Museum of the Phantom City

Yesterday I participated in a scavenger hunt sponsored by the Van Alen Institute. This was my first scavenger hunt and though I do not have anything else to compare it with, I’m certain this was the most interesting. In fact, it was a brilliant idea!

The platform for this scavenger hunt was on an iTunes application. It is beautifully designed and worked really well for a beta version. There were still a few kinks but overall a well performing application.

After you activate the apps and wait for the title screen to appear, the main screen fades into an aerial view of New York City with spot locations indicated in white and magenta bursts. These bursts contains information about projects by renowned architects that relate to a specific site or idea that may have inspired other projects within the city. Conceptually, you must be in range of the white bursts in order for them to turn magenta. The magenta bursts means that the project is accessible.

Once a project is accessed, you flip through the pages of the project (s). The project(s) includes a description or quote from the architect followed with images of the proposed project. At the end of the project is the scavenger hunt task; and usually relates to the project presented previously. For instance, one of the projects was a proposal for when New York City became flooded due to the melting of the polar ice caps. This project was by A.R.O., Architectural Research Office. They described NYC florishing as a city submerged in water. The task at the end asked participants to take a picture of something that was half submerged, and send it to an email address where all entries were compiled.

Though I attended the scavenger hunt by myself, I ended up pairing up with a young lady who did not have an iPhone (the app is currently available on the iPhone only). Her name is Emily and currently enrolled at Parsons studying design management. She was a great help and we both trudged through the rain to complete as much of the tasks in a 3 hour time limit.

At the end of the scavenger hunt, all parties reconvened at the Van Alen Institute where entries for the scavenger hunt were displayed as a slideshow, tallied up to see which team took the most pictures, and prizes were awarded. Yours truly and Emily were one of the winners!

The Phantom City application is really a briliant idea. I believe this application has great potential to become a very useful tool for traveling where you are able to retrieve information about a particular location or history of a building [a], and the ability to document it. The task at the end where you’re asked to take a picture that related to the project that was described earlier is one of the components that makes this application click for me (pun not intended). I love the art and skill of photography, as well as taking the quick snapshot and so for me, completing the site visit with a picture(s) based on the criteria just made so much sense! I really appreciated the fact the app provided the user with information, and then allowing the user to take that piece of information and documenting (an) example(s) based on what the user learned. I also liked the idea that the task was open to interpretation.

Phantom City is a wonderful application and a great model for other apps to be developed from this especially as a travel related guide- tool. I imagine a database where photos would be collected and shared with the world, displaying how others interpreted the information/task.

Though this app is a beta version, one of my comments about the application is that the camera feature should be intergrated within the Phantom City app. Currently, the way the app functions is that after you read your scanvenger hunt task, you have to exit the app in order to take the picture(s). Plus, once the picture was taken and it was ready to be emailed I realized the recepient may not know which picture was associated with which task so it had to be described. If there was only one thing that the app could use a bit of improvement, it would be to include the camera app into the Phantom City app for each project, and allow to send it to the recepient from the Phantom City app with a tag to indicate which project the picture(s) was taken and an option to include a description.

I really enjoyed the scavenger hunt. Check out some of the images that Emily and I submitted.


(will add descriptions to pictures shortly; will keep you posted via Twitter)

You should still be able to download the apps from the App Store on iTunes.

For more information about Phantom City; please visit

For more information about the Van Alen Institute; please visit

For more information about the creators of the application; please Cheng + Snyder @

[a] As explained by Irene Cheng of the concept behind Phantom City at the launch party.


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