA employs state-of-the-art technology that allows for active exploration of both the environment and historical materials, offering visitors a highly engaging, compelling, and historically contextualized interactive museum experience. Positive user evaluations and a more than 60% increase in visitor numbers to the museum confirm the effectivity of this approach.
In recent years, cultural heritage museums and memorials globally have adopted new digital technologies, media, and platforms to give the public experiential access to and knowledge of the past. The opportunity technology provides to digitally reconstruct buildings in current day landscapes is of particular value to memorial sites from the Second World war, where physical traces of the camp structure in most cases are minimal. Today, very few of the more than 40 000 Holocaust sites in Europe are recognizable as prison camps. Buildings, barracks, and fences have been burnt down or removed. At the same time, Holocaust sites and prison camps from the Nazi era receive millions of visitors annually, visitors that come to learn, understand, and reflect. In particular, students and younger visitors do not have the detailed understanding of the horrors of the Nazi camp structure, and when faced with a former camp area that today is a park, forest combined with a modern visitor center often struggle to comprehend the context and meaning of the sites visited. Visitors to the Falstad center meet a completely different landscape and building structure than the one that existed during the years it served as an SS prison camp. What was once a double-fenced area with guard towers and barracks is today a beautiful park nearly without remains other than the main building that serves as a modern visitor center. Although the center hosts an exhibition about its history, its outdoor environment effectively prevents visitors from fully comprehending the historical structure of the site. As such, the Falstad memorial faces the challenge confronted by most European sites that were prison, concentration, or extermination camps during the conflicted history of the 20th century: how to communicate and commemorate the Holocaust and Nazi crimes in the absence of physical traces? VR and AR technology make it possible to digitally (re)construct historical buildings and landscapes. Through the European research project, iC-ACCESS (Accessing Campscapes: Inclusive Strategies for Using European Conflicted Heritage), where the Falstad center is an associated partner, the "Falstad digital reconstruction" (FDR) was launched in 2018. FDR uses geolocation to connect the app to the physical landscape at the former SS camp Falstad. Using tablets, the public can access a digitally reconstructed version of the "campscape" as it existed in 1945. The reconstruction is multimodal and includes 3D models of topography and architecture as well as hyperlinks to "information boxes" containing historical sources (text, photo, drawing, video) and short, curated texts and audio material. To navigate in the digital landscape, the user needs to move in the physical landscape. (S)he is free to choose the path and whether, and in what order, to activate the hyperlinks. To address this challenge, the Falstad center has teamed up with the Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems group (SPECS) and its spin-off company Eodyne. They have developed a new approach towards conserving and presenting history in the so-called, Future Memory App (FMA). FMA combines geo-localized digital reconstruction with historical source materials to deliver individualized spatial narratives. Users of the tablet-based outdoor augmented reality landscape guide explore the SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad as it was in 1945. FMA combines this virtual/augmented reality reconstruction with drawings, photographs, diary fragments, and recorded survivor testimonies. Visitors can now for the first time experience history in context and at the actual locations where events took place. A central consideration behind FMA is to facilitate users to experience and learn about the landscape and its history, driven by their interests, choices, and active participation, while it allows content creators to design a plurality of possible museum experiences customized to different visitor groups. FDR is a kind of "locative narrative" (Hayles 2008, 11). Its ‘locatedness' makes it an innovative communication device in the context of Norwegian as well as European memorial sites. The digital reconstruction is developed by the Falstad center, a Norway memorial and human rights center, in cooperation with Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems group (SPECS) at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC). The FDR is based on a first version digital reconstruction of the Bergen Belsen camp in Germany, also developed by SPECS and IBEC in 2013, but goes further in quantity of content, quality of the graphical representation as well as the spread in user applications. How does the FDR work for a visitor at the Falstad memorial center: The FDR is available for all visitors to the Falstad memorial, students and museum visitors alike. FDR stores a digital reconstruction of all actual buildings at the campsite in 1945, as well as more than 100 information points located in the Falstad landscapes. With prisoners from 15 different nationalities, it has been important for the developers and Falstad to make the app available in several languages: English, Norwegian, German, and Russian. A museum visitor will upon arrival at Falstad be given a 12,9-inch screen Ipad (large version), with brief instructions on how the application works. From then onwards, the visitor navigates in the Falstad landscape in AR mode, allowed to see the historical buildings and relevant content at specific historically correct locations. Authentic pictures of the prisoner barracks, as well as testimonies from survivors in text and video, are made available through the app. However, with its geo-located features, the content cannot be viewed from anywhere, and hence, the visitor is stimulated to navigate in the complete camp area, to learn and reflect. A group of students, normally participating in a 4-hour educational program, is given access to the FDR as part of their introduction to the Falstad history. Rather than being introduced to the history of the site in a traditional teacher/student setting, listening to a narrated presentation, the students are actively engaging in their own learning and can choose their own topics of particular interest. How the FDR is changing the digital representation and use of memorial landscapes Whereas a traditional digital presentation of a landscape in an app can be viewed from anywhere, also outside the memorial premised, the key premise of a geo-located application is that it increases the user experience, the understanding of the historical layers and the knowledge of the Falstad prison camp survivors at the actual spaces in the landscape, viewed in a digitally authentic landscape. This enhances the potential for learning for the visitors, as the content viewed is connected in memory to the spaces in the landscape where the events took place.