[ISEA2011] Paper: Sam Kronick – Urban Augmented Reality and the Games of Cybergeography


Session: City, Public Space and Mobile Technologies

This paper discusses Utopian urban and architectural plans of the mid-20th century in the context of contemporary virtual gaming environments. In particular, it focuses on the potential for a combination of augmented reality technologies and open-ended sandbox games to produce immersive participatory urban experiences in the spirit of the visionary design projects of the past century.

The 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s saw a plethora of imaginative proposals for future modes of urban life from designers and artists including Archigram, Cedric Price, Yona Friedman, Constant Nieuwenhuys and the Situationist International. At the foundation of many of these projects was an optimistic belief that advancing automation technology would free humans from monotonous labor and enable a life of leisure time and free play. The open space frames and modular buildings they designed favored process, mobility, and participation over permanent fixed forms.

These historical projects engaged with the idea of computation at various levels (Cedric Price included a cybernetician on his design team) and computer science (i.e. software “architecture”) borrows metaphors of modular structure from the world of physical structures and buildings. This paper expands on these notions to argue explicitly that architecture is computational and computation is architectural. By cross pollinating the ambitions of these two fields, new systems, games, structures, and environments might arise that further realize aspects of their Utopian visions.

Augmented reality (AR) is a set of technologies that inherently involve a mixture of the virtual and the real. Whereas current vision-based AR frameworks exhibit several characteristics that make them primarily suited to manipulation of objects in interior spaces, this paper proposes an AR framework specifically designed for users with location-aware mobile devices moving through urban space. Games built on top of this framework could enable users to modify structures of the city in real time (in the style of games like indie hit Minecraft), generating experiences that reconcile the active urban plans of the 20th century with the interactive technology of the 21st. In reference to Situationist International’s “psychogeographic” dérive, these games are dubbed “cybergeographic.”

  • Sam Kronick studied art and architecture deep within an engineering culture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. His work seeks to produce tools, toolkits, and systems that enable people to become active participants in the modification and production of new spaces that express their creative desires. This objective is carried out through a combination of art, architecture, and engineering, using robotics, software, architectural installations, and public interventions to reach a wide audience beyond the context of the gallery. He is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at the University of California in San Diego, USA. newuntitledpage.com

Full text (PDF) p. 1426-1431 [different title]