Interactive virtual tour to the Museu de les Aigües
The acceleration of digital transformation began in March 2020 from the coronavirus health crisis and is running through 2021. The Museu de les Aigües led the process of creating the virtual visit. It has had the support of the company Layers of Reality, specialized in the production of digital experiences. The museum has also coordinated the production of all the elements that have been part of the virtual visit, such as games, visits in augmented reality. For this, specialized companies such as Cubus Games and One Big Robot have been used. For the part of historical research and interpretation, on the one hand, we had the support of a company specialized in historical research and the group of Friends of the Museum, made up of people who have worked in the facilities and who have been able to contribute their knowledge. It has therefore been a collaborative process led by the Museu de les Aigües that has involved people and companies from different fields of knowledge to create a rich experience where technology is combined with the interpretation of heritage.
Interactive virtual tour to the Museu de les Aigües
The virtual tour is therefore the result of two parallel processes at the service of a new experience in heritage interpretation. Firstly, a technological process where use has been made of the latest digital innovations at the service of heritage and, secondly, a humanistic and interpretative process, based on obtaining new knowledge about this heritage. The result is a new product that enables new audiences to be reached, without the conditioning factors of a strategic plant for the intake and pumping of water that provides an essential service to the city of Barcelona and its environs. With virtual tours, geographical barriers cease to be a conditioning factor and the experience of those users who visit the plant in person is improved, since it offers a continuation of the tour beyond their stay on the actual premises. Furthermore, the virtual experience is a resource that makes it possible to attract a flow of people to the Museum, generating the conversion from virtual visitors to physical visitors. It is therefore a key element in the construction of a hybrid heritage where barriers between a physical space and a virtual space cease to exist. This free-of-charge digital resource is a demonstration of the Water Museum’s permanent commitment to education and dissemination around water, sustainability, and heritage.
THE WATER MUSEUM The Water Museum (Museu de les Aigües) is a museum based around a theme, around a company, and around a site. It is housed inside the Aigües de Barcelona company’s Central Cornellà, a century-old water intake and pumping station inside which the museum space is located. The Central Cornellà is a unique and singular plant, because coexisting inside it are industrial heritage elements and functional elements. This means that it is still a fully-functioning industrial plant, with 25% of the water taken from the River Llobregat running through the plant to the taps of Barcelona and its entire metropolitan area, which has 3.5 million inhabitants. The original antique machinery coexists with modern pumps that are still in operation today. The area immediately around the Central Cornellà is, moreover, brimming with biodiversity as the industrial site is surrounded by gardens, which naturalise the space and today form part of the Water Museum project. AN INNOVATIVE RESULT: THE GUIDED OR SELF-GUIDED VIRTUAL TOUR In 2021, the Water Museum has inaugurated its first interactive virtual tour in gigapixel images. Virtual tours enable people to visit the museum and the heritage space from an innovative perspective, creating a personalised experience for users which, thanks to digital technologies, they can access from anywhere, for example their own homes or schools. The tour can be a guided or a self-guided tour. For those people who prefer to follow the explanations of a guide, a 360° tour has been created that offers an immersive experience using augmented reality glasses. This is a 9-minute tour where users have the possibility of looking around in every direction and, thanks to the use of the glasses, they get the sensation of being inside the physical space of the Water Museum. The configuration of the visit enables users to hear the sounds typical of the pumping station, such as the water pumps in operation, a recreation of the sound of the old electricity generators, or the gushing of the water in the Gaudí Waterfall. This latter feature has special relevance, as it gives a sense of what the architect Antoni Gaudí conceived when recreating a sound of nature. Gaudí’s work is unique especially for this reason; because he sought to recreate the elements found in the natural environment, and water is one of them. For those people who prefer to take the tour at their own pace, the interactive virtual tour has been created. People have access to the whole of the museum, even those corners usually closed to the public for safety or conservation reasons. This means that now, everyone can have access to the Civil War air raid shelter situated at the Central Cornellà, or to the interior of any of the wells or even to the basement of the Museum. Furthermore, next to each Museum artefact and space, as well as obtaining the information accessible from the site, it is possible to follow the links shared to related interactive materials that enable more in-depth study of any aspect that interests us. From the technological viewpoint, the interactive visit has implied a process of digitalisation of the entire space through systems of gigapixel images and 8k videos, enabling the production of photographs where all the details of the heritage elements can be perceived. The tour has been designed using accessibility criteria, with a typography that is easy to read for people with visual difficulties, as well as an audio description, the aim being to make it extensive to the maximum number of people. This virtual tour marks a milestone with the process of digital transformation that was accelerated from