The Forbidden City Under Construction: VMFA Wants to Build 3D Printed Replica

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The Forbidden City will soon be under construction once again—this time, with the use of 3D printers rather than bricks and sticky rice, enthusiastic artisans rather than captured slaves, and a month’s work, rather than 14 years of hard labor. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, VA, exhibiting Forbidden City from October 18, 2014 to January 11, 2015, has decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Razoo to raise $40,000 for plans to build a 3D-printed replica of the ancient Beijing compound.

Forbidden City, Beijing China

Forbidden City, Beijing China

In keeping with all the rich pageantry of history about to be displayed in Forbidden City, there are several other ironic historical processes and relationships being built in conjunction with the exhibit:

This will be the first time the Forbidden City has been rendered using a 3D printer. Taking a subject that took 14 years to build 600 years ago, the VMFA has plans to render it complete with 3D printing–using 3D printers donated by Leapfrog–in a matter of three weeks to accentuate the large display of historical items from the the Ming and Qing dynasties. Along with the 3D printed display of the Beijing palace will be actual items from the Forbidden City, such as elaborate artwork like paintings and sculptures, clothing and costumes, and furniture.

Map of the Forbidden City, Beijing China

Map of the Forbidden City, Beijing China

This will also be an experiment for VMFA to see how the crowdfunding venue pans out for museum donations. With donations starting at $10 and going as high as $500, those who contribute are rewarded with their names being displayed on the virtual donor wall. The Razoo campaign gives the VMFA an opportunity to test the crowdfunding path for new fundraising revenue, and a way to “reach a new audience, offering an opportunity to take part in a venerable institution,” said Claudia Keenan, executive director of the VMFA Foundation and deputy director for resources and the visitor experience.

The goal of $40,000 is “not insignificant,” she said, but it is a minute portion of the museum’s annual exhibit budget. The full budget for Forbidden City is $2 million, which includes plans to display 200 objects on the museum’s 15,000-square-foot lower level.

Also not insignificant is the foreign relations history being made with China, as this is the first U.S. museum to have built a relationship with China resulting in an exhibit of art coming in directly from the Chinese, as well as a reciprocal agreement with VMFA allowing their prized Faberge Egg collection to travel to China in 2016, for display.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

Keenan said this exhibit is an example of things the museum does to appeal to the broadest possible audience. “We like to say, ‘We bring the world to you,’ “she said. “This will be the only U.S. venue for these objects.”

The Forbidden City exhibit is meant to encompass the rich history of this Chinese city once forbidden to the public (now home to the Palace Museum). Built from 1406 to 1420, the Forbidden City consists of 980 buildings and covers 180 acres. No one except the emperor, his wives, and his kids were allowed to live in Beijing’s Forbidden City, as it was a symbol of supreme power of the emperor. China’s rulers (from the Ming to the end of the Qing dynasty), their families, and their servants lived and worked in the Forbidden City for nearly 500 years, with 24 emperors living there from 1421 to 1911, and each one contributing to the collection of artwork and finery—which should be quite a sight to see, along with the 3D printed replica of the city.

Will you be in the area in late fall or winter and able to see this exhibit? Have you 3D-printed any architectural replicas? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the 3D printed Forbidden City forum thread at 3DPB.com.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, or VMFA, is an art museum in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States, which opened in 1936. The VMFA is home to a varied, sizable collection of modern art.

VMFA

 

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