As 2020 came to an end, cultural heritage lovers in Vietnam had the chance to admire Ly Dynasty architecture via VR 3D technology during an event co-hosted by the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum and Sen Heritage group. Using VR headsets, visitors could almost feel the golden touch of the Ly Dynasty as they explored quintessential historic artifacts, notably the One Pillar Pagoda of Dien Huu with its sophisticated dragon designs. Little did they know that this event was made possible thanks to ten years of dedication by members of Sen Heritage, as a team of researchers, architects, 3D designers, and youngsters enthused by Vietnam’s traditional culture collected materials and applied technology.
Join Heritage magazine as we interview Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tran Trong Duong, one of the three founders of Sen Heritage. He explains how the group’s 30-plus members “reconstructed fragments of the past”.
How did you go from concept development to your first popular show, the VR3D simulation of the Ly Dynasty’s One Pillar Pagoda?
My and other group members’ main subjects of interest and research are culture and art, specifically Buddhism and the royal culture of the Ly Dynasty. Based on our research and existing documents about archaeology, aesthetics, and architectural history, we reconstructed the pagoda’s architecture using technology, mainly 3D, VR – Virtual Reality, and AR – Augmented Reality. Coincidentally, during our field trip to study the rock pillar at Dam Pagoda (a Ly Dynasty monument in Bac Ninh) in 2011, I leaned toward the theory that this pagoda was the architectural ruins of a Ly Dynasty Buddhist one-pillar tower, rather than a Champa linga-yoni structure as was widely acknowledged.
Later that year, the abbot of One Pillar Pagoda (another Ly Dynasty monument in Hanoi) called for support due to the pagoda’s dilapidated condition. The call drew my attention and made me curious to re-examine the Sung Thien Dien Linh Stele (engraved in 1121) in hopes of helping the abbot. In the end, I was swept away by the information on the stele, which opened up an amazing archive of historical data, showing the distinctive differences between accounts of the Ly Dynasty One Pillar Pagoda and its modern version. I have researched and published many articles since then, concluding that the One Pillar Pagoda is not a pagoda but a Buddha tower, and that the stone pillar of Dam Pagoda is not a linga but a ruin of the only one-pillar tower made during the Ly Dynasty. Using those archeological data and inscriptions, after 10 years of research and experimentation, my colleagues in Sen Heritage and I finally realized our dreams, turning my scientific assumptions into a work of “digitized cultural heritage“, which is the architectural model of the Ly Dynasty One Pillar Pagoda, using virtual reality technology.
I’ve heard that Sen Heritage’s work is aimed at two target audiences, scientific researchers and young people. Can you please be more specific?
Scientists have shared different views on Sen Heritage’s works. We have both critics and supporters, but it is great to have famous scholars on our side, such as historian Duong Trung Quoc, Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Van Huy (former Director of the Museum of Ethnology), Prof. Dr. Lam Thi My Dung (former Director of the Museum of Anthropology), architect Ly Truc Dung, etc. They acknowledged that this work was a great effort to bring heritage back into society. For the work itself, it’s impossible to achieve perfect accuracy in terms of detail. The most important thing is that our team combined interdisciplinary research with technology to transform dry research into a lively and public-friendly simulation.
The young audience, especially young culture lovers, responded to Sen Heritage’s works in a relatively civilized and intellectual manner. Despite the general assumption that young people lack knowledge, that’s not always the case. On the contrary, over the past decade, thanks to the rapid development of science and technology, they have equipped themselves with a rich background knowledge, especially those who can self-explore, self-study, and self-research. Online community platforms for culturalexchange such as Đai Viet Co Phong, Y Van Hien, Chua Viet, Lich Su Viet Nam, Viet Nam Center, etc., are where young people developed the trend to study Vietnam’s traditional culture. They have helped and supported us with all of their love, energy, time, knowledge, and enthusiasm on this thousand-mile road to reconstruct Đại Việt’s cultural heritage.
What has Sen Heritage done and what do you plan to do to bring heritage closer to the public?
Our first project, the architectural modeling of Dien Huu Pagoda, and then the restoration of Tu Di Pedestal and Tu Di Tower of the Ly Dynasty all aimed to reconstruct Đại Việt’s cultural history through specific artifacts and architecture. In our opinion, the art of Đại Việt and East Asia reached its pinnacle in Ly Dynasty artwork. It was exquisite in detail, unified in concept, diversified in content, and majestic in scale. Such culture faded away to the extent that it barely exists in the minds of modern Vietnamese. This is why Sen Heritage aims to reconstruct traces of Đại Việt civilization, in order to widely introduce the beauty of Ly Dynasty culture to today’s society.
To do this, Sen Heritage has digitized heritages and architectural structures and published them as open sources that can be accessed from anywhere. These works can be used as historical and cultural references for schools, the development of virtual museums, virtual exhibitions, virtual showrooms of Vietnam’s traditional heritage, virtual reality travel experiences, and many more.
In addition, we are also considering new works through projects to build virtual studios, historical and cultural games, and projects that allow visitors not only to walk among these heritages but also to touch history, using VR-AR technology and big data.
Thank you so much for sharing.