Visitors to the Mauritshuis museum can use their smartphone to experience Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp in augmented reality, thanks to Dutch design agency CapitolaVR.

To mark 350 years since the passing of the 17th-century Dutch painter, CapitolaVRcreated the Rembrandt Reality app that uses augmented reality to let people “step inside” one of the artist’s most famous paintings.

The app offers visitors a virtual reality experience of the anatomical dissection that took place in 1632, as depicted by the artist, in a bid to explore new ways of interacting with historic artworks using technology.

Users can interact with virtual holographic 3D objects that have been scanned from a real life reconstruction of the painting using devices compatible with Apple‘s ARKit or Google‘s ARCore augmented reality platforms.

“We wanted to give people the opportunity to actually walk into the artwork and explore the painting and the story behind it with innovative technology,” said CapitolaVR’s head of digital David Robustelli.

“The AR app offers people a different way of exploring art both visually and on an educational level,” Robustelli added. “As you ‘physically’ step into the painting you are fully immersed and learn its history while exploring the way it was created by one of the world’s most famous painters.”

To recreate the artwork in virtual form, CapitolaVR selected “lookalikes” to pose as each of the characters in the scene, using makeup and 17th-century costumes to make them appear as similar to the painted figures as possible.

The agency then used a 3D scanner made up of 600 reflex cameras to scan each actor and the setting – which was reconstructed from the original room at the Waag in Amsterdam – before combining these scans and fine-tuning the textural details via 3D modelling software.

“This is a new way of looking at art, which catapults the experience of looking at art into the future,” said Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis. “Rembrandt was a pioneering painter. He used new techniques to arrive at a new visual language.”

“350 years later, he continues to encourage us to innovate,” she continued. “Using augmented reality technology, you can enter the anatomical theatre through a portal, whether you are at home or outside. You become a witness to a seventeenth-century anatomy lesson and look over Rembrandt’s shoulder.”

The creators then used ARKit and ARCore to place the scanned, holographic 3D objects into a virtual environment that can be accessed by users via an app on their smartphone, where they can interact with the 3D objects to trigger various animation effects.

“With ARKit and ARCore, a huge audience now has access to augmented reality with their current devices,” Robustelli told Dezeen. “As devices are becoming more powerful with each release, this offers a lot of opportunities for creatives and developers.”

“We wanted to realise an experience where art meets tech not only to immerse users within a painting in a totally different way, but also to educate them and attract a younger audience,” he continued. “Tech is becoming part of our lives and can enrich experiences and show them on a whole new and interactive level.”

The creators applied various lighting effects to achieve Rembrandt’s characteristic chiaroscuro painting technique – strong contrast between light and dark – and added particle effects to imitate the look of dust illuminated by beams of light.

“We were not just trying to remake the painting in 3D, but to create a portal to the past, to the moment the painting was created,” said the designer.

“For instance, to create the [flayed] arm – one of the most significant elements of the painting – we had to do a complete study on the anatomy of the arm to create this part in 3D as authentically as possible,” he added.

There are several “hotspots” marked within the AR experience, which delve deeper into the history of the painting by zooming in on specific details that can’t be seen at first glance, as a voiceover guides users through the experience and explains what the user is seeing.

For example, viewers can see through 3D scans that Rembrandt originally depicted the cadaver with an amputated hand, which the subject lost as a punishment for theft before his execution, before painting over this with a fully formed arm.

“Both artificial intelligence (AI) and AR are techniques that specifically help the end user by providing them with information that they couldn’t have easily accessed a couple of years ago,” said Robustelli. “Art is a perfect example of how AI and AR can be used in this perspective.”

“It basically is the perfect combination of the physical world being enriched with the digital and virtual world to enhance the users’ experience with information and visuals and allow them to interact with this.”

“It shifts from one-way communication to two-way communication,” he continued. “The user is in control and that makes it very interesting for a large audience.”

Visitors to the Mauritshuis museum can download the Rembrandt Reality app free of charge from the Apple app and Google Play stores, to be fully immersed in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp.

