SARA: The First Mobile 3D Architecture App

Many analysts and ‘trendwatchers’ believe Augmented Reality will become the big hit of 2010, but I have some doubts. Technological determinists tend to overlook the risk that AR browsers such as Layar could end up as the next Second Life — it’s nice stuff, but not many people stick to it. To be honest, who would unlock his telephone, start an AR app and search for a right layer that shows the nearest ATM, when one simple question to a passer-by is enough to find out where to go? A lot has to happen in order to develop general Augmented Reality applications into useful products that take the least efforts of the user.

One can distinguish two different kinds of use of mixed reality apps — daily life use and specific use. Daily life involves browsing near ATMs or tweets of people around you. I doubt if this category will have its proclaimed potential for success. This is different for specific use of AR, which serves specific non-daily interests at a specific time. Think of useful apps to be used in a museum, or the upcoming piece of AR software of the Netherlands Architecture Insitute which grabbed my attention some days ago. The institute’s application called SARA, available next month in your local app store, is the world’s first mobile architecture app featuring augmented reality with 3D models.

“Just point your smartphone at a building and get to see not only photos and video material but 3D models, scale models and interesting details and information about it. As of in February 2010, you’ll be able to receive on your smartphone all kinds of information about the building currently on the site – along with details about what was there before, and what projects are planned there for the future. You can also add your own information about the building or plot out architecture walks taking in designs that particularly appeal to you.”

SARA sounds like an interesting, extended version of the Museum of the Phantom City, but it’s pretty much based on the same principle. I can imagine this app will be very useful for architecture tours, and its power is that it allows the user to take a look into the architectural future or past, utopia or dystopia. The world’s first building to appear in 3D on the smartphone is Rotterdam’s new, eye-catching Market Hall which is currently under construction. The institute aims to cover the entire Netherlands within the next five years… which sounds like an ambitious but revolutionary plan.