GLAMi nomination: Chicago 00: Century of Progress

nominated by: Trevor Cunnien, Chicago History Museum, USA
institution: Chicago History Museum
category: Exhibition and Collection Extension

Chicago 00: Century of Progress is the second virtual reality (VR) mobile app experience developed by the Chicago History Museum. This free experience is available as a standalone app for Android and iOS, and as a 360° video on YouTube. This immersive video can be experienced anywhere, transporting users to the shores of Lake Michigan where Chicago’s second world’s fair sprawled in 1933.

The app provides a narrated VR tour of the site, a three mile stretch of land on the lakeshore, densely populated with attractions and exhibition halls. Dozens of modern buildings awed visitors with their experimental forms and dazzling displays of electric lights. Today, there is no evidence of the massive scale of construction that drew some 50 million visitors to the fair; every building was torn down after the fair’s second season in 1934. The familiar buildings of Chicago’s museum campus help to ground the experience as the only remaining nearby structures.

The VR tour explores the northern half of the fairgrounds near the museum campus, culminating in a bird’s eye view of the grounds from the fair’s grand attraction: the Sky Ride. Images taken from the Sky Ride towers are superimposed on present-day aerial drone photography to recreate the view from the towers. Users are virtually suspended hundreds of feet in the air with the vast expanse of the fairgrounds laid out below them. Besides the VR tour, users can also closely inspect high resolution versions of the superimposed images in the app’s gallery, and learn more about the fair from informative captions.

This image shows historic photographs of the fairgrounds superimposed on present-day aerial drone photography.

The Century of Progress app is part of the larger Chicago 00 project: a series of new media and mixed reality experiences centering the Museum’s archive. As part of the project, more than 500 rarely seen photographs from the Museum’s collection have been digitized, paired with highly descriptive, item-level metadata, and made available to the public through the Museum’s digital collections.

Chicago 00 refers to the corner of State and Madison where the city’s street numbering begins, and the site of one of the project’s prototype AR experiences: a tour at the 2015 Museums and the Web Conference. This prototype tested how the capabilities of AR shape user experience and served as a proof of concept for future projects.

Chicago 00 has more stories to tell. Future experiences will cover a range of topics: the debut of the ferris wheel at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the protests and clashes surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and an extended Chicago Riverwalk tour that explores the city’s relationship to the river throughout its history. Whatever the story, Chicago 00 is an innovative way to experience history grounded in the places it happened.