March 2020 onwards. This entire process has involved the transformation of interactives present in the Water Museum’s permanent exhibition to online elements available free of charge for everyone with access to the Internet. It has also involved the development of museum products designed directly to bring audiences into closer contact with heritage through digital means, therefore created under the premises of these technologies and the Museum’s Strategic Plan, renewed based on the new context arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the new Strategic Plan emphasises continuing with the Museum’s education and information vision from the digital dimension, prioritising four audiences and three blocks: • Audiences: schools, families, elderly people, adults. • Blocks: virtual tours, educational programme, content for social media networks. The experiences created to provide a response to these needs are integrated into the virtual tour, which also acts as a repository for the Museum’s activity and knowledge. For example, it includes experiences based on gamification, among others the recreation of the Central Cornellà within the universe of Minecraft, where not only is the heritage element in itself represented, but also a proposal for an activity that enables learning about and awareness-raising regarding the natural heritage surrounding the Water Museum while making good use of the advantages of being situated in an imaginary world. The virtual tour gives access to this game, also free of charge, at the point at which it explains the Museum’s relationship and involvement with the promotion of biodiversity and environmental sustainability. The virtual tour of the museum is also linked with tours created in augmented reality to other facilities related to the water management cycle, such as the drinking water treatment plant; as well as educational activities that facilitate in-depth study of the contents and objects regarding which the Museum generates curiosity: water and its challenges for the future, the mitigation of climate change, the everyday uses of water, the science of water, the conservation of industrial heritage, etc. AN INNOVATIVE PROCESS: RESEARCH AND INVOLVEMENT Prior to the production of the entire technological process, an in-depth review was carried out of the knowledge about the Central Cornellà in order to improve the contents and thus enrich the user experience. This knowledge process has been based on two differentiated lines of research. The first was initiated in 2017 with a study by top-level experts in ecology on the biodiversity environment of the gardened area around the Central Cornellà, based on the description of the fauna and flora situated in the industrial garden, which was constructed in parallel with the water production plant itself. The second was initiated in 2019 with a study on the history of the water intake and pumping station. To make this process possible, a company specialising in historical research was engaged, and it reviewed the historical archives of Aigües de Barcelona, as well as the main archives in Catalonia, such as the National Archive of Catalonia, the Historical Archive of Barcelona, local archives and the Archive of the Association of Architects of Catalonia. This process has been key for recovering all of the plans and photographs, but above all textual documents that have enabled the creation of a new narrative and a reinterpretation of what was known to date about the Central Cornellà, which can be considered as one of the main industrial heritages linked to water that exist in Europe, thanks to both its good state of conservation and the singularity of it being a plant that continues to be operational today. This new and more comprehensive narrative has been incorporated into the virtual tour. Also key in this process of reinterpretation has been the creation of the Friends of the Museum group, made up of people who are still actively employed within Aigües de Barcelona and other people who no longer are, but who thanks to their baggage and their sensitivity with regard to caring for heritage, have been able to offer their experience and first-person accounts which have given a human vision to the history of the plant. Accounts have been obtained from the descendants of people who worked at the plant in the 1930s, at which time the technology used was still based on steam, and also coinciding with the Spanish Civil War. Regarding this episode, specifically, it has been possible to recover previously unseen photos from archives external to the company, relating to the process of construction of the air-raid shelter, a very singular construction element at the Central, which for the first time is now accessible to a large number of people, through the virtual tour. CONCLUSIONS The virtual tour is therefore the result of two parallel processes at the service of a new experience in heritage interpretation. Firstly, a technological process where use has been made of the latest digital innovations at the service of heritage and, secondly, a humanistic and interpretative process, based on obtaining new knowledge about this heritage. The result is a new product that enables new audiences to be reached, without the conditioning factors of a strategic plant for the intake and pumping of water that provides an essential service to the city of Barcelona and its environs. With virtual tours, geographical barriers cease to be a conditioning factor and the experience of those users who visit the plant in person is improved, since it offers a continuation of the tour beyond their stay on the actual premises. Furthermore, the virtual experience is a resource that makes it possible to attract a flow of people to the Museum, generating the conversion from virtual visitors to physical visitors. It is therefore a key element in the construction of a hybrid heritage where barriers between a physical space and a virtual space cease to exist. This free-of-charge digital resource is a demonstration of the Water Museum’s permanent commitment to education and dissemination around water, sustainability, and heritage.