An App Puts the Twin Towers Back in Sight

Brian August stood on the roof of a building on the Greenpoint, Brooklyn, waterfront on Thursday, facing Manhattan and squinting at his iPhone in the sun. As he swept the phone from south to north, the skyline across the East River showed up on its screen, with one difference. The whitish outline of two boxy skyscrapers rose from the spot where, until Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center stood. The buildings towered above everything else in Manhattan, including the Freedom Tower directly to their north. One tower obscured the other slightly, and an antenna pushed far into the sky.

The effect, created by an app called 110 Stories that Mr. August and a group of developers are creating, is the realization of an obsession that Mr. August says has been gnawing at him for years.

“It’s pretty raw, to be honest,” Mr. August said of the prototype he used on Thursday. “But we can see it’s going to work.”

The idea has begun to capture a lot of interest, both for its emotional resonance and for its technical sophistication. Mr. August contributed $7,000 of his own money to get started, and has since raised more than $25,000 on Kickstarter, a Web site where entrepreneurs and artists raise money from the public. Marc Ecko, the fashion designer, contributed $10,000. Earlier this week, Mr. August presented the idea to the New York Tech Meetup, which regularly draws hundreds of people from the local technology industry. And on Friday, Google Creative Labs said it had agreed to offer technical advice and publicity.

Mr. August and his team are rushing to complete the app before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. In its final form, the app will orient a user to point the phone toward the site of the Trade Center. The phone’s view will then blur slightly, and the towers will appear. Once the shot is properly framed, the user can take a photograph and add a message, both of which will be placed on a map that serves as a tribute to the buildings. If someone is out of sight of the towers, a collection of photos will appear. It will be free.

The app is based on a technique known as augmented reality, which adds digital elements to the physical world. Augmented reality is becoming increasing popular among smartphone developers. But creating a convincing experience is difficult. In the current version of 110 Stories, Mr. August’s virtual buildings teeter on the skyline, standing slightly askew. It is not clear how the app will work indoors.

110 Stories was originally envisioned as an analog project. Mr. August wanted to construct model towers that when placed just so, would fill the World Trade Center’s spot in the skyline. This idea took various forms. Several years ago, he put a piece of translucent paper over his apartment window and traced the skyline, then drew in the towers in red. Then he styled the towers out of copper piping and had a friend hold them in place. Later, he lined up two beer bottles on a roof and took a photograph.

Mr. August likes to see himself as a successor to Philippe Petit, who spent years preparing to walk between the towers on a tightrope. But he also bears a resemblance to the main character in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” who becomes obsessed with the Devil’s Tower, the national monument in Wyoming that was supposed to be the site of an impending U.F.O. landing.

“I’m like Richard Dreyfuss, making the tower out of mashed potatoes, only it’s the twin towers,” Mr. August said.

Some people have complained that the concept is morbid, though Mr. August says they are a small minority. While he is timing the app’s release to correspond with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he said, the project is more of a tribute to the twin towers themselves than a memorial of their destruction. He remembers riding in his father’s car as a child growing up on Long Island, looking forward to a rise in the road when he would briefly see the Trade Center as they approached the city.

“The whole thing evokes a good feeling for me,” he said. “Those towers had a life of 30 years before September 11.”

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