It's virtually the North Laine

Photo:VisAge represents the historical interior of a house

VisAge represents the historical interior of a house

New way to visualize social history

By Phil Blume, Regency Town House

Staff and volunteers at the Regency Town House heritage centre in Brunswick Square have been working with researchers from University College London (UCL) to make a mobile application that offers a new way to visualise social history.


The system, known as VisAge, aims to turn a smartphone or tablet device into a combination of X-Ray camera and time machine that can see inside buildings and reveal the people who lived there in the past.

Tested in the North Laine

The system is being built and tested using historical information about the North Laine and a prototype was tested in Queen's Gardens in September 2014.

How did this come about?

Here at the Town House tens of thousands of hours of largely volunteered time and effort have been spent gathering seven decades of census records for 24 streets in the North Laine neighbourhood of Brighton & Hove.

A million bits of data

So far we have over a million bits of data about who lived where and when, how old they were, where they were born and what they did for a living.

Heritage Open Days

For the past few years we have been presenting these histories of houses to the public at the annual Heritage Open Days each September. This has been in the form of printed posters on each house that list all the occupancy data back to 1851.

Advanced augmented reality programmes

We now want to move away from this static approach to work with UCL and their advanced augmented reality programmes to turn this data into an immersive and engaging experience.

How does it work?

The augmented reality software being developed by UCL uses the camera in a smart phone or tablet to recognize the façade of a building, which can then be visually ‘removed’ to reveal rendered 3D room spaces behind it.

Creating virtual room spaces

We are working with UCL on ways of styling the virtual room spaces, while our occupancy data is used to populate the spaces with representations of people who lived there in the past.

Augmented reality

This creates the Augmented Reality – what you see today with a layer of yesterday on top.

What will it do?

We aim to have the second-generation VisAge prototype running on a smart phone and tablet ready for user-testing in the North Laine in September 2014.

Interacting with the scene

The plan is to have an interface that guides a user from one point of interest to another and at each location prompts them to interact with the scene in front of them.

A way of learning about history

They might visualise the reconstruction of a long-demolished street or see through a façade into the interior of an existing building. In either case, the purpose is to learn about our history and the lives of those who lived here all those years ago.

Division of labour

While UCL work on the technical challenges, we will do the research, gather the records and, from these, write and record the stories that we hope will bring the past to life.


[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 229, July/August 2014]

This page was added on 21/08/2014.

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