Augmented reality also made an appearance at London’s Serpentine Gallery, where a 3D digital rendering of performance artist Marina Abramovi? wandered around the space in a mixed-reality art installation.

Augmented reality takes museum-goers inside Rembrandt painting [Dezeen]


It has been 60 years since Welsh theorist and critic Raymond Williams wrote that “culture is ordinary”. Williams, who had grown up in foothills of the Black Mountains, argued against the divisive class-based idea championed by the poet TS Eliot and others that there is high culture, enjoyed by the educated elite, and low culture for the rest.

“An interest in learning or the arts” Williams wrote, “is simple, pleasant and natural”.

Williams’ arguments were influential, helping to dismantle snobbery in the arts and open up a sustained period of opportunities and appreciation for a far wider pool of culture-makers of all stripes. Yet take a look at the plans for London’s new 15-storey concert hall proposed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) and other glitzy palaces for the performance of classical music around Europe, and it is as if we have stepped back into divided culture wars of the 1950s that Williams railed against.

The DS+R design is a towering pyramid with a huge new orchestral auditorium at its base and another venue at its apex. Requiring the demolition of the former Museum of London and a 21-storey office tower, the building resembles a reconfigured version of DS+R’s 2016 Columbia University medical centre with a complex route of ascending staircases wrapped in glazing.

The scheme is slated to cost nearly £300 million and is London’s volley in an intercontinental game of high culture one-upmanship, which in recent years has produced Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie in Paris. This arms race for cultural dominion has, in London however, reached new levels of absurdity with the decision to build the new 2,000 seat concert hall less than 300 metres from an existing 2,000 seat concert hall.

London must not be second rate in its architecture for orchestral music so the only solution is to build a venue from scratch

Its advocates argue that there are subtle flaws in the acoustic performance of the 1982 Barbican concert hall, which is a stone’s throw from the DS+R site. They say the sound it isn’t quite as clear as superior concert halls in Berlin or Birmingham, and because London must not be second rate in its architecture for orchestral music, that the only solution is to build a venue from scratch.

How have our urban priorities become so warped that fire stations, court houses, hospitals, women’s refuges and community centres close down every week, while classical conductors can demand new orchestral venues be built neighbouring existing ones on such marginal aesthetic grounds?

If London is so desperate to cast itself as enjoying the best architectural conditions in Europe, why not channel that hubristic energy into boasting the lowest number of rough sleepers, or the cleanest air? Ranking as finest for the acoustic presentation of orchestral music, but worst for air pollution related deaths would be the achievement of a psychopathic city.

This is architecture as a vaulting display of largess bearing similar hallmarks of the binned Garden Bridge proposal. Its national treasure advocate, celebrity conductor Simon Rattle, is the new Joanna Lumley. The jet-setting starchitects DS+R are the new Heatherwick Studio. The adjacency to an already perfectly functional concert hall echos the idea of a new bridge built among a cluster of existing bridges.

 It is hard to think of a more telling example of excessive prestige than the DS+R concert hall

John Maynard Keynes, economist and founder of the Arts Council, heavily subsidised opera to his own tastes, but even he argued in a 1945 that “nothing can be more damaging than the excessive prestige of metropolitan standards and fashions”. It is hard to think of a more telling example of excessive prestige than the DS+R concert hall.

I get it – architectural baubles service our egos and shore up our anxieties about leaving a legacy. It’s more sexy to have a central London starchitect-designed concert hall with your name attached than a string of humbler projects scattered around the regions, yet if Rattle and others were serious about enriching the lifeblood of British music, this is exactly what they’d be advocating.

Culture in the UK is under pressure. Last year the Department for Education reported a decline in the uptake of creative subjects by eight per cent, on top of a further eight per cent drop the year before. However, the architecture that cultural production urgently needs is not singular trophy venues for the consumption of high art at a grand scale, but dispersed, low key, low budget spaces for the making and testing new art in communities.

