AR Content Design

ExSPACE was an AR exhibition designed to bring light to the abandoned subway tunnel in Rochester, New York.

Team Lead / Naomi Rutagarama
AR Developer / Jorge Vázquez González︎︎︎
AR Content Designer / Me
Marketing Director / Valev Laube︎︎︎

Photo by Aaron Raymond.


there’s a subway in Rochester, NY?

Yep. Or, there used to be, like back in 1927. The Rochester Industrial and Rapid Transit Railway (RSB), more commonly known as the Subway in Rochester, was constructed in the bed of the old Erie Canal, operating from 1927 to 1956.

A (Sad) Story

The adaptation of the old Erie Canal was truly impressive and imaginative, but then the Great Depression came, and Rochester subway never reached its full potential.

Naomi or Jorge or Val or me running through the dark subway tunnel with a single light source.


Wow ok.
What happened to the subway tunnel?

Pretty much nothing. While the city filled parts of the abandoned subway tunnel to make way for other constructions, the 1.7 mile-long section (formerly the Erie Canal bed) that lies in downtown Rochester remains empty and closed.

The Subway

As the city council debates whether to fill the tunnel or revitalize it, Rochester residents have come to accept the Subway as part of their history.

Graffiti artists, especially, have been filling the dark tunnel with vibrant writings over the years.


What did you all do, then?

Naomi first had the idea to do something for the abandoned subway tunnel when she learned about and visited the place. Then we took a group trip down into the tunnel with our tiny phone flashes, and were amazed by all the graffiti pieces hiding in the dark.

A Memory

It was surprisingly quiet and cold and humid (because of the river) and dark (really dark). But the graffiti pieces were amazing.

Fragment of a graffiti piece in the tunnel. Artist to be identified.

We wanted to bring the graffiti out for people to see, since we could not actually bring people into the tunnel (we asked the city and it was a no). It was also around when Rochester officials were planning to fill (again) the remaining subway tunnel and turn it into a giant parking garage. We felt the need to share what we saw with the local community.

So we decided to do an exhibition.


Tell me about the exhibition!

After some interviews with the local graffiti artists and several more trips to the subway tunnel with better equipment other than our phones, we began to prepare for the final AR exhibition. 

Why AR?

We chose to work with AR because we wanted to recreate the experience of stumbling upon powerful art in the dark subway tunnels.

Project Goal

We wanted to showcase the graffiti pieces and raise questions among the local community.

What happens to spaces that are no longer functional? What should happen to those spaces, if they carry historical and emotional value?

One of the three projections during the exhibition.

The shadow issue was one thing we could not resolve because of the physical exhibition space.

Luckily the lighting situation worked out ok. Photo by Aaron Raymond.


Some endnotes and links.

The exhibition ran from April 16, 2018, to April 23, 2018, at the Sage Art Center in Rochester, NY. If you would like to read more about the exhibition, or the Rochester subway, here are some links for you:

Seniors show beauty of urban art with augmented reality (2018)︎︎︎
City eyes parking in Rochester’s old subway tunnel (2018)︎︎︎
Rochester ponders future of once vibrant subway (2007)︎︎︎

Sending ♡ to Naomi, Jorge, Val.