As part of the project to renovate “Cluny 4”, teams from the PERICLES division in EDF's R&D department have provided architects and curators with “Virtual Armchair” technology, the aim being to digitalise the whole Cluny Museum and enable everybody to access it. A demonstration of the “Virtual Armchair” platform was given on 14 May at a press conference held by the Cluny Museum, the EDF Foundation and the OPPIC (the public operator tasked with managing real estate projects for the cultural sector).
A prestigious Parisian museum undergoing significant change
Right in the centre of Paris, the Cluny Museum owns one of the largest collections of French mediaeval art, including paintings, sculptures, tapestries and stained-glass windows.
In 2015, the Museum embarked on a major programme of renovations, with work in four main areas (restoring its old relics and the chapel, building a new welcome area, overhauling its visitor itineraries and rehabilitating the mediaeval garden), the main aim being to make it both physically as well as intellectually accessible. The museum is due to reopen fully in 2021.
Creating the new welcome area and overhauling its visitor itineraries are an opportunity for the Cluny Museum to give consideration to accessibility in its renovations.
“As part of our “Cluny 4” modernisation plan, we want to be exemplary as far as accessibility is concerned – even though our task is extremely difficult because of where the Museum is located – as well as in terms of the nature of our collections”.
Béatrice de Chancel Bardelot, General curator.
One of the Cluny Museum's highly distinctive features is its configuration: it is an accumulation of buildings from different eras (classical, mediaeval, and then edifices built in the 19th century). Featuring 28 changes in level – including numerous staircases – until now, the museum has been a real obstacle course.
Using virtual reality simulation tools
The Cluny Museum contacted the EDF Group Foundation. The result of the meeting – that took place before work began on the Museum's transformation – was a completely original project to develop useful solutions to the site's accessibility problems. These involved the expertise of EDF's R&D department, as well as making use of a technology that it had developed – all within the framework of a skills sponsorship initiative.
According to Alain Schmid, a virtual reality and scientific visualisation research engineer with the PERICLES department: "EDF's R&D department developed a virtual reality simulation tool to make it easier to move around inside reactor buildings – in environments with major constraints. Being able to use 3D tools to simulate operations is already hugely innovative! Then, it was during almost informal discussions that they struck upon the idea of using this tool to help people with disabilities, imagining what it would be like to move around in a wheelchair, through a town, a district or buildings".
There's a huge difference between the Museum and a nuclear power plant. But the components of the technology used by the latter were adapted by Alain Schmid – a simulation application has been in use for several years by local authorities to overcome accessibility problems.
The Virtual Armchair technology can be used to simulate what it is like for a wheelchair to move around in a given environment, factoring in current accessibility standards. However, for this transfer of technology and expertise to be possible for the purposes of Cluny Museum’s renovation, it first had to be completely digitised before work got under way.
"As far as physical accessibility is concerned, we can create a 3D digital model of the whole museum and then use the Virtual Armchair technology to better design visitor flows so as to more effectively serve people with disabilities, optimising routes for wheelchairs in particular. And the icing on the cake is that digitising the museum, with this level of quality and accuracy, will be a world first of which we will be extremely proud".
Michel Huynh, General curator of the Cluny Museum.
The Cluny Museum in 3D
The modelling exercise required photographic and telemetric surveying. It was handled by the EDF Group Foundation under the sponsorship agreement.
Initially, just the ground floor was modelled (rooms 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11). Then finally in 2018, all of the areas in the museum that are open to the general public were modelled with help from 3D modelling company Emissive.
The Virtual Armchair technology, involving a wheelchair connected up to screen, is used to perform an analysis in a virtual environment, revealing all the hurdles (slopes, doors, slants, etc.) so that the best locations for lifts can be selected. The simulation is based on the commonest types of wheelchair (self-propelled, powered and mobility scooters).
The idea is to enable people with reduced mobility to move around autonomously and smoothly. Wherever wheelchairs go, mothers also go with their pushchairs and their children, or elderly people with walking sticks.
As Alain Schmid points out, “it is often difficult to persuade architects and local authorities that such adaptations are useful. The Cluny Museum is a very good example. It is such a complex site that on first inspection, accessibility seems impossible. But with the help of technology and the support of a motivated team, the project was successfully implemented”.
A second phase could be considered: since it is possible to simulate all movement, the choice of signage and exact location of the Museum's works of art could be optimised by simulating what a standing visitor sees.
Click on the links below to read the press pack articles:
The EDF Foundation’s scientific skills sponsorship initiative supporting civil societ