The digital bridge: How app technology connects past to present in regeneration projects


5 minute read
Jo Morrison

Jo Morrison

Director of Digital Innovation & Research

Digital Placemaking

Arts & Culture

Digital Insights

Urban regeneration can be a contentious subject. Differences can arise between those who want areas to remain how they are, and those who want to change them into something fresh.

The desire to repurpose human structures is nothing new. Buildings and urban areas have been reinvented for as long as they’ve existed – from abandoned places of worship adapted for residential use; to industrial infrastructure sites turned into leisure or tourism attractions.

The benefits of change include the provision of urban housing, improvement in the state of repair of previously dilapidated facilities and sometimes even a reduction in crime. A challenge for those involved in regeneration is finding a way to preserve the historic value of a space at the same time as modernising it. The question is, how?

Building a digital bridge

Mobile app technology can be used to preserve the historic essence of a site that undergoes regeneration. And, being in the digital space, no physical space is needed to build it. The cost, therefore, of creating this digital bridge is also generally far lower than that of building a physical centre.

Calvium specialises in creating engaging, cost-effective digital bridges. Our ‘Carnaby Echoes’ walking app brought the sounds of a century of music history to Carnaby visitors, at the fraction of the cost of placing live musicians, or sound playing equipment, in situ. And the music was in the right place, at the right time, for every visitor.

We use mobile app technology to connect people to historic sites. For example, our co-creation project with the exhibition team at Tower Bridge led to the development of an engaging interactive trail for families visiting this iconic London landmark. Exhibition Development Manager Dirk Bennett believes mobile technology is essential for today’s audiences, “It’s what they’re used to and what they expect.” But project success requires a rich understanding of visitor needs and behaviours.

People struggle to imagine how previous residents and workers at historic sights went about their daily business. Areas often look very different to how they once did. Some historic sites are little more than foundation walls. This is where app technology creates digital bridges. It shows what went on, how things once looked and even what sites sounded like at earlier times in history. A great example of this time-travelling power is the app we built for visitors to Florence in Italy. It takes visitors on a unique tour of the Renaissance city through the eyes of a 15th century wool worker.

Digital restoration

There are many forces that conspire to damage or destroy our treasured constructions. Only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still stands – the Great Pyramid of Giza. Natural disasters, the ravages of time, war, even commercial development can contribute to the loss of, or damage to, notable buildings. Recently a developer in Bristol chose to destroy a 400 year-old plaster ceiling before Historic England could protect the site.

With the persistence of time, all our historic treasures are effectively under threat. These can be preserved and restored with digital record keeping. Mobile technology lets visitors interact with these digital records. For example we built an aural tour of a heritage site that burnt to the ground 300 years ago. In addition to visitors giving very high ratings to their experience, this interactive reconstruction won prestigious innovation awards. As technology improves, the immersive nature of digital preservation and curation will also improve.

The recording and sharing process has been going on in the analogue environment for centuries. In 1878, for example, an archaeologist called George Perrot recorded an inscription on a 3,200 year-old stone slab. It tells the story of the Sea People. These mysterious people contributed to the Late Bronze Age Collapse – an impact on human civilisation arguably greater than the fall of the Roman Empire. The stone slab no longer exists. It was recycled as building material. But Perrot’s copy of the inscription survives and provides us with information on the Sea People that no known source can rival.

Digital curation

Digital technology provides relatively inexpensive, accessible alternatives to archaeological happenstance. It builds enduring records – saving the purpose, appearance and sounds of regenerated spaces. Its great advantage is that it then turns this information into interactive, stimulating bridges to historic sites and buildings.

Museums will continue to have an important role to play in the preservation of knowledge and historic artefacts. Human development is charted by more than our buildings and structures. However, physical collections, history books and even audio-visual productions such as documentary programmes can struggle to fit into historical spaces. Physical elements are not always the natural partners of repurposed human environments. Plus, with the lives of younger generations becoming more integrated with digital technologies, the move to digital curation is as natural as the progression from printed to online encyclopaedias.


Contact Calvium to discover how you could use app technology to supplement your urban regeneration projects, or click to read our case studies.

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