A New Sense of Place in the Digital Age

Family Using Augmented Reality App in Aquarium

The term “sense of place” has been the subject of much Architectural and Social discourse – conceptually it is used to “define the undefinable” bonds between people and places. A sense of place can be described by specific characteristics of a physical place, or by the perceptions of people who visit a place. Crucially those characteristics help foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging.

At Arcade we believe that a sense of place has never been so critical to society as it is today. Indeed, our long standing mission is to help define and create a new sense of place in the digital age. Whilst the explosion of digital technology has had huge undeniable benefits, academics are only now beginning to identify some of the widespread side-effects. The decline of traditional social structures mixed with an unparalleled access to technology has uprooted the traditional notion of community. People have been left to self-define their identity through reference to a myriad of media and technology driven sources, often detached from their physical whereabouts. We have become disconnected from our places.

Our medium is Augmented Reality (AR), with which we have identified a huge opportunity for technology to right its own wrongs. Critically AR ties digital information to the real world, thus giving us all the chance to reconnect to the world around us – not despite of, but because of our want for new technology. We believe that the most prescient opportunity for AR to evolve is within the visitor experience industry, where consumers are now demanding personalised services and participative encounters, which ladder towards a new sense of place.

Underpinning our work is the identification and understanding of several key characteristics, which we respect with every line of code we write and every polygon and texture we create. These characteristics combine to create places that are playable. We define play through its more esoteric sense – not gamification – but learning & discovery leading to liberation and empowerment. The playable place achieves the following:


In the new world of complex identity it is critical that a place should be able to connect to its visitors on their level, displaying a diversity which encourages them to build their own sense of place and empower their self-identification.


Our relationship with a place should not be one-way in nature. Our playable places learn from their visitors experiences, and then adapt accordingly – they become responsive in nature and thus elicit a greater emotional connection with their visitors.


The very definition of a sense of place lies within the physical and emotive connection to a group of people. Places should not force this, they should cater for many types of emerging community groups and become a place for the many, not the few.


The consumer now expects participation ahead of a passive experience, our technology provides this closer connection to a place by encouraging its visitors to truly participate. That could be through the contents of the place, the history and meaning behind a place, or by re-imagining new uses and functions for a place.


The static materials and forms that make up our physical world all have stories to tell, every brick and every blade of grass contains a thousand words could it but speak. Well now they can. Through AR we reveal narrative driven information that has never before been experienced in-situ.


The custodians of a place have a duty to make the connection between that place and its visitors as meaningful and continuous as possible. This will help advance operations across estates, and can include marketing and brand benefits.


For millennia many places have been hampered by their geographic location, especially when attempting to build relationships with new typologies of visitor. Our technology can break down these boundaries, enabling cross pollination of estate assets and relationships with the user before and beyond their visit.

A new sense of place is not just academic posturing. The building of new identities and new communities within a truly user focused framework leads to advanced levels of engagement. This manifests in higher rates of repeat visit, increased dwell times, higher satisfaction scores and ultimately the achievement of commercial goals.

Connecting the Space Between

Kid on Mobile

In the very early days of Silicon Valley, when there were more hippies than business leaders, Steve Jobs was mocked for actually trying to sell something (Jaron Lanier). Money was not a concern, the advancement of the human race via technology was all.

This overtly anti-capitalist culture in the valley was fostered by the digital pioneers, who were more interested in the potential of the technology they were playing with rather than working out how to monetise it.

When the young tech giants of today grew within this culture and could not develop direct monetisation, we, the human, became the new gold. So the giant land grab for human engagement began and globalisation beyond the jet-engine era accelerated to unforeseen levels.

But there is now a growing concern of the individual social impact of our tech driven globalisation, more specifically an emerging understanding of the change in the ability of the human to engage positively with the real-world around them.

Whether we are engrossed in our handheld device for over 4hrs a day, interacting with people without ever needing to meet them physically, or escaping in a VR headset, our surroundings are not as apparent.

The overuse of digital technology is leading to a disconnect between us and our world, which in turn spawns loneliness and isolation. The tech giant’s answer to this loneliness? More advertising and the deliberately addictive cycle of “like” and “find friends”.

