Virtual Reality used to be the stuff of third-rate movies and tv shows with really fantastical plots that made one think, “how did these people get this job?” Fortunately, there are many university researchers who have constantly toiled at making real VR a useful and integral reality. Take the VR learning site at Columbia. For anyone curious about western architecture there are some interesting structures to explore. It’s true that Columbia and the core Art History class that initially inspired this site is unfortunately Eurocentric: for example, French structures seem overrepresented.
And that is not a small issue since “Western European Art” seems to exclude even structures from Northern and Eastern Europe (we’re obviously not even discussing buildings from Asia because those are considered uniformly “pre” modern, a Western-privileging term). But to be able to view what is on offer from the comfort of one’s own home or in a collective setting such as a meeting or classroom is definitely a boon. So for those seeking inspiration or pedagogical enlightenment about Western architectural monuments, this site will provide a good start. For one, there are plenty of categories to choose from, ranging from “Ancient” (one presumes Western ancient) architecture, through Baroque, and on to Modern and Islamic. There are two different views available for exploration: 360° panoramas in Quicktime and interactive plans. The interactive panoramas have been developed particularly for pedagogical purposes “in American schools” which means that if you’re interested in anything outside of the “Masterpieces of Western Art,” you’re out of luck. But for what it does, it does it well. The interactive plans have nodes which link to views of the specified area, for example, an exterior shot of a structure. And those views are not static; one can zoom in or out, to either study detail or glean a more comprehensive view. These interactive views are also in Quicktime, which, as the website says, are contextualized within a mapped plan of the site.
What’s more, the organizers do try to provide some overall context about the periods and structures they do feature. So, for example, in the Early Christian and Byzantine architecture section, the website offers a two-paragraph introduction of what that period meant architecturally within the context of how it is presented on the website. In other words, one can understand the goals of the websites choice in interactive nodes and its presentation of those spaces. In sum, this provides another useful tool in the arsenal of today’s pedagogical approaches because it allows instructors to access structures that normally might only be presented in 2D photographs.