Virtual Reality for Museums

How can virtual reality be applied to museums?

When you think of museums, what springs to mind? Exhibits packed with gangs of half-interested school kids? Reams of text perfectly printed on stark white walls? Well, think again. Museums are waking up to the awesome potential of VR technology to provide a unique immersive experience for their visitors.

“The world of the museum is changing”

Whether it’s for reasons of space, fragility or layout, museums often brim with resources that the general public simply don’t have access to. Fortunately, museums are also starting to make use of technology to open their archive up to an even bigger audience. The greatest weapon in their tech arsenal? Virtual Reality museum exhibits.

VR can transform a humble exhibit into an entirely interactive experience, where the viewer can immerse themselves and form an instinctive, physical relationship with the exhibition rather than relying on a block of text. So, how can the potential of virtual reality be best applied to museum culture? We’re glad you asked.

1. Reimagine existing exhibits

The Dreams of Dali virtual reality experience is an excellent example of how museums are using VR not only to inform the work of an exhibition but to create immersive works of arts in their own right.

Visitors to the exhibition were given the option to don VR headsets and enter directly into Salvador Dali’s imagination, where they could wander a surreal dreamscape inspired by his 1935 work ‘Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus”’. In this fully-realised landscape, viewers could encounter figures and architecture pulled directly from Dali’s artwork.

Shown as part of the ‘Disney & Dali: Architects of Imagination’ exhibition at The Dali Museum, Florida, this immersive experience blended virtual reality and the craft of modern design to create something truly unique. Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the creative agency behind the piece, employed skills and techniques more commonly used in the video game industry to create a navigable world that garnered awards including a Cannes Cyber Lion GOLD, a  Webby People’s Voice award and a Facebook Silver award for Innovation.

“The virtual world could bring a whole new dimension to museums”

It’s a great example of how a virtual world can add a whole new dimension to museums – even for those who are watching from their cardboard headsets back home.

2. Bring history to life

Virtual reality museums

A VR museum exhibit can bring the distant past to life.

“When it comes to museums, VR is the gateway to the past”

For a special weekend dedicated to exploring the potential of VR in museums, the British Museum worked with long-term partner Samsung to produce a truly staggering VR-enhanced exhibition. In a specially created VR dome, visitors witnessed life in the Bronze Age, through the lens of a Samsung Gear VR headset.

Another feature of the special VR exhibit was that visitors could interact with virtual objects, caked in mud and encased in gold. Visitors were then asked to hypothesise what use these objects might have had for Bronze Age people – adding a valuable element of openness and collaboration between the museum and the public.

To add another pleasing layer of interactivity, the 3D scans used for the objects were sourced from the museum’s online initiative Micropasts, a repository of crowdsourced archaeological data.

At the centre of this immersive experience, designed by Soluis Heritage,  the British Museum’s dome was transformed into a virtual reality Bronze Age roundhouse, complete with very convincing fire pit. It’s a great example of how, when used with intelligence and artistry, virtual reality is a true gateway to the past.

3. Bring the exhibit to the audience

Virtual Reality museums

Once they’ve brought the past into the present and created virtual worlds inspired by their exhibits, where else can a museum take VR?  The next logical step for many museums is to create a virtual playground where the entirety of their holdings can be accessed through a headset. It’s time to bring the museum into the home.

VR is the perfect medium for building a virtual museum that people can access from the comfort of their sofa. Got an urge to wander the halls of MoMA  but you can’t afford the plane ticket to New York? A VR version is the next best thing to being there.

“Offering an up-close and personal experience that takes museums one step further”

This sort of exciting VR initiative is already underway – in 2017, Sky commissioned a new experience called ‘Hold the World’, which allows users from around the world to handle fossils sourced from the Natural History Museum. This experience is designed to have a low barrier of technological entry – a user could have a great experience with Google Glasses – and will be available exclusively through the Sky app. It’s another marker of the channel’s commitment to VR as 1 of 12 projects in the pipeline.

As an added bonus for any Attenborough fans out there, a hologram version of Sir David himself will guide users through ‘Hold The World’, offering an up-close experience, that takes the potential of the virtual museum one step further. Rather than mapping an existing museum into a virtual realm, what this experience promises to do well is create a whole new level of interactivity – almost a whole new exhibit in itself.

With this and other exciting VR applications for museums, there promises to be a whole host of new ways to interact with our cultural and historical lineage. VR can present our past, present and future in ways that can make an educational opportunity into a truly mind-expanding experience.

With all this said, it’s important that  VR isn’t seen as a medium to replace museums. Instead, it’s an invaluable way to add an extra layer, a piece of connective tissue that allows visitors to understand the wider world around us. Whether you’re wandering the mind of an artist, or reliving the Bronze Age, Virtual Reality is the future.

If you’re interested in chatting more about how this amazing tech could bring museums to life, or you’re looking to create your own immersive VR experience, drop us a line.

Looking to create a VR experience? Let's chat!
Amy Durrant

Amy Durrant

Amy is a copywriter and all round creative type at Pebble Studios. With bundles of agency experience at Karmarama and her past life as a music, technology and design journalist, she has a love for all things creative.

Creative, Pebble Studios

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