She Puts the AR in Architecture

Sahar Fikouhi uses augmented reality to view building models.


Experience Architecture in AR


Early in her career, Sahar Fikouhi had what many would consider a dream job working for Norman Foster, one of the world’s most renowned architects. But over time she found her creativity peaking while pursuing the digital rather than the physical.

So in 2010, Fikouhi left Foster + Partners to pursue her second master’s degree (her first is in computational design), focusing on augmented reality in architecture. During her studies, she began to create her app, ARki, which addresses issues presented by the ever-changing nature of architectural plans over the course of a project. She calls it an “augmented reality gallery of architecture, and an AR toolkit for 3D designers.”

Fikouhi, who is in her midthirties and based in London, wanted to address the seemingly inevitable gap she’d experienced between the information available about a new building and which of it was actually relevant.

“We were still doing stuff like 3D-printing models directly from the computer, straight out of the 3D printer,” she says. “But by the time it was printed you were already on another version of the plans.”

Augmented reality, Fikouhi figured, would speed updates into real time, engage clients more directly with new designs, and make architecture more portable than a physical model could ever be.

While developing ARki, Fikouhi also worked to design AR games—like the award-winning Hermaton—often using the money she’d earn from those to fund her app’s development. As with her games, ARki users could move about exteriors and through interiors, encountering details they would in real life, blurring the line between model and reality.

After launching the first iteration of ARki in 2012, Fikouhi visited architecture firms to pitch her app. A few organizations (the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University and the developer of One Blackfriars, a 52-story tower under construction in London) commissioned her to import their 2D plans to create a 3D AR model for them.

Word spread. In 2017, the architecture website Arch Daily named ARki the top augmented reality app for architects. That same year, Fikouhi was able to make ARki even more lifelike by integrating it into ARKit, Apple’s game-changing AR platform, which enabled her to present buildings in AR at a 1:1 ratio rather than a 1:100 ratio as she had previously. It’s the difference between the “tabletop experience of viewing an architecture model versus exploring an actual building,” she says.

With the positive press and a major technological upgrade, ARki was suddenly in high demand. “Loads of architects were emailing,” she says, “saying they wanted to use the app themselves and upload their projects. That’s when I started thinking about making the app into more of a platform.”

More than 700 architects and firms signed up to use the new ARki prior to its fall release—including Foster + Partners, who will be piloting it.

ARki 5.0 differs from prior versions, Fikouhi says, mainly for its ability “to share projects at full scale so that users can experience what it would feel like to be inside each building.” The app not only allows architects to import their projects themselves, it allows the public to experience more buildings in AR.

In that sense, Fikouhi hopes ARki will become a content and education platform, “a kind of showcase of great architecture,” she says. “It’s all just more immersive in AR. If you really want to understand a building, you can go into it—without even being there.”


    Experience Architecture in AR