April 9-12, 2008
Montréal, Québec, Canada

The Virtual Museum of the University's Cultural Heritage at The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Francisco Caviedes2 Esther de la Herrán1, Andrea I. Miranda Vitela2, A. Libia Eslava Cervantes2, José Manuel Mondragón2, Alma Rivas Rangel, José Luís Pérez Silva2, Ildikó Pelczer, Francisco Salgado, Adidier Pérez-Gómez, Carolina Flores-Illescas, José Luís Casillas, Graciela de la Torre1, Jorge Reynoso, Rafael Sámano1, Julia Molinar1, José Manuel Magaña1, Alejandrina Escudero, and Ariadna Patiño

1Dirección General de Artes visuals; 2Centro de Ciencias Aplicadas y Desarrollo Tecnológico; Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), as an active cultural promoter, implemented a virtual museum system in order to help and develop expression related to art, science and humanities. The UNAM’s cultural heritage is, as in many other universities, a vast number of different kinds of objects, ranging from painting and sculpture to numismatics and architecture, from traditional art to modern multimedia-based exhibits to Scientific Collections. It is impossible to exhibit it all in a single place in an orderly fashion.

The Virtual Museum of the University's Cultural Heritage (VMUCH) is a dynamic interactive space where users navigate and interact with UNAM’s cultural, scientific and historical heritage in 3D real-time space.

Keywords: virtual museum, cultural heritage, dynamic Interactive space, 3D real-time space


VMUCH is a museum in the sense not only of protecting, presenting, and making the patrimony accessible for diffusion, study and research - which would limit it to a mere digital file - but also in the sense of promoting the practice of the generation of discourse, similar to the museographic one (a discipline that in many cases makes use of simulation for the design, planning and project exhibits) but focusing and capitalizing mainly on conceptual processes and critical thought, as users work not with the object but with a reproduction.

VMUCH’s central mission is to integrate the University's Cultural Heritage audio/visual memory thru a solid information base, constructed by means of interdisciplinary diversity and canonic academic information, all this with free semantic interconnection possibilities, which are retained by several different means. Because of this, users will travel between the different realms of knowledge, interconnecting science and art, according to the natural diversity of the heritage objects found in the university’s collections

System Description

The VMUCH integrates two different systems: a Web Site Based Interactive Community and a non-immersible 3D real-time system. This system combination produces a virtual museum in which the whole of the UNAM’s cultural heritage not only can be displayed in a coherent and creative way, but also is capable of storing every user-created exhibit.

By using a system designed for open museological action, VMCH offers multiple resources, allowing unreserved exploration across a variability of key words that, by idea associations, make possible the coherent appropriation of cultural heritage objects in their most diverse nature. This kind of exercise, of the most ludic nature, will allow users to begin experiencing the design and implementation of exhibits, and on the creation of imaginary spaces, will provide a place to confront, dialectally, the diversity of other users’ virtual experiences, This will be a community exploring impossible object combinations.

By creating expositions ranging from official, professional curatorial-based exhibits to virtual reproduction of actual museums to user-constructed visions, VMUCH will become a community devoted to the exploration of 3D environments in the cultural appropriation and displaying process.

The Web Site Based Community

This system, connected to the artwork repository data base, integrates not only the artwork reproductions, but also a complete and always increasing set of related information about its authors, associated artwork, concepts in modern and contemporary art, curatorial tutorials, etc., leading users to the adventure of discovery in a rizomatic fashion of their own cultural heritage.

Our database is primarily conformed by professional photography and specialized anaglyph-stereoscopic animated photos. See Figure 1.

Figure 1

Fig 1: An anaglyph-stereoscopic animated photo example

Dionysius-The Oracle-Apollo system

These systems are the core of the editing and visualization of exhibits:

The Dionysius 3D Editing System

This system allows either users or professional museologists to design and implement curatorial views in a 3D space, and integrates the artwork in a non-bounded territory of free expression. See Figure 2.

Figure 2

Fig 2: Dionysius 3D editing system

There is infinite space for displaying artwork in every imaginable orientation. This is one of the main features of this approach: to provide users with a non-hierarchic space that neither constrains the disposition of the selected pieces, nor prefigures users’ tours in any manner, but instead provides them with self-determination, evidencing to users the complexity of experience they have gained access to.

These spaces can be created in three different ways:

  1. Official VMUCH’s Exhibits: those produced by professional curators. We design space-costumed architecture to help users to focus in a fenced space.
  2. UNAM’s Actual Museums’ Exhibit Reproductions: those re-creating the actual present exhibits of the UNAM’s Museum network. Without competing with the actual exhibit, this kind of reproduction will be the exhibit’s memoirs and companions for printed catalogs.
  3. Imaginary Spaces: those created by the VMUCH community users’ imaginations.

This is the product of an interacting and free community, able not only to produce but also to comment on each other’s exhibits, official exhibits included, leading to the experience exchange.

Aided by some 3D space helpers (i.e. directional audio or entry points), the system helps to create a chapter-like atmosphere, leading users towards a better understanding of curatorial discourse and aesthetic vision.

The Oracle-Apollo System

Apollo (3D visualization software), supported by the Oracle system, recovers the Dionisius’s server-stored information to display, via any Internet-connected PC, a particular exhibit. See Figure 3.

Figure 3

Fig 3: Apollo (3D visualization software)

The Oracle system is a custom-made FTP application which allows users to download the exhibit material and Apollo or Dionysius software. This helps the software actualization process and provides copyrighted material protection. See Figure 4.

Figure 4

Fig 4: The Oracle FTP system


We firmly believe that these virtual museological exercises will promote discussion about the status of modern museums as sole exhibit producers. We question the policies of museums that base their existence only on their collections’ value, and leave the socialization process generated by the observers/users’ appraisal in a second plane – i.e., considering users as a passive element. The VMUCH helps to identify many of the museum’s contributions to knowledge generation and significant experiences production, helping the Web-based community to understand some of its sense-construction procedures while drawing users in.

Cite as:

Caviedes, F., et al., The Virtual Museum of the University's Cultural Heritage at The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2008: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2008. Consulted