Why do we talk about digital architecture?
Museums, cultural institutions and tourism need digital infrastructures to enable governance and access to their products and provide digital services. For this reason, these services must be designed and developed to integrate the physical and digital experience. This is part of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR).
Our relationship with people, content and spaces is increasingly digitally mediated. Technological and digital innovations in the media landscape transform public behaviour and attitudes at an ever-increasing pace. For instance, in the last few months, the metaverse has been drawing considerable attention and expectations.
The hybrid coexistence between physical and digital is the norm in most aspects of our daily lives. More museums and cultural institutions consider visitor experience and digital services an integral part of their service and internal management.
Culture and technology are closely intertwined with social behaviour. As attitudes and tools change, the range of services must inevitably evolve, adapting and renewing their use in physical and digital space.
However, as attested by the research of the Politecnico di Milano’s Observatory of Digital Innovation in Heritage and Culture, in 2021 76% of museums lacked a digital strategic plan (sample of 495 Italian museums, monuments and archaeological sites).
The good news is that before the pandemic, the design of digital services was considered an accessory. Today this is no longer the case: digital is increasingly a strategic and structural element that requires the same attention and planning as the physical experience. And this is something that many have understood — in fact, half of institutions are investing in services to support online access and the cataloguing/digitisation of their collections.
Mission 1 of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR). “Digitisation, innovation, competitiveness, culture and tourism” supports this digital transition and includes tools to relaunch the strategic sectors of tourism and culture with an integrated and transversal approach compared to other measures. This includes encouraging investments in digital infrastructure for the Public Administration, cybersecurity services, technology (Transition 4.0), supporting processes of learning new skills (reskilling) and improving skills to access more advanced jobs (upskilling) for cultural operators. It also involves supporting the cultural and creative industry 4.0, fostering new digital cultural services and laying the foundations for innovative elements for the Italian tourism digital ecosystem.
Imagine connecting tourism, enhancing services using the new Digital Tourism Hub. This dedicated web platform will enhance, integrate, and promote cultural products, finance the digital infrastructure, artificial intelligence models for data analysis, and provide digital services for sector operators.
Two years ago, at the height of the pandemic, when the digital race was inevitable and necessary, we wrote that digital must be designed for the user and people’s needs, and not just to provide new tools. For cultural institutions, designing digital means providing complementary and valuable services for a rich and engaging experience which facilitates management and delivery.
As designers of innovative experiences in the museum sector, with 18 years of experience in researching and designing interactive installations and digital strategies, we envision what new visit and digitised management model could work today, and it would be in step with emerging languages and technological potential.
Today’s winning solution is changing the approach to the digital world: interactive installations, performance, platforms, virtual tours, metaverse, NFT and digital systems must not be “monolithic” but integrated as individual parts of a wide-ranging innovative strategy.
Museums generally offer a high-quality on-site experience, so the online experience must adapt accordingly and keep up with technological changes.
It is no coincidence that when we talk about digital architecture and technological infrastructure, we focus on designing a structural element just like physical spaces, products, services or installations.
If it is logical to think about walls and foundations before furnishing a house, the same applies when designing the most suitable technological infrastructure to integrate new or existing digital services. Infrastructure must cope with technological evolutions that revolutionise the way we interface with multimedia spaces and contents, making the strategic vision and digital architecture “future-proof.”
The cultural products of the most famous or internationally renowned museums mainly rely on advanced technological infrastructures that were previously the prerogative of companies and enterprises. We are lucky that we do not have to invent everything from scratch. There is a lot of literature and case studies in the industry process digitisation sector, such as the product chain from order to shipment.
A cultural institution’s digitally-managed visitor experience can be optimised in terms of time, costs, and personnel to avoid waste and provide a better strategy.
There are new activities that can be added to the museum’s typical digitised services, such as the conservation and archiving of the collection. These are new customised services based on visitors’ preferences, attitudes and interests, or multi-channel sales, omnichannel communication (web platforms, social media, newsletters), up to logistics and internal staff organisation management.
In addition to the primary objective of providing a rich and engaging experience for the public, digital platforms and services must be easy to use by the museum staff to enable complex operations without needing purely technical staff.
It is possible to design and implement a technological system capable of integrating the museum’s existing services or necessary future implementations, such as the ticketing and sales service, the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, Content Management System (CMS) or the activation of partnerships with curators for the creation of extra content. This system could manage an app dedicated to visitors to accompany them through the different stages of their visit — from pre-experience planning to post-visit content consultation. It could provide targeted suggestions based on user preferences for information, activities, purchases or deepening of specific content.
This could be desirable not only to innovate the visit and expand its audience but to simplify the museum’s management using digital.
If Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe’s statement that “architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space” still applies, space is physical and digital.
Dotdotdot CTO, Head of research and co-founder Alessandro Masserdotti