Who would expect an innovative, hi-tech architectural installation in Ghent, the tiny hamlet in the Hudson Valley? The bucolic area, which was fortunate enough to suffer only minor damage during Tropical Storm Irene this past weekend, is the host of a new permanent show, "Augmented Reality: Peeling Layers of Space Out of Thin Air." The exhibit is inaugurating the newest program at the Omi International Arts Center: Architecture Omi.
Curated by architect John Cleater, the site-specific show "located" on Omi's lush green meadows is invisible at first sight. But it springs alive on a viewer's smartphone when the device is held up to the designated site. As visitors wander the rolling acres, fanciful modernist installations pop up in the phone's frame via a downloaded application. There is no brick and mortar: Every "piece" designed with 3-D computer software is digitally built and uploaded to be viewed at its site, its image projected onscreen, literally "peeling layers of space out of thin air."
Augmented reality, unlike virtual reality, requires no goggles; it is accessible, via an "A/R" app designed by the Danish software company Layar, on any smartphone. For this unprecedented show, Architecture Omi asked prominent architects such as Daniel Libeskind and Vito Acconci to create 3-D installations to be overlaid onto Omi locations. The hi-tech visions appear as fully executed architectonic meditations, linking architecture with landscape and making ground-breaking technology an important component of the program.
"Technology is the hero here," said Architecture Omi's program director, Peter Franck. "Our installations barely scratch the surface of the potential that could be realized through this experimental application." Extensively used in other fields such as navigation and medicine, A/R is new to architecture, making this project financially viable and environmentally noninvasive.
In February, the newly opened Architecture Omi named Mr. Franck, an architect with degrees from Columbia University and Pratt Institute, its director. Two years before that, he and his partner, Pratt graduate Kathleen Triem, had completed Omi's 4,300-square-foot Charles B. Berenson Visitors' Center and Art Gallery, the first LEED certified—that is, green—building in Columbia County. Boasting natural daylight, solar power and recycled materials, the building welcomes visitors to the Fields, the famed sculpture park that Ms. Triem and Mr. Frank designed and curated for seven years.
Omi International Arts Center, the brainchild of real-estate tycoon Francis Greenburger, began 20 years ago as Art Omi, a nonprofit artists' residency. It offers international artists, writers, musicians and dancers free room, board and studio space to hone their crafts in luxurious surroundings. It also arranges coveted networking possibilities, allowing visiting artists from some 80 countries to connect with professionals in their chosen fields.
In 1996, Mr. Greenburger hired Ms. Triem and Mr. Franck as Omi's resident directors and property managers of its 300 acres. Soon the campus also included the Fields Sculpture Park, a free outdoor public-exhibition space for which Mr. Greenburger acquired 16 large contemporary sculptures. "We were lucky to be here when Francis's idea was taking shape," Ms. Triem, who served as artistic director, said. "As curators, we selected works, did shows, figured out installations, expanded the collection to 90 pieces."
The Fields invites obvious comparisons with Storm King, Hudson Valley's older, grander prototype of a sculpture park. But Mr. Greenburger enunciated his own vision: "What differentiates us from Storm King—which has a fantastic modern collection—is that we're trying to be on the cutting edge of where sculpture is today." Mr. Franck added, "Storm King's permanent collection of established sculptors is a museum-like installation. We responded to their niche by consciously focusing on younger artists."
Mr. Greenburger, a hands-on manager who steers everything at Omi, gave his curators full artistic freedom, trusting their sensibilities while subtly making them aware of his own. They proceeded to create progressive multimedia installations such as "Sound in the Landscape" and "Photography in the Landscape," exhibited video pieces and large paintings outdoors and pushed the boundaries of outdoor sculpture with a focus on experimentation. Mr. Greenburger then commissioned the couple, long since married, to design Omi's Visitors' Center, which attracted more viewers and created an increased capacity for artwork.
Having accomplished many of their ideas, Mr. Franck and Ms. Triem moved on, and the Fields added to its ever-growing collection of sculptures under new direction. But Mr. Franck was lured back this year to head Architecture Omi, because, as he said, "its potential—linking art and architecture—excites me." Ms. Triem has remained on the institution's board, devising environmentally responsible strategies for the vast property. Now, with "Augmented Reality," the team is combing it all—the art, the design, the environmental awareness and the technological wonder. "'Peeling Layers,'" Mr. Frank said, "uses cutting-edge technology in ways not normally associated with architecture."