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Out of Thin Air
Architecture Omi's Augmented Reality installation opens July 9
Cleater Studio
Courtesy OMI/Respective Architects

Omi International Art Center’s Architecture Omi program will be using cutting-edge mobile technology in an unconventional exhibit, “Augmented Reality: Peeling Layers of Space Out of Thin Air,” to open July 9 at its namesake location just north of Hudson, NY. The show will host fantastically layered structures and environments by nine commissioned studios—among them, Vito Acconci, Asymptote, SHoP, Daniel Libeskind, and SITE—without touching a twig of an idyllic, twenty-some acre landscape of wetland, forest, and rolling farmland.

Each of the works, site-specific down to the coordinate, will exist in an entirely virtual “overlay of reality,” explained Peter Franck, Director of Architecture Omi. Through the lens of an augmented reality (AR) app called Layar, viewers will activate each GPS-pinned project and an array of multimedia guides by scanning a map of QR codes into their 3G smartphones, then aiming their cameras at various points throughout the site.

The complex 4-D renderings will allow users to walk through various layers of reality as if they existed in physical space. “The technology allows for some really large scale interventions,” said Franck, “taking over the field with [projects] you couldn’t really create by building.”

Left to right: Leeser Architecture; SHoP Architects; Kol/Mac.

For the show’s all-star roster of participating studios—the majority of them selected for their strength in conceptual practices—the medium is especially ripe for experimentation, in a kind of 21st rendition of paper architecture that takes its ideas off the page and into an experiential realm of the digital.

Real-world constraints such as gravity, proportion, and opacity become optional considerations with SHoP’s ribbed arcs of prismatic magenta and the looming translucence of Libeskind’s planar, canopy-like structures. Delving further into the speculative, one installation, by SITE will even act as a virtual portal into the other side of the Earth. Standing in the fields of Omi, New York, that other side happens to be situated squarely in the middle of the ocean, offering a stunning visual simulation of aquatic life and undersea topologies.

“When I first got introduced to [AR technology], my mind started reeling, realizing that many of these hypothetical or theoretical architecture projects may have found a larger home,” said AR enthusiast and artist John Cleater, who acted as chief curator of the exhibit. “These [AR] apps allow the general public to participate in new kinds of spatial experience.”

Working at the intersection of art, architecture, and theory for over ten years, Architecture Omi has integrated various mediums in past installations, but “Augmented Reality” will be its first curatorial venture into the purely digital realm, to be accompanied by a forthcoming online catalog at Visitors wishing to pair the digital exploration with a more “grounded” experience can also charter their way through “A Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels,” a reconstruction of Alice Aycock’s seminal 1975 earthwork, orginally created in Far Hills, NJ, also opening July 9.

Aileen Kwun