Preserving Armenian heritage through technology and digitalisation

Tumo Center for Creative Technologies safeguards Armenian heritage through 3D scanning and GIS mapping, preserving cultural heritage amidst adversity.

Tumo Center for Creative Technologies’ Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping practice was selected by the European Heritage Hub Open Call for Local Good Practices, showcasing its significant contribution to putting technology at the service of heritage. Tumo has collaborated with local entities, such as the municipality of Gyumri, to revitalise historical sites and promote digital education and skills among the Armenian youth.

Teaching technology and applying it

We don’t select our students. It’s a first come, first served education programme free of charge,” explains Hulé Kechichian, Senior Project Manager at Tumo Center for Creative Technologies. Tumo offers 14 subjects ranging from music mixing to 3D modelling, and students can choose their own path. The programme doesn’t focus on competition and students aged 12 to 18 are put together based on competences, not age or previous skills and experiences.

Tumo offers self-learning sessions as a first step for all students wanting to learn a new subject or skill. “Then it’s like a video game approach, you get to the next level,” explains Kechichian. This means moving on to project-based learning through workshops run by teachers over several weeks, and then labs, where professionals from all around the world are invited to teach a specific subject for another few weeks.

For its remarkable education and training program for youth, the Tumo Center received a European Heritage Award / Europa Nostra Award in 2019.

GIS mapping to restore the old market in Gyumri

Tumo’s programme is run in different cities and rural areas in Armenia where students can end up working on concrete and useful projects for their own community. For example, in one of the latest Tumo workshops, students in Gyumri were involved in doing a Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping of the buildings in the city’s former market area.

Gyumri went through an earthquake in the 1980s, the whole city and this area in particular were abandoned by the people. “Before, Gyumri’s market was one of the most vibrant spaces,” tells Kechichian. “People who have known it from before talk about the colours, smells, about how vibrant, how lively the market was.

Tumo acquired the historic market area five years ago and decided to work on bringing it back to its old glory. It’s here that the GIS mapping done by Tumo students comes in handy. “It helps us understand the territory of the previous market and its surroundings,” says Kechichian. This understanding will inform the design or the rehabilitation of its space and future developments and investments in the area.

Citizens science in Armenia

We didn’t have any digitised data. We started from scratch,” recalls Siuneh Arakelian, Former Lab Leader at Tumo Center for Creative Technologies. This wasn’t unusual as there’s scarcity of such data in Armenia, particularly from a bottom-up approach, which is particularly interesting in a city like Gyumri, with its different historic layers. 

We know many international practices that use citizen science to complete their data sets using different perspectives, but in Gyumri it’s a challenge to involve residents because there’s a lack of access to technology and knowledge,” explains Arakelian.

That’s why Tumo decided to involve its students for this project; they are familiar with the GIS mapping technology after receiving training, and they come from the area they mapped so they know the context and historical layer. 

After collecting the data, Tumo wanted to make it available to other people to view and use, such as researchers or investors who require primary data to promote their projects or future developments. Tumo hopes to inspire others to run a similar GIS workshop to increase its data sets, and it has made it possible for anyone to download it and pick up where the students left off. 

Tumo’s close relationship with heritage

Tumo’s revitalisation of Gyumri’s market is not the first initiative in that sense. Gyumri’s Tumo Centre is actually a revitalised theatre. “The whole philosophy of Tumo is to look at the heritage, look at what exists and make it flourish through technologies and creativity from the present and that can be carried through generations,” says Kechichian.

The theatre, dating back to 1850, is a valued historical monument as it hosted the first Anoush opera representation, which is one of the most famous in Armenia. “Gyumri was the heart of Armenian culture, a place for poets and creators. There’s so much to enhance here,” explains Kechichian.

The restoration, though it used a contemporary design, aimed to keep everything that could be preserved. For example, even if the facade of the theatre was affected during the earthquake, it was recreated using original techniques. The new symbolic red roof hosts spaces that are open to the public and that have become important for connection and community creation. “Tumo has provided an opportunity for the public to reinvigorate and reconnect with this place,” says Shahe Simonyan, Head of Construction at Tumo Gyumri.

3D scanning to remember monuments

Another way Tumo uses modern technology to preserve cultural heritage is by using 3D scanning to collect and catalogue Armenian’s cultural heritage in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and throughout the Republic of Armenia.

Since 2020, Tumo has reached out to experts asking for help in scanning around 80 monuments in the Nagorno-Karabakh region at risk of being destroyed due to the ongoing conflict in the area.

A 3D model is a very detailed reproduction of a monument, down to one-to-two-millimetre precision, that gives the user the impression of walking in and visiting a building albeit digitally. Tumo achieved this result by crossing two techniques: photogrammetry and laser scanning.

Photogrammetry takes thousands of pictures with a camera and a drone from all points of view within a space, while laser scanning measures the distances between a box sized scanner and each part of the monument. By combining the two, Tumo recreates digital versions of Armenian physical heritage.

After this first step, Tumo “decided to expand our scanning to the whole country. We want to do a comprehensive 3D scanning of all the monuments, all the heritage in Armenia,” explains Kechichian.

From memory to education, the multiple uses of 3D models

Having a 3D model versus having a photo is completely different,” insists Kechichian. “It’s a very comprehensive sight of the monument which can be placed in its environment, which can be very valuable for research.” In fact, one of the advantages of creating these models is that they can be used for research and teaching purposes. 

With their scanning being expanded to the whole country, Tumo now has over 200 models of as many monuments. With this collection, Tumo also wants to create a platform accessible to the public. “Another reason for this project is making the Armenian heritage accessible to all,” says Kechichian. Users can access the platform, click on each monument, visit it digitally and read the historical background and other content.

For example, we would like to gather testimonies from people who knew the monument that tell us about how they got married there, or the place’s rituals and legends” says Kechichian. “Our end goal is to give a comprehensive, precise and interesting view of Armenian heritage through our platform.

From renovation to the use of technology to preserve heritage, Tumo is an impressive example of how to use the tools of the digital transformation to help cities in their efforts to protect their citizens’ culture and identity.

More about the Hub’s selected local good practices

As one of the ten local good practices selected by the European Heritage Hub project through an open call, the case study from Tumo was presented as part of the European Heritage Hub ‘Sharing Local Stories’ webinar focusing on Digital Transformation in Cultural Heritage on 17 May, you can watch the conversation here. More webinars in the series and inspiring stories will be announced soon, subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest updates.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. View more