SHIFTboston Future City Tour

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on August 17, 2010

The potential of potential is the leash of technology.

SHIFTboston’s 2009 competition asked architects and designers to dream up wild and inventive ideas for the city. Many intriguing concepts were submitted, and now you have a new way of viewing some of these ideas with any 3G smartphone. The SHIFTboston Future City Tour smartphone app is described as “an augmented reality tour,” which sounds very futuristic indeed. Using your phone, you can see submitted projects located in and around Fort Point Channel, an inlet of water that separates the Financial District and South Boston. Think of it as a personal presentation of the submissions, while you’re at the place where these ideas could become reality.

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

This is a very interesting premise and an attempt to solve the age-old problem of the onlookers’ disconnect between a project and its site. Fort Point Channel is in the process of becoming a socially activated space, and using this app is a decent excuse to walk around and experience it firsthand.

The app works like this: You use the camera on your phone like a filter to look at areas of the Channel, and these big black circles appear all over the screen. Each circle is a project that was submitted and is located in the approximate area that the project would be sited. Clicking on these circles brings up the people responsible for the project and about five words of a description, with—confusingly—no way to read the rest of it. Instead, one large rendered image is presented, with little explanation. The user is left to try and decipher what that image is supposed to be showing–and how exactly it’s sited in the Channel (two things the app is supposed to do for you). They are all very ambiguous projects, so this can be a difficult task. Unfortunately, about three out of four projects didn’t load anything but a 401-error page.

To this reviewer, the benefits of this application seem few and far between. It would be a good way to connect with the projects and the site, but that never really happens. Considering that all the projects can be downloaded and viewed in pdf format directly from the SHIFTboston website, people would be better off simply exploring the Channel on their own, rather than being led on the leash of technology.

Experience the future urbanity of Boston.

When wandering Boston’s waterfront, you have to cross busy streets and parking lots flooded with cars. The aggressive shift toward a more pedestrian-friendly edge condition has been discussed for years; however, until now, the renderings and imaginations of this new paradigm have been left hanging on the walls of architectural exhibits or affixed to your computer screen from a static vantage point.

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

Fort Point Channel in Future City Layar App

SHIFTboston’s Future City Tour allows you to tear the renderings from the wall and take them in your hands, onsite. You have the new ability to physically walk around the Fort Point Channel and experience digitally how the area may evolve, in an exciting way that challenges personal design concepts. The mobile application demands a more active role of the viewer, further inviting criticism and participation. While holding the phone ahead of you, you walk the thin line between reality and fantasy, with the ability to flip back and forth in a glance. Real. Fantasy. Real.

The Meta Land is a great project to view through the Future City Tour app. A series of piles are arranged in the channel, creating a unique hydro park-like space with floating pathways for pedestrians to wonder through. It’s easy to imagine yourself standing on one of the pathways, surrounded by a field of piles, looking at the city skyline in the distance. It feels surreal.

Another example, Drift Boston (a series of island parks), challenges us to embrace the area’s relationship to water and shows boardwalks and a floating swimming pool. Using the app, it is easy to project yourself into the scene–and the desire for a unique area like that in the city immediately grows in your heart. Then, looking past the phone at the actual site, you are reminded of the lack of such rich urban spaces.

Future City Tour provides pedestrians with a reason to visit these waterfront areas and experience a unique city atmosphere, even if only in an augmented reality. More importantly, it offers hope for a new, more interactive waterfront.


One Response

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  1. Janice said, on August 18, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    The City Tour was a great idea, writing about it and presenting it as a critique was helpful to me and my friends as a tourist and frequent visitor to Boston. There isn’t always time to see everything and aside from seeing on the app it gives you the opportunity to decide to visit the most interesting, historical and worthwhile locations in Boston. Thanks for the article J-!

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