Digital Innovation and Scientific Investigation at the Hill House

As part of this year’s European Research and Innovation Days, we’re delighted to have a blog from one of our members, Historic Environment Scotland, focusing on the innovative work being carried out at the Hill House in Helensburgh. Sophia Mirashrafi, Digital Project Officer for the Hill House, jointly employed by the National Trust for Scotland, and based at the Engine Shed in Stirling, outlines the work of the project below.

Digital Innovation and Scientific Investigation at the Hill House

The House background…

While the Hill House in Helensburgh is one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most iconic works, the very fabric that makes up its signature grey exterior is endangering the lifespan of the house itself. Designed inside and out by the Scottish architect and his wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, the Hill House was completed in 1904 for the Glaswegian publisher Walter Blackie.

This external render succeeded in terms of the desired aesthetic but over time it has proved more than problematic. Over the decades, exposure to the Scottish elements has left the building with significant problems with water ingress, threatening the interior of the building.

In 2018, the NTS placed a protective Box around the House to protect it and allow it to dry out slowly.

The Digital Project

At that time, the National Trust for Scotland (@N_T_S) and Historic Environment Scotland (@HistEnvScot) teamed up to apply innovative workflows in developing integrated digital and scientific techniques in a ‘live’ conservation project at the Hill House.

This is the first collaboration of its kind between these two heritage giants and the Hill House (@TheHillHouseNTS) provides a perfect playground for organisational collaboration, digital innovation, and virtual exploration.

In 2019 the first phase of survey documented the baseline 3D data, which will act as the foundation to the project. In a packed four days, the Digital Innovation team @HistEnvScot conducted a survey of the house, taking over 13,000 photographs and 200 scans of the building, digitally recording the house inside and out.

Unlike previous surveys, they also took thermal photography to layer over each scan, which will allow them to create a model of thermal data for the whole house.

In 2021, they return to the house to complete the survey again, giving us a second dataset to see through periodic thermographic overlay how moisture ingress moves throughout the building overtime.

Working with 3D data allows for the unique layering of data from across disciplines and research areas - including information from archival images, conservation experts, architects, and scientists - to approach the problems at the Hill House with a holistic perspective, understanding of its past and present state in order to inform conservation decisions in the future.

The project aims to provide digital resources and for education and interpretation for heritage professionals and visitors alike.

To follow the journey, check out @ssmirash and @TheHillHouseNTS on Twitter.

Some previous blogs:

https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/using-tech-to-protect-the-hill-house 

https://blog.historicenvironment.scot/2019/03/hill-house/ 

https://blog.historicenvironment.scot/2019/08/science-hill-house/ 

Lorna Murphy - Scotland Europa - June 22, 2021