Understanding the properties and dynamics of digitally fabricated replicas in cultural heritage experiences for different audience groups

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores digitally fabricated artefacts or replicas and investigates their contribution as novel interpretative means in cultural heritage (CH) experiences for different audience groups. The research adds to a novel body of knowledge and practice that intersects cultural heritage, computing, product design and their related disciplines, as well as the actual process of making as facilitated by digital fabrication. Given the popularity and increasing accessibility to 3D imaging and 3D printing, replicas are being deployed more to support audience interpretation through multisensorial interactions with physical artefacts, which sometimes act as physical interfaces triggering digital content. However, a lack of understanding of the different factors which define the adoption of replicas for such purposes still exists. This research systematically addresses this gap by introducing the Replica Experience Framework (RXF), which “breaks down” replicas and “decodes” their role within CH experiences. By employing the RXF and by adopting the case study approach, three digitally fabricated replicas were developed in collaboration with the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove. These were “tested” with three audience groups: visually impaired people, random adult visitors and families. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used, including creative methods, to gather visitors’ feedback. The findings of the research suggest that not only should replicas feel as close as possible to their original artefacts, but they also need to be contextually informed, honestly exhibited and interpreted too, in order to maximise their potential. The research argues that digitally fabricated artefacts deformalise, add significant value, and contribute to “authentic” CH experiences; while enabling audiences to develop a deeper understanding and establish new relationships with CH collections. Yet, in order to successfully integrate replicas in CH interpretation, stakeholders should take into account some of the main contributions of this thesis: the concept of the RXF and guidance on how to deploy it; recommendations for designing, incorporating and researching digitally fabricated artefacts; as well as a well-rounded set of methods as demonstrated by the research to holistically evaluate replicas within CH experiences.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorKarina Rodriguez Echavarria (Supervisor), Roger Evans (Supervisor) & Ran Song (Supervisor)


  • digitally fabricated artefacts
  • digital fabrication
  • replicas
  • 3D printing
  • evaluation
  • museums
  • audience research
  • multisensorial experiences
  • interpretation

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