This is all at a time when we need to cherish our environment and surroundings more than ever.

We believe that emerging technology in the fields of AR and IoT has the power to fix these wrongs through the ability to connect between the digital and physical.

It is imperative that the right agents with the right empathetic design ethos shape that power to elevate the connection between people and their environment. In line with the spirit of the early Silicon Valley, this should not be seen as a playground for those who wish to advertise or sell, but a place where utility meets purpose to bring about meaningful human interaction.

The Arcade mission is to combine digital design and architectural practice in order to define this place in-between. A place which can support our reconnection with our surroundings. By working with us, our partners can begin to own this space, through the development of platforms and services which bring utility and purpose to their people. Let’s use technology to reclaim our surroundings and re-discover ourselves!

The Mechanics of AR

Someone Holding Up A Phone

In a bid to inform our own AR-focused products and services we have been studying how AR technologies have, and could be implemented. We have identified 10 core creative mechanics that can be employed when developing use cases for emerging technology that brings us closer to our surroundings.

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01 | Hunting.

This mechanic encourages people to get out into the real world and hunt for digital interventions which appear through the AR experience. Pokémon Go is a great example of this.

02 | Nurturing.

Here the AR experience needs regular attention from the user over a period of time, thus creating an ongoing engagement between the user and their new reality. Imagining how the Japanese toy “Tamagotchi’ could move from its physical form to work within an AR experience, especially relevant as the toy is making a somewhat cliché retro comeback.

03 | Pathfinding.

We can now be guided by digital objects alongside material objects. We can use the AR experience for a new layer of flexible signposting encouraging further non-linear exploration of an existing place — for instance we could direct people away from traditional paths within our national parks and lead them to equally valid yet less explored areas.

Someone Holding a Phone

04 | Revealing.

The AR layer can be used to reveal hidden facts and opportunities within the real world. This can have utilitarian as well as educational purposes. For instance we can now use geolocation and AR technologies together to create services maps for estate managers to comprehend in real time where services, cables, traffic lanes, and drainage intersect. A well-used successful reveal mechanic is the Pocket Universe app which reveals star constellations and galaxies that wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye by using theiPhone’s accelerometer to accurately overlay data about the areas of sky you are pointing your device at.

05 | Fantasising.

What would it feel like to have a fire-breathing dragon swoop over you? The VFX artists at GoT have succeeded to an extent, but we are still aware of watching this on a screen. Imagine if we remove that detachment and had the same experience using AR tech. The AR experience may well be the future of our fantasies.

Shop Filter Using Augmented Reality

06 | Filtering.

We are used to filtering content within the confines of a web-browser, so why not filter the real world through an AR experience? What does it feel like to be able to editorialise the material around us? Can we filter our real shopping experiences? We are currently exploring this purposeful mix of AR and IoT for one of our partners.

07 | Time-Shifting.

Can we use AR to experience the past or even the future? We think so! Already we can reconstruct past events or places to a dramatic level of detail, typically through the film or television media. However, if we place this within a suitable physical context then the experience becomes much more powerful and we have a deeper connection with the narrative. Imagine feeling how it was to be somewhere rather than just reading about it, being able to walk around or through a place as opposed to standing in front of an information plaque.

Fotheringhay Castle in Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality Medical Training

08 | Informing.

AR is increasingly being used within heavy industry to bring instructions to the moment of work, giving employees a faster more streamlined workflow. The medical industry is looking at ways of using AR to increase the success of complex medical procedures by bringing essential data and information to the real time and context.

09 | Re-Animating.

This powerful use of AR can change, or re-animate, existing material objects, leading to different or improved use. For instance if in a mirror a toothbrush could become a sword to fight off evil plaque monsters, then the child will brush for longer whilst playing the game.

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10 | Situating

The ARScale and ARLightEstimation features announced within Apple’s new ARKit give us a much more powerful way to place objects in space, with added reality and connection with context. The scale feature is already being used brilliantly within the IKEA PLACE App, and the Tape Measure app, but the possibilities are endless, imagine a child seeing a Dinosaur to scale in their classroom!