Every street in New York City is imbued with history. Each building and lot houses countless stories about the Big Apple of yesteryear and the team at Metro ARchive is developing an immersive experience that will bring those stories to life. Using augmented reality technology, the app will enable users to view historic New York City streets as they were centuries ago.

Print Format of Metro ARchvieMetro ARchive in its print format. Photo courtesy of Metro ARchive

Metro ARchive is a project developed for the NYC Media Lab Spatial Computing Challenge by Sammy Levin and McCoy Zhu, two undergraduate students at New York University, with the support of the New York Times Research and Development Team. The project will give New Yorkers new insight into the streets they may think they already know everything about. Inside the app, users have the option to explore in two different formats that each provides a deeper look into the city’s past.

A preview of Metro ARchive app featuresCourtesy of Metro ARchive

The print format of the ARchive will allow users to point their phones’ cameras at custom made city maps and reveal a three-dimensional digital version on the phone screen. As you explore the map and read about the specific locations featured, those buildings will be highlighted on a virtual 3-D rendering. In “Historic Mode” users will see buildings as they were a century ago. “Contemporary Mode” will show what those same buildings look like now.

Accompanying voiceovers and text blurbs will provide context about the building’s history and architectural elements in “Historic Mode.” Additional related materials will also pop-up in “Contemporary Mode” including relevant articles from the New York Times. By signing up to test the app, you can gain access to a sample print-out map.

Gif Courtesy of Metro ARchive


“Immersive Mode” takes the functionality of the print format and applies it to the real world. By going to locations throughout the city and pointing your phone camera at a specific site, users will witness the city transform. Additionally, historic facts, audio storytelling and biographies, and articles about the site from the New York Times archive will appear to help flesh out the experience. By clicking on these articles, users will be directed to the New York Times App where the pieces can be read in full.

Augmented reality apps have been around for some time and have already shown the ways in which urban spaces can be affected by these experiences. The Pokémon Go craze of 2016 is the most notable example and still draws many New Yorkers out into the streets in search of in-app rewards. The Metro ARchive takes the principles of augmented reality and applies them in ways that allow users to experience history immersively, enrich everyday environments, and contextualize current events. The video at the end of this article offers a demonstration of the app in action, using both the print and onsite formats to explore Doyers Street in Chinatown, an area that earned the moniker “Bloody Angle” for the frequent fights and murders that happened there.

A preview of Metro ARchive app features in Historic ModeCourtesy of Metro ARchive

“Recognizing that AR will soon play a far more integrated role in our lives, we hoped to take a first step toward creating an experience that is both entertaining and educational,” said Sammy Levin, co-creator of the project. “We hope that someday, students can take field trips guided by immersive AR and curious urbanites can learn more about the block they live on. Technology already has the power to bring far-away places to us. We hope the Metro ARchive will enrich the places we see every day.”

Video Courtesy of Metro ARchive

Although the experience is still in development, you can currently test the app by signing up on the Metro ARchive website. The creators are hoping to continue expanding the project and will be applying to entrepreneurship programs and grants in the future in the hopes of receiving additional support.

Next, check out Augmented Reality App “Gruesome Gotham” Revives NYC’s Most Mysterious Murders and NYC’s Lost Historic Amusement Parks