Imagine being able to encounter a building on a street where the building no longer exists, but once stood. Imagine being able to enter that building and to walk through its spaces and hear the stories hidden in its walls. A 3D virtual model could contain surviving architectural drawings of the buildings, digitised from archive sources – a viewer could walk at a scale of 1:1 through the architectural drawings; it could host still images embedded within the model; it could carry oral histories literally within its walls. This project imagines the creation of a model that can recreate a rich and layered version of a building and bring it to life through the collation of social, cultural, technical and visual archival sources. A building that becomes more than the sum of its parts and has more to impart than it ever did when it was alive.

In 2017 the modernist society was a partner in ‘The Life of Buildings’ a project to enable people to ‘encounter virtual buildings, which no longer exist, in the space where they used to stand.’

This project looked at the Manchester Reform Synagogue on Jacksons Row in Manchester city centre.

Despite being a remarkably well preserved and very early example of post-war reconstruction, this 1950’s synagogue was turned down for listing by Historic England and is scheduled for demolition.

The project was led by Dr Richard Brook and initiated by Manchester School of Architecture and funded by the AHRC.

Dr. Richard Brook, Dr. Kevin Tan, a computer scientist and Dr. Ben Edwards, an archaeologist led the project from Manchester Metropolitan University. The funding allowed them to work with Oxford Archaeology North, who have considerable experience in drone based photography and its conversion into three-dimensional models, using a technique called photogrammetry.

We asked if the synagogue would be part of this research for two main reasons, the first being that the whole area is subject to development speculation. If development proceeds, the synagogue will be demolished, so in that sense it was a good case study. The Principal Investigator, Dr. Richard Brook, Manchester School of Architecture, and The Modernist Society were both interested from a historical perspective %u2013 Richard is a specialist in post-war British architecture. The synagogue was the first new building in Manchester city centre after the Second World War. It replaced a much earlier building (1858) at Park Place to the north of Victoria Station that was destroyed by an enemy bomb in 1941. This added to the historical interest and strengthened the argument for the synagogue as a case study.

The digital output of the project is twofold – this website, which will continue to act as a way to share its onward development, and a VR experience, best encountered in a headset, but accessible via web platforms. Both the website and the VR are intended as repositories for digital and digitised information from a range of sources. Of course, making digital copies of maps, photos, plans, audio and film and presenting them online is not new, the site is intended as a record of this activity. What is new however, is the idea of hosting digital material within the same 3D space as the building.

The life of buildings can be experienced here