Augmented Reality at Old Essex

Newark, New Jersey, USA


Project Management

Historical Research

User Interface Design

User Experience Design

App Development

3D Modeling

Aerial Photogrammetry Consulting

The Old Essex jail was listed on the New Jersey State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1991, and just 10 years later a devastating fire in 2001 destroyed a number of buildings and set the site on a path of accelerated deterioration due to open roofs and collapsed walls. Today the site, owned by the City of Newark, lies within the University Heights Science Park and has been slated for development. Demolition of the jail for development has thus far been blocked by the NJ State Historic Preservation Office on grounds that the site is still undocumented and preservation avenues have not yet been considered. Studios at Columbia University took the first important step towards documentation and preservation. The app displays the student work in an interactive way, taking users through the site's complex social and architectural history, technological systems, current conditions and proposals reimagining its future as a community hub.

In 2018, Columbia students from the graduate preservation studio conducted historical research and discovered many photos of the jail when it was in commission. They created architectural plans demonstrating the site’s transformation over time and its complex technological and architectural systems. Students also conducted 3D scanning and to create photo-realistic models of a generator and the right a steam engine, just several of the site’s innovative technological features. In 2019, NJIT alumni Paratrees conducted a drone survey of the site in it’s existing condition. Current NJIT students used all of this documentation to produce the 3D model on the left showing the jail today. We divided the model into parts by time period allowing users to understand its expansion over time. 

Due to certain accessibility and visibility issues of the abandoned jail, we used a table-top augmented reality approach so that users anywhere can use the app and interact with the content. Our goal was to create a simple user interface that evoked the spirit of the site, which has this dark emptiness but is brightened by colorful graffiti. We also added a lot of levels of information compiled by students to explain the content in more detail. 


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