Architecture app developed by Ryerson researchers puts downtown Toronto at your fingertips

Downtown Toronto is filled with architectural masterpieces, designed by the likes of Calatrava, Gehry, Libeskind and Alsop. A new app developed at Ryerson University will allow tourists, Torontonians and architecture fans to delve into the design, function and history of many of downtown Toronto’s most significant buildings.  

The Ryerson Architecture Mobile App, a partnership between Ryerson’s Department of Architectural Science and the Ryerson University Library and Archives, is a free interactive mobile app that uses geo-location data to help users identify and learn more about the architecture that immediately surrounds them.  

Architectural science professor Vincent Hui first came up with the concept in late 2010. He wanted to take advantage of Ryerson’s urban location and highlight the impressive architecture of downtown Toronto. Hui wanted more than a map or a simple listing of downtown locations; he wanted an app that would geo-locate the user and help them learn more about architecture. He took his idea to Innovative Technologies Librarian Graham McCarthy who, along with his team, developed the app.     

“The project provided a unique opportunity to create a mobile application that can provide students, or anyone with an interest in architecture, with peer-reviewed information about local buildings and the ability to visualize Toronto’s history,” said McCarthy.  “The Ryerson Library was exceptionally interested in housing and curating such a relevant and functional database”.  

The Architecture Mobile App offers the user a detailed look into the history, function, design and creation of the more than 90 buildings in its database. It will also highlight the closest buildings to the user offering a wealth of relevant information, including documents such as floor plans and high-res images.    

“Not only do we get to see the building, but by using augmented reality to geo-locate us we can also see historically what has been on that site,” said Hui.  

The app’s database has been created almost entirely by Ryerson students and recent graduates. More than 60 students and recent graduates have contributed to the database, researching downtown buildings and their history on their own time. The database also includes data provided by Canadian Architect magazine archives, and the entire database is vetted by Hui and his research assistants.  

Available now on Android, on the Apple App store and on the mobile web, the app has been accessed by almost 800 unique users since it became available last spring. Hui and McCarthy are looking forward to future capabilities of the app, for example video and audio, not only for Toronto, but for other cities around the world as well.  

“Rather than picking up a guidebook, a user could, for example, look up the London, England version of this app and walk into Trafalgar Square and see the history of the space, see video, listen to audio and see and learn so much more than what is there at that physical moment in time.”    

Hui and his research team continue to improve and expand the database; they are also researching the applications that the app may have for other faculties and departments as well as beyond academia, in industries such as tourism.

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