Underground Cities

Interactive virtual environments explore underground infrastructure.

  • Sydney, Australia

Set in the unique concrete canvas of the Cutaway in Barangaroo, Underground Cities was an interactive experiential marketing installation created to help AECOM explore the potential of underground spaces. Using gamification and projection mapping, the experience invited audiences to transform empty caverns into 3D environments that challenged their perceptions about underground spaces and sparked conversations about cities of the future.

Untapped potential


Throughout history, people have lived, worked and played underground. Yet many today see these spaces as only transient – dark cellars, fluorescent parking lots, murky rail tunnels. Places where one is unlikely to spend any significant time. However, with sprawling populations around the world set to grow by millions in the coming years, these underground spaces represent an opportunity to dramatically rethink public areas and infrastructure.

Interactivity reshapes perceptions

The Idea

Conversations around the viability of underground public spaces and infrastructure are of keen interest to AECOM, and were the focus of their annual Vivid Ideas event in 2016. As part of this event, we worked together to create an immersive, interactive experience able to set the mood and frame productive conversations among AECOM’s partners and clients.

Empty underground space in Sydney’s Barangaroo Cutaway.

Inviting visitors to use their hand movements to transform the Barangaroo Cutaway into an imaginative new landscape, Underground Cities was an experiential marketing tool designed to reshape public perceptions of subterranean spaces. Using projection mapping to create an immersive environment and Kinect cameras to capture gamified audience interaction, the experience challenged notions of what future cities might look like in a powerful statement on the viability of underground environments.

Man uses hand gestures to transform a 3D real-time environment in AECOM Underground Cities from digital marketing agency.

Transforming a concrete canvas


The blank concrete canvas of the Cutaway offered us the flexibility to completely transform the unique space using four high-lumen projectors. Using these projectors, we created an environment of glowing sand dunes where visitors would throw sand to construct and reveal visualisations of underground public spaces. Encouraging audiences to interact with these evolving projection-mapped landscapes through gamification, the experiential marketing activation challenged visitors to reconsider what a future city might look like

Immersive experiential marketing activation AECOM Underground Cities from digital marketing agency.

Interactivity ignites imaginations


As visitors entered the installation area, a large interactive sun would glow and grow in luminosity based on their proximity to the Kinect sensors. In doing so, we were able to quickly introduce audiences to the notion that their actions and gestures had real-time consequences on the virtual landscape. We continued to capture this interaction through Kinect gesture recognition input, which then interfaced with a custom OpenFrameworks application to facilitate distance-activated interactivity.

As they continued through the gamification experience, visitors found they were able to engage with a range of virtual environments strategically placed throughout the space. These interaction zones served as a way to ignite each individual’s imagination with the possibilities offered by underground cities, transforming the natural emptiness of the environment into dynamic landscapes populated with public amenities and infrastructure.

Real-time particle visualisation


The immersive nature of Underground Cities was key to its success in encouraging audiences to reconsider the possibilities of subterranean spaces. Built in Unreal Engine, our goal was to create an other-worldly environment that used metaphor and gamification to reflect visitors’ engagement and extend the physical space into a virtual playground.

To bring this landscape to life, we constructed sand particles using NVIDIA FleX. This allowed us to implement hundreds of thousands of grains of sand, each with their own collision and fluid dynamics. The sand would ebb and flow in a real-time response to visitors’ gestures, demonstrating the idea of creation through collaboration.

Computer screen shows Kinect motion tracking captured for AECOM Underground Cities experiential marketing.

Integrated + immersive


Underground Cities debuted during a Vivid Ideas event hosted by AECOM and the Asia Society in 2016. The interactive activation served as the centrepiece for an immersive kaleidoscopic experience of light, sound, technology and art throughout the Barangaroo Cutaway. Harnessing the persuasive power of gamification and real-time virtual environments, the experiential marketing activation invited audiences to think differently about underground spaces, beginning to unlock their potential for the future.

AECOM partners and clients attend a Vivid Ideas event in Barangaroo Cutaway.
Large screen visuals of the underground cities experience.

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