Durham City is in the running to be the city of culture in 2025. We wanted to create a resource that can be accessed from anywhere in the world that will showcase its rich past. We were inspired by local images that reflect different aspects of Durhams history as we constantly view the past through a black and white lens and we wanted to change that. 'Durham: A Colourful History' reignites old images and unites them in a virtual museum and allows us to display the vast history of the people of Durham.

What it does

We have made a 3 dimensional environment in which the user can freely explore restored images of Durham in a virtual museum from anywhere in the world. The user can choose different aspects of history that demonstrate Scenery, Society, Events, Buildings, Children, and Portraits.

How we built it

Firstly we set to restore the historical black and white images in the dataset. We used machine learning to recolour and upscale them to give them a higher visual quality and engagement. We then designed a procedurally generated museum environment which is grouped by category. The user can walk down these corridors in a virtual environment and examine the literal photos on the walls.

Challenges we ran into

A big challenge was grouping the images, our first approach was to create a deep learning autoencoder which would embed the images in a latent space, after which we could run a clustering algorithm to find groups of similar images. This worked really well! Unfortunately images that look similar are not actually ideal for museum layouts, so we instead grouped by a custom category grouping function.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We didn't quit when things got tough and kept going through the hell to reach the end.

What we learned

We learned that that there is a side to Durham's past that is not made readily accessible to the public. We learned through market research that people are still wary of visiting places in person since the recent pandemic. They are much more comfortable when they can access the same information from a safe space so we created a virtual museum in which they can do this. We also learned a lot about the history of Durham through reimagining images from the past.

What's next for Durham: A Colourful History

In the future we would like to bring this project into a virtual reality space. We believe that incorporating VR into the project would make it more engaging to a younger audience and will hopefully be used in schools as an educational tool.

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