Brian August is a guy who believes in stories. For nearly 10 years, he has been mulling the creation of 110 Stories, a project that would bring together the collective memories of anyone who’d ever gazed out upon the World Trade Center from as far away as Jersey and Connecticut, as well as from right next door. He’s assembled a team including web developer [zero] innovates to build the 110 Stories Augmented Reality iPhone App, which will allow users to render the silhouette of the Twin Towers onto the skyline from whichever vantage point they view the site. From that, users can take a picture, manipulate the image, add personal stories or memories about the Towers, and submit it to the forthcoming site, 110stories.com. As August, who works in online video, explains, “I started thinking about all the iconic views that I had of the Towers, and all of those views being lost…and it occurred to me that there are going to be a whole generation of people growing up, and people who never visited New York, who will have no conception whatsoever of how big the Towers were, how beautiful they were, and how iconic they were — how many different vantage points there were.”
August has a Kickstarter page upon which he’s raising money to fund the project. With 10 days to go, he’s only several hundred away from his goal of $25,000. We spoke to him recently to get the story behind the 110 — and his own.
How did you come up with the idea for 110 Stories?
If you go back far enough, 110 Stories is about me as a kid being obsessed with buildings in the metropolitan area. I’ve always been into architecture. While in the car traveling somewhere you’d see buildings on a hill, they’d go away, and then you’d see them again. I noticed, way out on Long Island, that there was a spot where you could see the Twin Towers at the top of the hill, for maybe just 3 seconds. It was somewhere in Syosset. Every time we drove there I would try to show my dad, and he would always miss it. Years later, I was remembering that, and he said, “Brian, come on, I saw it the first time, I was just fooling around with you.” I could go back in the car and take a picture of that moment. That to me is a perfect story.
I’ve lived in the city for 25 years, and I love those views from a distance. The app works for up to between 40 and 50 miles away. On a clear day on a hill, from New Jersey or Connecticut, you can see the site of the World Trade Center from 50 miles away.
Will you go back and take that photo of the spot in Long Island?
I guess I will attempt to do that! Everyone has these stories. Donators have written to me telling me their stories — I remember growing up, we’d be out on our boat, and we’d see them. That’s a story. Coming out of the subway at West 4th Street, you’d get turned around, and you’d look up and you look for the World Trade Center — it was like your compass. That’s a story.
And that compass is gone, now.
I came to the realization that there were all these iconic views that were missing. I moved out to Brooklyn, and the skyline — the World Trade Center — was just not there. The whole life of the buildings of the 30 years before is missing. That’s for me what this project is about. It’s about bringing back those lost views that you associate with not only 9/11 but the 1,000 other times employees stood at, for example, the top of Rockefeller Center — remember that view? — smoking and talking to each other about their kids. You have visceral flashes. It’s like music, it brings back something that you forgot.
Last summer I took copper tubing and bent it into a shape and took a picture. The copper tubing wasn’t perfectly straight. What that did for me was that it looked like someone drew it. And by drawing the Twin Towers in, I eliminate the conceit that I’m trying to throw them back up there. It’s an artistic interpretation of where they were, and it evokes the feeling with a sense of art.
So the app is restoring the memories we have of those buildings, and those views…
I think what I’ve stumbled on here, and this is something I didn’t anticipate — it’s turned into the feel-good story among all the somber stories. Can you think of another 9/11 story that can actually make someone laugh? It’s uplifting.
The original concept of 110 stories was to do what the app does but for real. I want to build 110 physical locations where there’s a bench, the 110 Stories bench, which will have memorial info and explain the project. If you’re sitting in that bench, you’re sitting where you could have seen the Towers, and I want to have an artist commissioned to build each of those installations. For example, if there was a bench there on that roof on Greenpoint, you’d see “from this spot, this is what it looked like.”
How will the site work?
Every picture someone takes through the app will be on the site. You’ll see a map with a bunch of pins, and you can scroll across, open them up, and see what the Twin Towers would look from, wherever that person happens to be. I want to be able to sort the photos by age, by the time they were taken…On the site, there will also be a substantial social component, where people can say hello and share stories. And I want to create a library of my favorite 100 stories.
The app will read your phone and know what time of day it is, so in the day the outline will be dark; at night I want it to look like a shimmering white light. There will be surprises, too…I have some Easter eggs!
When will the app be out?
The app will launch by the beginning of September, in time for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. My timetable was get the app into the app store this week, have two or three weeks to get it approved, and soft-launch at the end of August. We’ll have a launch event on September 10, at the location in the photo you see on the Kickstarter page. It’s a music rehearsal/performance space/roofdeck called The End, in Greenpoint, where I live. It’s good because it’s far enough away that the app will work at its best.
How has the reaction been?
It’s been unbelievable. Did I expect that this was going to happen? No. And I really think the best is yet to come. 110 stories has the chance to become something truly meaningful.
Put out the word that Brian August wants Philippe Petit [who walked by high wire across the Towers in 1974] to see this idea!
Follow 110 Stories on Twitter. The 110 Stories website will be up when the Kickstarter ends in 10 days.