Culture in the UK is under pressure

Urbanist Richard Sennet has argued that there is a zero-sum game at play in cultural capacity, and that cities which plow cash into architectural vanity projects end up depleting the wider cultural life of their boroughs. “What the elite gains, the mass loses,” he wrote for the cultural think tank Theatrum Mundi.

Sennet argues that Herzong & de Meuron’s €789m Elbphilharmonie had boosted Hamburg’s tourism industry but weakened its cultural base. “The structure has successfully attracted tourists from around the world and global-brand musicians, but there’s no money left in the city’s coffers for support of youth orchestras, or for studios in which young artists can work, or for the semi-professional choirs which once fanned out over the Hanseatic North.”

The Hamburg story is familiar. In 2013 Birmingham opened its new nine-storey flagship library, designed by Dutch firm Mecanoo. The “people’s palace” cost nearly £200 million, not including the demolition of John Madin’s 1974 Central Library next door. Then in 2015, the new library cut its opening hours and staff by almost half to save money. Mecacoo’s people’s palace is now closed all day on Sundays and offers only a cut-back ground floor access-only service for much of the rest of the week.

If we are serious about nurturing culture through architecture we need local arts spaces for the many

Concluding a its three year research into making cultural infrastructure, Theatrum Mundi called for “breaking down large institutions for performance into networks of small-scale infrastructures”. If we are serious about nurturing culture through architecture, this is exactly the tactic we need. Local arts spaces for the many, not DS+R concert halls for the few.

Six decades ago Raymond Williams asked: “What kind of life can it be to produce this extraordinary fussiness, this is extraordinary decision to call certain things culture and then separate them, as with a park wall, from people and ordinary works?”

To build a concert hall, on the steps of another in order to gain adjustments in resonance so slight that they are imperceptible to the vast majority of ordinary people is beyond fussiness – it is perverse.

“The arms race for cultural dominion has reached new levels of absurdity” [Dezeen]

Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Erika Emeren has turned a traditional cake-making technique into a method for forming unique ceramic vases.

Emeren’s Ornament Now: Cake Vases are created by applying slip clay to a rotating cylinder of papier-mâché using a piping bag, similar to those used in pastry making and cake decorating.

Each vase is then fired and glazed to create a glossy, brightly coloured finish. The process means that every vessel has a unique shape.

The production method is based on the tradition of making Spettekaka, which translates as spit-cake, a traditional confection from Emeren’s homeland of Sweden.

The cake is made by baking batter around a dowel used for spinning. A similar technique can also be found in traditional cakes in other European countries like France and Poland.

“I grew up in the countryside where folk culture plays a big role, but as a designer I felt a lack of contemporary influences,” said Emeren.

“While researching folk art today, I found interest in the DIY movement, domestic crafts and baking as a modern day response to historical folk art. Both in DIY and folk art, decoration is very important, both in a symbolic way but also as a way to make things beautiful.”

Emeren developed the technique with help from technicians at the European Ceramic Workcentre in Oisterwijk while studying on the contextual design masters at Design Academy Eindhoven.

The bright glazes are a reference to the artificial colours often used for decorating modern cakes, like cupcakes and birthday cakes.

In places the glaze is intentionally thick to almost hide the structure of the object. Emren’s aim was to celebrate the decorative qualities of the objects, rather than design functional pieces.

“I spent hours and hours watching cake videos on Instagram,” she told Dezeen. “The process is a bit twisted, the outcome is an exaggeration of the cake process, which results in funky ceramics.”

“There is this notion that folk art is supposed to be regional, but in the world of food, we can see how it has often worked as a cultural exchange,” explained Emeren.

“In my work I hope to contribute to a language in objects, which extends beyond national borders. Cakes are fun and joyous, it is something meant to be shared.”

Ornament Now: Cake Vases was Emeren’s graduation project and was on show during Dutch Design Week at the DAE Graduate Show, which this year relocated to the Campina Milk Factory in Eindhoven.

Other projects on show included a yellow portable toilet for women and a proposal to combine synthetic biology with traditional Chinese medicine to help combat the trade in endangered animal parts.

Erika Emeren uses Swedish spit-cake technique to create decorative vases [Dezeen]