The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Eye Shakespeare app features the first ever reconstruction of Shakespeare's last home, New Place, rendered as an augmented reality 3D model. Dr Tara Hamling, an Historian at The Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham) advised computer engineers from Coventry University on what the edifice of Shakespeare's New Place might have looked like. Here she describes the challenges of piecing together New Place based on a variety of sources:
"Being involved with the Eye Shakespeare App provided an exciting opportunity to use the new technology of augmented reality to reconstruct Shakespeare's house, New Place, in virtual form.
"The main challenge for the project was the lack of any reliable evidence about the form and appearance of the built structure to inform the computer model.
"So, what we've come up with is a best guess of what Shakespeare's house might have looked like, based on a sketch made by George Vertue early in the 18th century (but 35 years after the building that Shakespeare would have recognised was destroyed), and with reference to surviving domestic buildings of the period. Vertue's sketch shows a timber-framed building of two storeys with five gables at attic level, roughly similar to the frontage of the Shakespeare Hotel a few doors along the street. We've used the main features in this drawing to create our computer model.
"One particularly interesting aspect of the project for me was how mapping the building as depicted in the sketch onto the physical properties of the site changed the proportions and overall visual impression of the building; it now appears as a wide and squat front elevation compared with the drawing. Vertue's sketch was very 'sketchy' when it comes to the detail too. It definitely suggests that the timber-framed structure had decorative bracing consistent with a late sixteenth century date, although the pattern of this decoration is not clear. We've therefore tried to translate these vague features from the sketch across to the model without forcing them to reconcile with the architecture, although the arched timber detail in the gables is based on another Elizabethan timber-framed house in the region - Blakesley Hall in Yardley.
"There are all kinds of problems inherent in any attempt to conjure up the form and appearance of Shakespeare's New Place. We don't know, for example, about the condition of the building, which had been built over a century earlier, when he lived here or whether he carried out any improvements to the property to bring it up to date with the latest fashions in the Elizabethan style.We don't even know the extent of the property; the model shows the street frontage with a hypothetical adjoining wing along Chapel Lane, to reflect some foundations discovered during the 'Dig for Shakespeare' archaeological excavations. Most researchers agree that there was probably another substantial building beyond the frontage across a courtyard. With only anecdotal evidence to go on, we've left this part of the model empty for now in the hope that we might have more evidence about this part of the property in the future.
"One recurring issue throughout the modelling process was the question of the colour or patina of the woodwork, brick and plaster. The exterior of New Place would not have resembled other timber-framed buildings in the town today, with their treated, weathered and aged surfaces, but when we used a natural, honey colour for the woodwork the model looked too shiny and new. We tried lots of different combinations and as the goal was to create a believable impression of a building on this site, we decided to give it a ‘dirty’ appearance with darker woodwork to make it blend in with its environment.While the fabric of the building is lost and cannot be recovered, experiencing this virtual model on its original footings evokes the scale and grandeur of Shakespeare's impressive residence in the town; it allows us to imagine how it might have felt to knock on his front door."
Tara Hamling, Senior Lecturer, History Department, University of Birmingham
Please note that this app is no longer available to download.