UAR; Access to an urban storyline for everyone

At the 6th of November 2010 I was at the West Arch conference in Aachen, Germany, where I heard a very interesting lecture from Ole Bouman, director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI). His lecture was about storytelling and one of his main themes: the consequence of architecture.  About this subject is already spoken a lot of times, so I won’t follow that. But what I really want to write about is a small little application the NAI, together with different partners, developed.

3D Architecture
It went “on Air” already in June but at the conference was the first time I heard about it and want to share it with you. The ambition behind that project was to make parts of the beautiful NAI-collection accessible outside of the museum, accessible for everybody. The result is a database in the pocket for all information which is related to architecture and urban design. Based on GPS you have access to 3D architecture/history animations. This handy feature is called Urban Augmented Reality (UAR).

The Augmented Reality (AR) is not new. Already in 1968 – Ivan Sutherland created the first augmented reality system, which was also the first virtual reality system. The idea of AR is that you use a program which interfaces with the mobile’s camera and then you overlay basically what you see on the camera with information such as sound or graphics. Augmented reality goes far beyond the static graphics technology of television where the graphics imposed do not change with the perspective. Augmented reality systems superimpose graphics for every perspective and adjust to every movement of the user’s head and eyes. Commonly known example of AR are the billboards next to the goal during football games. During the Olympics in Vancouver AR was also used to project the time of the pole position on the ice. Like this you could see if the skaters were faster or slower than the number one. The real-world elements are the ice rink and the skaters, and the virtual element is the line with information, which is drawn over the image by computers in real time. (I always asked myself how they do that…)

Urban Augmented Reality
So far the background. What did the NAI? They used this technology to develop the Urban Augmented Reality. With texts, images, archive material and film you get informed over the build environment, especially about the things which are not there and all this in 3D. That can be the city like it was, like it might have been or like it will be. For example how could have been the Euromast look like if the architect J. Bakema get the chance to build his watchtower with lots of platforms or how will the Central Station look like if it’s ready? Architecture leaves the dusty shelves and gets back to the people, back to the street and creates an alternative reality. That’s the future. Easy access to the storyline for everybody.  I think that’s absolutely great!

The app is available for Rotterdam and Amsterdam right now, more city’s of the Netherlands will come in the future. And who can use it? Actually everybody who has and iphone or a google android. And here comes the minus-point: I don’t have one.

What can be the next step? Maybe to rent phones at the NAI and introduce a “virtual guided tour” through the city. See what is not there! (Although the security deposit might be around 300 euro).

Thank you NAI! And can you make one for Berlin, please?

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