If a building could talk, what would it say? How would it “feel” about the comings and goings of the people who use it every day? Would it be affected by their moods and desires? What kind of relationship would it have with its occupants if it could communicate with them somehow, and how would they respond?

In attempting to answer these whimsical questions, the Mobile and Environmental Media Lab (MEML) at the University of Southern California conceived of Million Story Building, an experimental design project exploring how location-specific mobile technology can add playful, imaginative and practical new layers to the relationship between a structure and its inhabitants.

Using the newly-constructed School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) Building as a test bed, the MEML team has designed a location-sensitive iPhone application (see video) that enables students and faculty to engage with their workplace in a variety of exciting new ways, from scanning Quick Response (QR) code glyphs mounted next to posters in the hallways in order to access and tag video clips from a central database, to leaving virtual messages for others to read in an Augmented Reality view of the building’s central courtyard.

Functions such as these, working together with networks of sensors, interactive plasma screens and web-based social media profiles, made it possible for iPhone-carrying building occupants to learn about SCA history, discover events and activities, share stories and updates of their own, enrich the school’s media archive, and participate in an Alternate Reality Game. Users could expect increasingly customized communications, behaviors and interaction opportunities as a profile concerning their preferences, habits and interests was generated based on their usage of the system. The end result was a prototype for a personalized and self-renewing “ambient story” experience co-constructed by the collaboration between the occupants of a building and the building itself.