Flora Ephemera

An augmented garden experience

Berkeley has a network of public paths, steps, and walkways that are removed from the bustling world they exist within. Though they can be natural reprieves from the pace of modern life, people primarily use them as a shortcut to get to public transportation, shopping districts, and schools. Flora Ephemera is a digital experience that uses augmented reality to help passersby slow down and enjoy the gorgeous, green corridors created by the Berkeley Pathwanders’ Association.
The augmentation technology spawns flora native to the region at a rate that corresponds to the speed at which the user traverses through the space. Flora Ephemera’s experience begins at the bottom of the steps and progresses as the user ascends the stairway. The program was designed specifically for a 21x21x21-foot space within the Hill Court Steps that connect Le Roy Avenue to Hill Court in the North Berkeley Hills.

37°52'48.1"N, 122°15'37.0"W
Berkeley, California




Augmented Reality


Designer, 3D Modeler, AR Developer

Site Selection

The intention of this project was to create an augmented experience in public space. As a team, we were interested in interstitial spaces that had some sort of transitional quality to them. Spaces that implied or contain a constant negotiation between the public and the private. Through a series of public transitional spaces of  Berkeley California, we ended up choosing the Hill Court Steps in North Berkeley.

Site and Context Observations

Because we were so drawn in by the steps and what it offered, it came as a shock to observe how drastically different other people used the space. After watching the foot traffic on both the weekends and weekdays and interviewing different users, we learned that most people used the Hill Court Steps as a shortcut rather than as a nice break from busy, everyday life. People would rush up and down the steps, focused on getting one foot in front of the other.

Design Intention 

For our project, we wanted to subvert this status quo of efficiency and speed. We wanted to develop an app that would encourage passersby to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the site. If they do so, the app responds by blooming digital flora in the augmented space. If they rush instead, then the digital flora will wilt.

To achieve this, the app needed to:
  1. Sense real-time speed of the user
  2. Dynamically change the scale of our virtual plants

User/Visitor Experience

We curated the experience around a series of image markers that we printed and positioned in the physical site. These markers allowed the user to open and access the augmented garden experience.

Abhi Ghavalkar, David Zhou, Effie Jia, Georgios Grigoriadis

Unity, MARS Unity, ARcore, C#, Quixel Megascans, Quixel Bridge, Maxon Cinema4D, 3Ds Max Rhinoceros, Adobe Creative Suite