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THESIS: Natural Futures

AR App reinventing the existing LA County Natural History Museum (NHM)


After a lengthy pandemic, cities are seeing a revival and reactivation of public spaces that are increasingly transformed through the presence of technology. For example, the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles is such a space that requires an enhanced mode of engaging with museum visitors. As 5G technology becomes more prevalent in public areas, we can radically rethink our interactions with our world and the role that architecture and technology will play in the future. 


My thesis is an AR App designed to reinvent the existing LA County Natural History Museum (NHM) into a “Natural Futures Museum” (NFM), a gate to the future. The proposal overlays digital information onto physical objects and becomes a tool to excavate holes in the physical world to peer into the natural future. Working as an awareness tool and educational tool, which is similar to the role of a museum, the AR technology will let you become a future archeologist to explore the future we might confront based on our present. It trains people to see the world, augmenting beyond the visible wall, leaving the museum with an augmented consciousness. When they are outside the museum and retain augmentation, they can still see the materiality, the future, the past around them. AR is increasingly important for augmenting architectures as the next evolution of the section -- a live section, as if an X-ray for architecture, to let visitors look at the wall and see through the space and time.


Time is also an essential element in my thesis in terms of visual and experience design. At a first glimpse, users’ view of the App will be a more immersive and aesthetic experience to attract people’s attention. But as users get closer to the AR experience, they will also find it is disturbing and horrifying. Augmented Reality can engage you as a viewer in different ways and with varying spans of attention. Only if people really work with the augmented reality experience and go deep into it can they discover higher resolution and other layers.

TIMELINE: May-Sep 2021

TOOLS: Unity Game Engine, Universal Render Pipeline, Cinema 4D, Rhino, Houdini

Thesis Advisor: Marcelyn Gow

Cultural Agents: Marrikka Trotter

Scene 1 Cubic Sea

The first scene is in the emblematic entrance to the museum, inside the Otis Booth Pavilion. In this space, the Natural Futures Museum AR program provides a glimpse of the future of nature - a simulation of the ocean environment from below the surface of the ocean. The experience begins with a whale swimming around the facade that appears when users stand in front of the entrance. 

After entering the cube, users will see the sea level rising, which is currently happening, until it overwhelms all the people staying in this area. With a glimpse, the natural future world is occupied with glowing microorganisms, a whale skull, and plastic corals. New ocean vegetation also starts growing in this space. 

This experience will invite museum-goers to reflect on the possibility that all of the currently existing architecture will eventually become immersed by oceans, driven by sea-level increases caused by global warming.

Scene 1 Cubic Sea

Scene 1 Cubic Sea

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Scene 2 Niches of Futures

The second scene, situated in the Gem and Mineral Hall, creates “future fossils” and “future minerals”, virtual entities that are designed to trigger users' imagination of what remains we will leave for the future humans as history for them to study. In order to imitate an archeologist’s working process, the app allows users to explore various types of "niches" within future fossils in the walls. By simply tapping and pinching on the screen, users will excavate niches in the physical world.