Newcastle residents will soon be able to take a step into the past thanks to a new smart phone application created by a group of academics from the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment.
Dr Tessa Morrison, Dr Ning Gu and PhD candidate Nicholas Foulcher have been working on the application, which ties together the region’s history and urban development with current technology.
The project allows users to visit key architectural sites in the Newcastle landscape and use their smart phone to retrieve images of historic buildings from each location. It has been funded by a $15,000 Faculty Strategic Pilot Grant from the Faculty Research Committee.
Ornate, high Victorian architecture and expansive verandas are hallmarks of late 19th century local architecture, and characterise many of the images used in the project.
There is a wealth of information about Victorian Newcastle, thanks to the work of local photojournalist Ralph Snowball, and his descendants, who have kindly given permission for the use of his work in this project.
Snowball photographed the town during an unprecedented boom period, and managed to capture a glimpse of the quickly evolving area.
Many of the buildings he photographed have since been altered, are in states of disrepair or have been pulled down to make way for new developments.
"There are many images sitting in the archives, not readily available to the public," said project leader Dr Morrison.
"This application builds on our expertise, using the latest technology such as augmented reality, and gives the community the tools to reconstruct our heritage."
After downloading the application, users will be able to take a virtual tour of over 20 buildings and learn more about what previously stood on each site.
One site that has been repeatedly repurposed is 277 Hunter Street. It has previously housed an ice-skating rink, a food market, the Palais theatre and is now the Southern Hemisphere’s largest KFC.
From an academic perspective, the project seeks to identify the urban and architectural patterns of the region’s capital.
The team will use this information to benchmark the development of Newcastle in comparison to similar regions.
In coming months, the team will be asking the community to contribute their own historic photos and hope that they will help to bring the rich history of the region to life.
Locals will be able to get their first taste of the historic project when it goes on exhibition at the Newcastle Museum this November.