Is That a Barge on Constitution Avenue?
The Lockkeeper’s House is located at the corner of 17th and Constitution Avenue, and until two years ago, was inches away from the street - windows boarded up, roof in bad shape. Through the efforts of the Trust for the National Mall and multiple donors, it was moved 30 feet from the street and renovated.
It’s an important place in terms of our history. Built in 1837, the Lockkeeper’s house was located at the confluence of the Tiber Creek and the Potomac River. Yes, Constitution Avenue was actually Tiber Creek, and was connected to the C&O canal for use in the distribution of goods and products in and out of the city.
Last week, at the Lockkeeper’s House, Jeffrey Nichols, Executive Director of Georgetown Heritage and Maggie Downing, Director of public programs and partnerships, met with executives of TimeLooper, an immersive content company out of Manhattan. On display, or actually ‘in hand’ was the new experience that would throw visitors back a couple of hundred years, while looking through the window to Constitution avenue.
It’s actually VR, or Virtual Reality, combined with Augmented Reality and XR, or extended reality. But instead of defining the technology, let’s take a look. Andrew Feinberg, one of TimeLooper’s founders handed me a tablet and I walked to the window. OK. I see traffic on Constitution Avenue, the White House in the distance. ‘Now hold it up to the ‘picture’ in the window’, Andrew tells me. ‘Move the tablet around.’ The picture is actually a QR code with ‘markers’. The camera recognizes the pattern and overlays the content, in this case the canal, barge, mules...
I pointed it straight ahead and watched the lock operation. The first gates opened and the barge entered the lock area, the level of the lock area dropped through water release, the lower gates opened and the mules pulled the barge forward. So that’s how it works! I became immersed with the operation and forgot about the technology. I studied the background, with the White House in the distance. I heard the noises of the lock operation, the mules walking, the birds. I moved the tablet and followed the barge as it headed downstream.
TimeLooper has captured a number of monuments on the national mall, as well as Pearl Harbor, the Tower of London, Angor Wat, etc. Its an ingenious combination of rendering from old photographs, high end ‘green room’ production, and a melding of the virtual reality world, one in which you can ‘feel and hear’ the surroundings. It’s not a game, but it uses some of the qualities of ‘gamification’. It’s not a production, even as the original elements are shot in period perfection and integrated into historical renderings taken from old photographs. The final effect is an immersion into another time, another world, which brings with it an understanding, and a feel for history.
And what does this have to do with Georgetown? Georgetown Heritage is working to revitalize, activate, and interpret the first mile of the C&O canal into an inviting, inclusive, and inspiring destination. It hopes to create learning spaces and provide restoration of the industrial canal that was essential to life in the 1800s, a gateway to our historical past. History defines us. It gives us a grounding, a reason to continue to preserve our houses, our streets, our ‘walkable’ way of life. Designers now expose brick walls, steel girders, roughhewn beams – taking buildings back to basics, exposing history. Why do we feel a certain way when we walk into those renovated spaces? Perhaps we will better understand the Flour Mill, the warehouses, the furnace on the Ritz Carlton - some of the architectural treasures along the canal in Georgetown.
Andrew also showed me a recorded ‘immersive’ experience of George Washington’s inauguration in New York. It literally gave me chills. And isn’t that what its all about? The FEEL of looking at the Wall Street location today, and then having it change to April 30th, 1789, to Washington’s inauguration. The SOUNDS of industry on a busy street, the fife and drum corps (shot in a green screen environment), brought into the historical rendering background. Being able to ‘look around’ 180 degrees, where I want to look, the way I want to experience it. I’m there.
It’s not old sepia toned photos pieced together with slow zooms. YES, those photos are incredibly important to the overall historical accuracy. But combined with studio shooting, green screen, virtual reality, rendering - those elements combine to create an augmented reality situation – and it works.