A Superbloom

To mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, The Tower of London has planted over 20 million flower seeds to create a Superbloom in its historic moat. The Superbloom will create a haven for pollinating insects and seed-eating birds in the heart of London, transforming the moat into an evolving sea of colours over the course of the summer.

Partnering with PRELOADED, Historic Royal Palaces wanted to explore how an AR experience could democratise access to this major public spectacle and engage audiences beyond the tower walls. Leveraging the power of Niantic’s Lightship Platform, PRELOADED created Tower Superbloom AR – an AR experience that extends this site-specific event to everyone, anywhere.

Tower Superbloom AR is a wonderfully transformative experience that truly democratises access to this site-specific event and layers it with purpose and learning.”

Tom O’Leary, Director of Public Engagement, Historic Royal Palaces

AN AUTHENTIC RECREATION

Over the course of the summer 2022, the Superbloom at the Tower of London will slowly evolve, as 29 different species of flowers grow and bloom. In synchronisation, the digital version of this bloom will evolve too, accurately recreating the bloom’s flowers, the state of growth, and visiting wildlife in AR for audiences wherever they are.

To guarantee the authenticity of the digital experience, PRELOADED teamed up with Nigel Dunnett, the lead horticulturist for Superbloom, collecting a vast array of reference material. This material ranged from high resolution close-up photography, to historical lithographic prints of plant studies. We examined the plants at an anatomical level and then recreated them digitally. By creating each flower as modular elements – by stems, stamen, nodes, blades and buds – it was possible to animate each individual section during the growth animation creating an experience which looks and feels totally natural.

Like the physical bloom, the digital bloom moves through three distinct “waves”, which denote key milestones in the growth process, characterised by different flower combinations. The seasonality and authenticity of the waves creates a reason for users to return to the app and continue to connect with the site-specific event.

PRELOADED examined the plants at an anatomical level and then recreated them digitally in their composite parts.

A PURPOSEFUL AR EXPERIENCE

From the outset, the aim of the project was to create an experience that inspires audiences to change their own environments, appreciate the ecological benefits of Urban Greening and give them “space to breathe” in their busy lives.

In Tower Superbloom AR, users plant seeds and watch the tranquil organic growth of the bloom transform their environment. The natural movement of the flowers and living ecosystem encourages users to organically explore and move around the bloom. In doing so they learn more about the specific flower species and the precious pollinators that visit them. The evolving nature of the bloom and its inhabitants makes for a compelling and realistic discovery mechanic. It allows, for example, a user to spot the hardworking White Tailed Bee on an African Daisy in early summer or the beautiful Red Admiral Butterfly on a Shirley Poppy in late summer. Everything discovered is added to the user’s growing collection, encouraging regular engagement through the summer.

The experience is accompanied by a meditative soundscape composed by Erland Cooper specifically for the Tower of London’s Superbloom.

EXPLORING THE EDGES

Tower Superbloom AR is built using Niantic’s Lightship Platform, and makes use of a range of AR features including its market-leading meshing capability. The speed of the Lightship’s meshing allowed PRELOADED to return accurate topology of the world from a single camera frame. The speed and constant updating of the mesh enables the Superbloom to continuously grow, taking on a life of its own as the user moves around. 

Additionally, the accuracy of the mesh provided PRELOADED with a detailed understanding of the user’s world in which to place the bloom. By identifying realistic surfaces and positions for plants to grow, and objects which would occlude or block the growth of the Superbloom, the experience is designed to feel realistic and sit naturally in the user’s real world. 

Finally, Tower Superbloom AR adapts the detail and density of the Superbloom to deliver the best experience for everyone; providing an enhanced visual experience for modern mobile phones but a highly performant one for older devices still in widespread use.

The end result is a time-sensitive, large-scale AR experience, which seamlessly blurs our digital and physical worlds and democratises access to this historic spectacle for audiences wherever they live. Tower Superbloom AR is now available to download and play on iOS and Android.

The speed of Niantic's Lightship meshing allowed us to return accurate topology of the world from a single camera frame.


Working with PRELOADED has been an absolute joy. Their well-established processes helped craft the perfect complimentary digital product to this major public event.”

Tom O’Leary , Director of Public Engagement, Historic Royal Palaces