Virtual New Amsterdam Prototype Approach
Concept of Virtual New Amsterdam

Virtual New Amsterdam Prototype


The Environmental Simulation Center will support the scope of work for the Virtual New Amsterdam Prototype (VNAP) for the New Amsterdam History Center (NAHC) assisted by Len Tantillo.  It is the product of series of communications  between George Janes, Courtney Haff, and Len Tantillo.



Shortly after the meeting of the experts on New Amsterdam history in December 2006, which validated the concept of virtual New Amsterdam, the Project team met to determine how the NAHC virtual New Amsterdam exhibit should be developed. 


Rather than spending a good deal of time and money building all of New Amsterdam, the team determined that a small, but near fully functional prototype of the exhibit should be developed as quickly as possible so that the board and advisory committees could provide feedback on the content, visual appearance and functionality.  Once the design is finalized and implemented for the functional prototype, it would act as the foundation of the exhibit, capable of supporting additional portions of New Amsterdam as they came on-line. 


This area is both sides of modern day Stone St. between Old Slip and Broad St.  This is the area selected because it is historically interesting, while still being fairly architecturally typical for New Amsterdam


Scope of work

The scope of work is separated into two distinct parts: The first is the development of the digital 3D models of New Amsterdam, terrain, façade textures, gardens, trees and historically appropriate “street furniture” that visually recreate the historic scene.  The second is the development of a relational database, human interface, interactive 3D runtime, overview map, and client/server architecture which links 3D models to archival information.  


Both portions will draw on the experience of the previous work of Tantillo’s historically inspired art and the Environmental Simulation Center’s previous 3D virtual exhibits. 


Part 1: Developing the 3D models

The 3D portion of the VNAP will be developed in the following steps: 


  1. Creation of a 17th century New Amsterdam Material and Texture Library: All surface textures will be hand drawn and digitally colored. These surfaces will include building materials, brick, stone, construction lumber, thatch, pan tiles, glass etc. and natural materials grass, bark, leaves, gravel, garden vegetation etc.


  1. Digital Models for Predefined Residential Sites: Approximately 30 models representing objects in the residential area described above will be modeled.  These objects will include houses, barns, sheds, outbuildings, fences, the ground plane, gardens and others.


  1. Fitting Textures and Structures: The material library will be used to develop and fit appropriate textures to the digital mesh models, creating a complete and renderable building site and its immediate surroundings. Also structures will be so located as to reflect the general layout of the Castello Plan.


The texture library and some of the houses will be developed to be reused elsewhere in virtual New Amsterdam once the project moves beyond the protype area.


Part 2: Developing the technical architecture

A technical infrastructure and human interface for the 3D model of New Amsterdam will be developed for the prototype.  The interface and the database will be an interesting and engaging exhibit that will be used to both walk through the 3D model and query and access the historical archives.  The technical infrastructure built during this phase will be the foundation upon which the final exhibit is built. 


We propose developing this interface as follows:


  1. The 3D runtime: A 3D runtime will allow users to move through the 3D model created in Part 1 and interact with objects in a 3D scene.  This 3D runtime will allow both freedom of movement and also support pre-recorded tours that allow users to freely look around, but stay on a pre-determined path.  Objects within the 3D scene will also support links and audio that would allow users to listen to guided tours or follow hyper-links to internal or external websites. 


  1. The overview map: A window within the interface will support an overview map, which will help keep the user from getting lost in the 3D scene.  While most likely unnecessary for this small prototype, the map will still be functional and will be designed to be expanded to include GIS information from other eras to allow the possibility of relating specific places and events in 1660 Manhattan to current conditions. 


  1. The database: The archival database will be a relational MySQL database.  A database schema, uploading and interface scripts will be developed to support maintenance and querying.  Scripts will be support the client/server architecture (e.g. PHP, Java, JavaScript) and multi-user modes.  The database will be populated with enough information to show design functionality, but it will not be fully populated with archival information for the prototype. 


  1. The Human-Computer Interface: The human computer interface to the 3D information will be captured within the runtime environment.  Most of the interaction will be through a mouse within the scene or to set options.  The interface to archival information will be developed in Flash, Java, HTML or other standard that supports client/server technology.  It will be designed to support both professional users’ queries and casual users’ non-hierarchical exploration. 


  1. The technical architecture: While it is still in the prototype phase, Virtual New Amsterdam is expected to exist on a stand-alone machine.  Its architecture will be built using client/server technology, however, and function using a web server (Apache).  In the case of the prototype the same machine will function as both the client and the server.  This technology architecture will allow an easier transition to the web--should the exhibit eventually be put on the web as expected--or to support multiple users within the facility itself. 



Phase II


The goals of the current phase of development are twofold: first, in order to satisfy the requirements of the Empire State Development Corporation grant which has funded the development of the model to date, the entire settlement must be built out, up to and including the perimeter wall. Second, the model will support curriculum activities developed by American History Workshop with the intent to release the model to educators for evaluation.


Scope of Work



1.      Create models to populate the entire area of the settlement mapped in the Castello Plan, up to and including the perimeter wall.


Ground Texture and Elevation Model

A ground texture will be created to cover the area within the Wall, covered by the Castello Plan. The VNAP ground texture created by Len Tantillo and various images of Castello Plan will be used as sources.


The extended context for Phase II will use the Google Earth elevation model just as the current VNAP does. ESC and AHW will determine if Broadways elevation change and the Hudson River escarpment would be significant assets to the 3D model. If so, this task would be undertaken in the next phase of work.



In order to satisfy the requirements of the ESDC grant and support the “sense of place” of New Amsterdam in the 17th Century, and ultimately provide a portal to the database from every building, the entire settlement up to and including the perimeter wall will be modeled with generic “monopoly houses” that will not be connected to the Drupal database during this phase of development. Rather, the houses will provide the larger context for the narratives developed in detail in other parts of the model.


The generic houses will be aligned to particular tax lots and will be appropriate to the socioeconomic or professional status of the occupant, as listed in the database, so that they might be more easily connected under a future phase of work.


Perimeter Wall

A perimeter wall will be modeled and textured, including bastions, to surround the settlement as it existed in 1660.



2.      Build detailed models of several buildings that will support curriculum development


Several buildings are identified to be modeled for inclusion in activities for students in grades 4, 7 and 11.  Detailed modeling focuses on enhancing one, concentrated area of the model in order to highlight the unique capacity of Virtual New Amsterdam to integrate the 3D model and the database into a complex environment and complete sense of place of the settlement. Given the visually and conceptually rich content of the waterfront (as well as its proximity to the already developed Stone Street and potential connections to the world beyond the settlement),  development of a wharf and a waterfront scene includes the following:


·         Warehouse Buildings

·         A Seawall

·         A Pier

·         Ocean-going boats

·         Smaller Boats and sloops

·         The Fort and all of the buildings contained within it, including the Dutch Reformed Church and the Barracks, as well as the house of Petrus Stuyvesent.


All of the buildings developed in detail are connected to the Drupal database and support curriculum that draws on environmental as well as textual, graphic and numerical data.



3.      Make improvements to support the access and content of the Drupal database.


The Drupal database has been improved so that it can be used independently of the model.


These improvements include:


·         Creation of a Visitor Login


·         Creation of a Curriculum Content Type


·         Creation of an Objects Content Type


·         Creation of a Documents Content Type