Urban Art Museum

Augmenting Aerial Earth Maps: Are Architects Ready For An Augmented Reality?

Augmenting aerial earth maps, or Augearth as it is called by its creators, is the resultant of a research effort at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Augmented Environmental Laboratory. I discovered the results of the research while visiting the Google Earth Blog, which is a must bookmark for architectural 3d modelers and illustrators. I am writing about this, not because I don’t feel like finishing the dozen or so articles I have sitting in the queue, but because the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have brought to the forefront a new type of visualization that will not only change the way we view architecture and the world, but our process.

Augmented Reality – AR
The technology featured above was not developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology, but evolved there in a way its creators did not imagine. The YouTube video above was created by GIT to explain their visualization process. Augmented reality refers to a mixed reality in which physical real-world environments are merged or augmented with virtual computer imagery. Although researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have now brought this technology and its possibilities to the forefront of visualization via Google Earth, augmented reality technology is perhaps more famous as seen in televised NFL Football games, through the creations of seemingly 3D instant replay and other virtual information like the line of scrimmage and the first down marker. This notion of an augmented reality has been implemented by some architects in a superficial manner. For instance Asymptote’s early works like the New York Stock Exchange (1999) look at combining virtual information with real world information. Although the NYSE by Asymptote is intellectually revolutionary, its execution will be looked at in the same light as NASA’s first computers, which were clumsy, bulky and as large as a single family residence.

What Does This Mean For Architecture? AR Revolution
I predict that in the next twenty years that the augmented reality revolution will be the catalyst necessary to lead the architectural community in a unified movement for the first time since modernism. Augmented reality as related to architecture has several possibilities. The first and most obvious possibility is that it will change the way architects communicate and research information regarding site forces, context and other orders that may influence the development of architecture. This is boring to me and I will let your imagination elaborate upon the visualization possibilities as it is related to architecture. Have you ever noticed that architects often become more obsessed with graphic possibilities of technology and software? Forgetting that process and creating great architecture should always be the focus of our profession.

A more interesting possibility, but foreshadowed by the dot-com architecture firms of the nineties is an architecture which truly blurs virtual and physical realities into an augmented reality. Learning how to create augmented realities that users can navigate without a computer will be the first hurdle that architects must leap before entering the augmented reality movement. How will architects do this? Similar to the NFL, buildings that exist in an augmented reality may have the ability to change texture, surface, or color. Architects need to figure out a way to create an environment that is the interface with which users navigate the augmented reality, rather than using a computer. There are already many examples of this type of an augmented reality. Kieran Timberlake is an architectural firm whom has already developed a unique product, SmartWrap, which executes many functions, also has OLEDs printed on the surface allowing the surface to change the information, color, texture or patterning displayed. There are other similar materials that have been developed for strictly visual purposes, which will soon be featured in another article. Our world is slowly developing the tools necessary for the creation of an augmented reality that users can navigate without a computer. Architects and users should examine the evolution of technology in terms of ethics and morals. What are the consequences of virtual sociopetal environments? What affects will an augmented reality have on culture and society? With the fast approach of the existence of an extensive augmented reality, when should the augmented reality stop evolving? Is an augmented reality a precursor to humans living in a complete virtual reality? Fulfilling the revelations of 1990s science fiction movies. Before we worry about the ethical and philosophical concerns of living in an augmented reality, a revolutionary development must first me made. A technology must be created that has not been foreshadowed in science fiction movies or novels. Technology must develop past the environments featured in movies like Minority Report and Back to the Future, but not as far as The Matrix, as this would bypass the augmented reality revolution and throw our culture into a complete shock, as if transforming from solid to gas, abruptly entering a complete virtual reality. The transition between physical and virtual has not been documented in film and text as much as the possibility of virtual worlds, because we simply do not know how to get there. This not knowing, rather than not having the technology is why it will be a revolution in the same way that the invention of the steam engine was the key component to the Industrial Revolution. What will be the steam engine of the Augmented Reality Revolution?

Lastly, the most interesting development from the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology is their process. My mind has not rested since viewing the video  above, and the process that the researchers used to create the augmented reality. This process is applicable to the process of architecture, right now. A book that has been most influential in the development of my creative process is Contested Symmetries and Other Predicaments in Architecture by Preston Scott Cohen. Cohen uses the process of drawing to create complex architectural forms which are capable of solving even more complex problems. Cohen introduces his skillful process in a Forward written by Rafael Moneo titled Geometry and the Mediation of Architectural Conflicts: Comments on the Work of Scott Cohen. Cohen uses geometry and the process of drawing to mediate what Moneo calls architectural conflicts. Following the forward Cohen discusses examples of architectural conflicts resolved with complicated geometric gymnastics in such precedents as San Carlo ai Catinari and Villa Tauro, which he eventually builds upon in order to give the reader a fighting chance of understanding the precise and very complex process that Cohen must follow in order to produce beautiful architecture. The process developed by the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology is adaptable to resolving architectural conflicts, in the same manner that Cohen has developed his process. It will be interesting to see how the augmented reality revolution plays out, or if this is just another tool that we are building for something bigger than any of us can imagine.