Case Study:

Subtractive Reality: How to make Archway Tower Disappear


The Brief

North London’s Archway Tower is a 59m tall 1960s office block which is considered an eyesore by many local residents. Artist Ruth Ewan approached Inition for help making Archway Tower disappear. The project was commissioned by Alight, a joint initiative between AIR at Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design and Islington Council and was supported by the Mayor’s Outer London Fund.

  • augmented reality archway tower

Our Solution

By developing innovative ‘diminished reality’ software, Inition enabled passers-by to observe an unobstructed skyline above Holloway Road. By looking through a retro-style seaside telescope, viewers were able to observe the street live; witnessing real cars, buses and pedestrians moving through a view in which Archway Tower was nowhere to be seen.

When presented with the challenge of removing Archway Tower from the view in a seamless and surprising way, Inition came up with several different options, ranging from large mirrors, to architectural projection. After much deliberation and testing, we decided to develop a masking technique similar to Photoshop’s “clone brush”, which could be used alongside a live video stream.

Inition’s programmers created a complete user interface which allowed hundreds of small patches to be copied from one area of the video to another, and blended together. Similar buildings were ‘cloned’ over the base of the tower block to extend the high street of shops, whilst surrounding sky areas were ‘cloned’ over the top of the tower. A slowly changing camera exposure allowed the camera to adapt to changes in weather conditions.

The complete system was run on custom hardware fitted into the tiny space inside the telescope.

The Results

The artist, Ruth Ewen, in an interview with Islington Gazette, said: “People can see the traffic, the weather, the correct lighting conditions, but not the tower.

“It was great seeing people’s reactions when they weren’t expecting anything, and seeing how instantly the penny dropped”.

It’s such a local bugbear, it was great to see the little moment of magic when they realised the tower had disappeared.”

Stuart Cupit, Co-Founder at Inition said:”It was very rewarding to work on this ground-breaking project with Ruth Ewan and it is the first time we have been asked to subtract from, rather than augment reality. We hope that this real-time visual illusion will be useful in progressing the debate about the future of Archway Tower.”