The University of Rhode Island’s Art and Art History Professor Robert J. Onorato restored a 17th century neighborhood in Newport into Virtual artform.

What started out to be a project to restore a 17th century Newport house, ended up becoming a much larger project when Onorato decided to restore an entire neighborhood. The restoration is comprised of 2D photos, maps and 3D models.

“To me, the important thing was that it started with one building and it expanded to the neighborhood,” Onorato said. “That’s typical for architectural history now, thinking about not just one building but its setting.”

The idea of restoring the neighborhood arose when Onorato attended a meeting with fellow preservationists and one mentioned a house that was torn down in Newport in the ‘70s. Onorato followed up with the preservationist after the meeting. From there, the idea struck him to virtually restore this house that was torn down, an idea that would turn into restoring the entire neighborhood.

Although this house was intended to be rebuilt, it never was, but the blueprints were really helpful for Onorato because they provided him with all the actual measurements of the house. For help deciphering the blueprint drawing, Onorato partnered with the Restoration Foundation in Newport.

Onorato was fortunate to have three advanced students who all graduated from the Art and Art History Department help him create this restoration. Alumni Walter Lewis, Jack Onorato and Aemilia Techintin all began working on this project while they were students at URI and then continued out the project post graduation.

“It turned into teaching research which I found very satisfying, being able to use students and former recent graduates,” Onorato said. “I kind of became the orchestra conductor and they were the players.”

Lewis took charge of the 2D and 3D printing, Onorato focused on the photography and museum installation and Techintin worked as a co-researcher and writer. The William Coddington House’s 3D printed scale model was re-created by Student Nick Schmindt. Alumna Shantia Anderheggan was also a help in producing the project.

In total, the virtual restoration took over 18 months to create. It began roughly around November 2016 and officially was on display starting back in April of this year.

The restoration was partly due to this project team receiving the first “Winnie” grant at URI, which is named after former Dean of URI’s College of Arts and Sciences, Winnie Brownell.

The Virtual House, Virtual Neighborhood digital restoration can be visited in Project Space A100 of the Fine Arts Center until Sept. 18.

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