Trees provide value in many realms, including environmental, economic, cultural, and aesthetic. Their important roles as ecosystem service providers are quantified in dollar amounts and they are actively inventoried as assets held by cities. The Ohio State University has collected data on nearly every tree on campus and recognizes the need for additional plantings. In 2015, the President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability made a commitment to double the overall tree canopy by 2025. This inspired students in an ArtScience course, taught by Iris Meier and Amy Youngs, to create an interactive artwork that visualized the future trees as virtual apparitions in augmented reality. When the prototype project was seen by staff at the Chadwick Arboretum, ASC Technology Services, and the Center for Regional and Urban Analysis, it sparked ideas for an expanded app that would include interactive engagements with trees on campus.
Together, with the students, we have shaped the goals of the project: to increase cultural, emotional, and scientific appreciation of trees by facilitating playful interactions with them on the Ohio State University campus.

Our team will develop an application that allows users of smart devices to experience music that is dynamically generated from nearby tree data as they walk around campus. Users can view the virtual tree canopy of the future, access information about specific campus trees, and collect it into a “field guide”. They can add to the cultural data of a tree by creating and submitting a poem, drawing, or selfie. We aim to engage users in a broader understanding of the value of trees; one that includes the aesthetic, scientific, psychological, cultural, and personal, among the economic.

We have named our app ARTrees, which is short for Augmented Reality Trees, and Art Trees, or even “our trees”. It will function as an engaging interface between the real world (actual trees on campus), a potential future (virtual tree canopy), and multiple types of data. [Read more about the features in development] We believe this research will generate productive conversations across disciplines about how data is experienced and how trees are valued and it will highlight the interactions between cultural and scientific values.

ARTrees is supported by The STEAM Factory at The Ohio State University.