Forty thousand relics to be digitized in five years

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3D image of Hanoi's old town was created by 3D Group in Hanoi in 2004

Vietnam's failure to develop an effective preservation strategy has been largely attributed to a poor reservoir of background knowledge about each individual site.

For this reason, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism recently launched an effort to create a virtual exhibit of every one of Vietnam's 40,000 cultural relics.

The idea is to use a 3D laser scanner to create digital images of every part of the object or structure in question. The images are then assembled into a 3D model. All available information and research relating to the relics are joined with the virtual model to create an "exhibit."

The technology is by no means new.

Korea's Relic Conservators had no trouble resurrecting the 600- year-old Namdaemun gate after flames damaged the structure in 2008.

The country's National Museum had digitally scanned every carving and contour on the wooden structure. Following the fire, the 3D digital rendering guided their meticulous restoration effort.

"This is a good way to connect the modern Vietnam to its ancient past," said Dr. Tong Trung Tin, director of the Institute of Archaeology who believes that the digital archive will lead to better restoration efforts.

In addition to aiding the efforts of historical archaeologists, these digitized images provide a vital tool to educators. Theoretically, the thorough imaging could be used to create international museum exhibits. People can now enjoy Vietnam's cultural relics regardless of geographical location.

Buildings that no longer exist, or have degraded to ruins can be recreated using graphic imaging.

Many in Vietnam's tourism sector are also hoping that the electronic images will pique the interest of world travelers. "People will want to get a firsthand look at a certain relic after seeing it in a beautiful, modern digitized museum," said to Dr. Nguyen Quoc Hung, deputy director of the Department of Cultural Heritage.

Vietnam has more than 3,100 national relics in addition to around 900 cultural heritages belonging to the nation's 54 ethnic groups. Time, climate change and urbanization are rapidly degrading many of these buildings, documents and artifacts.

To address the issue, a group of young architects began conducting digital heritage work in and around Hanoi's old town back in 2004. They called themselves the 3DHanoi.

After laser-scanning the town's antique core, the 3DHanoi began creating images of Hanoi's French-styled colonial architecture.

Their hope was to create a virtual museum of the city.

Following the project, the 3DHanoi trained its electronic eye on the Thang Long Royal Citadel.

Not every relic is qualified to be digitized. According to architect Le Thanh Vinh, director of the Institute of Relic Preservation, Kinh Thien Palace is among the structures which will not be digitized due to a lack of documents or photos describing the building which is little more than a pile of ruins today. Because of a lack of supporting documents, the palace cannot be re-rendered using computer imaging programs.

"Furthermore, though there are a number of computer programs designed for digitization, they are very expensive and do not suit the relic's condition in Vietnam," he said.

"Digital data banks cost a lot of time and money to maintain."

Vinh added that the greatest challenge in Vietnam is finding qualified people to run the projects who have knowledge in both information technology and cultural preservation.

At a workshop on digital preservation conducted this past March by the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism experts, said the process requires complicated, high-tech equipment.

The process is relatively cheap. The equipment costs around US$100,000.

In the last issue of Thanh Nien Weekly Duong Hung Dung, head of the Department of Relic Management at the Tien Giang Provincial Museum, lamented that it costs nearly as much to restore a single private residence.

Structures in Hanoi and Hue will be the first to be digitized, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The entire project is expected to be completed in 5 years.

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