Assistant Professor // Carnegie Mellon University // School of Architecture

Plaster Re-Cast


Video Production: Jose Muniain, {Make.Media}


Over the past two years our research team at Carnegie Mellon University has been developing a mixed reality mobile app to enhance visitor experience of architectural plaster cast collections. The app is intended for museum patrons, educators, historians, and design professionals. Architectural plaster collections present visitors with physical fragments of buildings from disparate geographic locations, historical time periods, and architectural styles. The ambition of Plaster ReCast is to weave a compelling narrative between the embodied experience of visitors and the complex back-story of each cast, which is not readily accessible in physical collections.

Download Project Overview

App Features

Three main features of ReCast App: 3D CAD Model, 3D Cast Scans, Archival Images and Historical Narrative.
(Three main features of ReCast App: 3D CAD Model, 3D Cast Scans, Archival Images and Historical Narrative.)
  1. 3D CAD Models allow visitors to experience the entire building or monument represented by the plaster cast fragment. Visitors can explore the virtual model through the tablet’s touch screen or by physically walking the tablet’s camera around the virtual model.
  2. Reality capture (e.g. photogrammetry & lidar scanning) provide detailed representations of the physical casts, many of which are positioned far from museum visitors. Scans can be tagged with hotspots to explain architectural features of the casts.
  3. Archival material (e.g. drawings, letters, cast catalogues, contracts) provide an entry point into the dense web of historical narratives associated with each cast.

Mobile Tracking

App populates scene with context aware information over a live camera view of the collection.
(App populates scene with context aware information over a live camera view of the collection.)

Our team has built a prototype of the Plaster ReCast app using a Google Tango Tablet. The Tango has inbuilt sensors and cameras for excellent real-time positional tracking and internalized mapping. This means that simply pointing the camera at a cast allows visitors to automatically access 3D Models, Descriptions of key features, and Historical Documents related to a cast. The app can even guide users to a cast’s location within the collection, using mixed reality navigation tools. Lastly visitors can navigate virtual CAD Models of entire buildings represented by the cast fragments. Virtual models are projected into the live camera space of the app and can be navigated by physically re-positioning the tablet. Visitors can walk, spin, and lean in to pan, rotate, and zoom around the model.

Project Team

Joshua Bard, SoA, Architectural Robotics,
As an architectural roboticist Joshua has been exploring the historical lineage of material craft in the built environment. His research focuses on how the sensibilities of historic hand-craft can inform the application of emerging technologies in architectural construction. Plaster is one of his favorite building materials.

Francesca Torello, SoA, Historian,
Francesca is an historian of architecture and of the urban environment. Trained as an architect, she is interested in the education and shared cultural references of practicing architects, and in the collaboration of architectural history and practice. Her current research projects examine how the rediscovery of the classical world and the growth of archaeology as a scientific discipline changed the vocabulary of the architects and their relationship with the past.

Special Thanks To

Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture, CMU SoA

Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, ETC

Carnegie Mellon Museum of Art, Heinz Architectural Center, CMoA

Ferguson Jacobs Prize in Architecture, Prize