Architecture students visualise scale of Canterbury’s heritage

St Augustine’s Abbey – part of Canterbury’s World Heritage site - has been ‘rebuilt’ in virtual reality as part of a ground-breaking collaboration between English Heritage and the University.

The Kent School of Architecture (KSA) approached English Heritage four years ago through Ray Laurence, Professor of Roman History and Archaeology in the School of English Culture and Languages (SECL), about a project that would enable postgraduate students to work on a building where there was no data to help them interpret how it was constructed.

After three years of painstaking work with historians and curators from English Heritage, a virtual reality model of significant parts of the Abbey has been created.

Visitors will be now able to sit in a new pod in the visitor centre and use headsets to experience a virtual tour through the ornate and brightly decorated buildings as they would likely have been in the early 16th century, just before their destruction by Henry VIII.

The project leader for KSA, Howard Griffin, Programme Director of the MA in Architectural Visualisation, said that heritage sites like St. Augustine’s Abbey, with their absence of ‘concrete’ buildings to reference, provide an ideal vehicle for students to develop critical and analytical skills in understanding the spaces they create, and highlights the many ways in which their digital skills can be applied.

Mr Griffin commented that they had been surprised by some of the findings and previous certainties about the Abbey had to be re-evaluated as a result. Students were impressed by their realisation of the scale of the Abbey building, alongside that of the Cathedral, demonstrating the historical importance of Canterbury.

Twenty-five architecture students worked on the project since the start and KSA will continue to revise the 3D model as part of the School’s ongoing collaboration with English Heritage.