For many of us, the Manhattan skyline is marked as much by absence as presence. Hanging out on his rooftop on Hope Street in Greenpoint, Brian August was trying to explain to a friend the void left behind, both in the mind and to the eye, by the loss of the Twin Towers.
There was some copper tubing lying around from an art project and Mr. August mocked up a simple sculpture to show a friend how the towers had appeared from that rooftop nine summers earlier. The finished product, a stark outline of the towers scaled to fit the skyline, struck Mr. August with a deep emotion.
“This really started ten years ago,” said Mr. August, a lifelong New Yorker. “I started thinking to to myself, how many people go about their routines in New York, and they get to a certain place where they always used to stop and look at the towers. What if you could give everyone this experience, and a way to share it with others.”
The result is 110 Stories, a mobile app Mr. August created for iPhone, and soon Android. Its purpose is simple, said Mr. August: orient, augment, comment.
Users open the app, which orients them to point their camera at where the towers would have been. When they snap a photo, the app augments the picture by sketching in how the towers would have appeared. Finally, it prompts them to comment on what that the resulting image means to them.
“I kept telling the developers, simpler, simpler,” said Mr. August. Instead of a cheesy pair of computer-generated towers, the app generates a haunting wireframe silhouette like the one Mr. August first created on that Greenpoint rooftop.
Augemented reality apps have a bad reputation, deservedly so. Most have been used for corny marketing campaigns or pretentious art projects. Mr. August’s app, with its simple, specific purpose, manages to offer an alternate snapshot of reality that is jarring and profound.
“It occcured to me that there is a whole generation growing up, and people who have never visited New York, who will have no conception of how big the towers were, how beautiful and how iconic, and all the different vantage points around New York where you could see them.”
While Mr. August has been thinking about this project for ten years, it was only in the last two months that he decided to throw everything he had behind making it a reality.
“You know, you reach a point when you’re obsessed with something, where you feel like its possible, and for me that was maybe two months ago, where this idea was just kind of cascading through my brain, I just said to myself, if you don’t do this, with the ten year anniversary coming up, you will be kicking yourself for the rest of your life.”
Mr. August put 110 Stories on Kickstarter in order to raise funds, eventually surpassing his goal and raising more than $27,000, meaning the app will be live on the iPhone in time for the anniversary. The normally verbose Mr. August recently released a video thanking everyone and expressing his sentiments with just three words. “We did it.”