What will replace the now-demolished Centro Maria apartments? Get a real-time preview thanks to the augmented reality app inCitu, which has created a 3D version of the building’s renderings.

Via the scan of a QR code, locals can view the projected scale and many angles of architect GF55 and the Excel Development Group’s plans for a 104,000-square foot, 21-story, 71-unit residential tower at 539 W54th Street (between 10/11th Ave). The app uses an augmented reality (AR) overlay to show the building’s rendering as it will appear within the streetscape. A spokesperson from GF55 told W42ST that the building’s “crystal-like” glass and metal tower design “reflects the urban surroundings.”

InCitu users don’t need specialized equipment, with the aim of making rapidly expanding urban planning projects more accessible to the public. The app is not involved with the project itself, but uses publicly available open data from Department of Buildings permits to generate their 3D models as an estimation for public view, explained InCitu founder and CEO Dana Chermesh-Reshef. “We know very well how the allegedly open data about upcoming changes to neighborhoods is very inaccessible and full of jargon,” said Chermesh-Reshef. “We are committed to turn any type of development data into real-scale, on-site AR experiences to let people discover and be part of upcoming projects — we want people to be able to see 3D model in one click.” The company has plans for additional functionality to enable users to access 3D models from afar, and to add project information like the number of affordable units in a building or community amenities through the QR scan code experience, although users can already check out projects near them using the company’s interactive desktop map.

Chermesh-Reshef is a trained architect and flight simulation designer originally from Tel Aviv, who has worked in the Department of City Planning. She hopes that apps like InCitu will be able to collaborate with both developers and city planning departments to help bring greater awareness and transparency. After collaborations with city planning agencies in Washington DC and Charleston, South Carolina — a partnership with New York City would be the ultimate goal. “We’ve had great engagement with New Yorkers using this technology — people have spent a collective 72 hours using our AR models to see upcoming projects. While we know what we have in New York is mostly a proof of concept, we’ll get there!” she added.

Official renderings of 539 W54th Street. Courtesy of GF55.

The angular, metallic and glass skyscraper will be a sharp contrast from the design of the Centro Maria, built in 1911 to accommodate the St Ambrose Catholic church. When the parish disbanded in 1938, the building transitioned into affordable, dormitory-style women’s housing — one of the last of its kind in Manhattan until the organization moved its residency program to the Bronx in 2021. The building was sold to Excel in 2022 by the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese — reportedly as a means to acquire funds to defend the Church from a litany of sexual abuse lawsuits that have cropped up since the passing of New York state’s Child Victims Act of 2019

Centro Maria residence
The Centro Maria building just before it was demolished. Photo: Phil O’Brien

As of publication, Excel Development Group had not announced a completion date for the building. W42ST has reached out to the developer and will update if we hear back. 

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  1. Sigh, another dystopian tower. This particular one looks like it stole the street level trees and pushed them into the sky so they are not “wasted” on the pedestrians at ground level.

  2. Just what we need, another tall glass box built with prefabricated material (sometimes toxic),with no character, no arches, no stone, no gargoyles, no turrets, and charging 1,000,000 for a studio. I’d rather look at a tenement. They are much more “gaze worthy.” KLBazur

  3. Yes a dystopian nightmare.
    Not just continuing massive hyper-gentrification – but also architecture that destroys communities and any civic ethos.

    It cements NYC as a place just for affluent college grads partying and chunneling in and out, generic wealthy and tourists.

    A nightmare

  4. You people sound like you’re complaining just to hear yourself complain.
    It’s Midtown Manhattan & the year is 2023!

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