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Augmented reality brings demolished Yekaterinburg TV Tower back to life

Russian artist Slava PTRK has used augmented reality (AR) to revive a demolished tower which once stood more than 200 meters above the city of Yekaterinburg.

Image courtesy Slava PTRK

When last year the government of the Russian city of Yekaterinburg made the decision to demolish its tallest structure, residents were faced with mixed emotions.

Construction on the Yekaterinburg TV Tower began in 1983, but the project was put on hold in 1991 due to financial problems. It was ultimately abandoned altogether. Although it never realized its intended purpose of providing radio and TV signals to residents of Sverdlovskaya Oblast, the structure was still beloved by many in the region as an integral part of Yekaterinburg’s cityscape.

Those who were outraged by its demolition-by-explosion in 2018 have now been given a new, unconventional way to enjoy the tower. Russian artist Slava PTRK used augmented reality to reproduce the tower so that it could be enjoyed by anyone with a smartphone.

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Images courtesy Slava PTRK

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Like so many technological feats of today, the project was made possible by a mobile app. Slava and his team—which included Ivan Puzyrev, an alumnus of Strelka’s The New Normal program and head of the VR/AR department at Strelka KB—created the app, uploaded an exact virtual copy of the tower, and installed special images around the area where the tower was located.

The final outcome means that anyone who wants to remember the tower can do so, by simply downloading the app and turning their phone towards a special icon which can be found throughout the city. The virtual tower then appears on their phone screen, allowing them to view and appreciate the city’s former landmark in a whole new way.

“Today, the internet allows you to access any information at any time . . . architectural objects which have cultural and historical value but have not preserved by man can turn into virtual monuments,” Puzyrev and Slava PTRK said in a statement.

“It’s not enough to build a digital copy of a tower—that’s too simple and boring. We decided to turn it into the biggest virtual monument in the world, a digital gallery for artists from all around the world. The digital DNA of the 'new tower' gives us freedom to play. Artists can paint it, reshape it, animate it, and even demolish a copy of it.”

Slava also says the unconventional way of viewing Yekaterinburg’s former tower has its advantages. “The real object can decay, fall apart over time, and disappear, but a virtual copy will exist for as long as the technology that created it will work.”

The virtual tower also isn’t limited by traditional boundaries. “Material objects always have a fixed status, boundaries, forms, and other restrictions. The material object always has an owner, while a virtual object may belong to the city itself, to its inhabitants,” the team states.

An ice hockey arena is slated to be built on the spot where the massive Yekaterinburg TV Tower previously stood.