MIT students create a mural that moves when viewed through a smartphone

You can count on students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to take something as simple as a painting and then give it an inventive twist.

As part of a collaborative project last semester, a group of students from the Cambridge school transformed a swath of blank hallway space that runs beneath the campus into a giant work of art. Then, in true MIT fashion, they rolled out an app that makes some of the work come to life when it’s viewed through a smartphone screen.

The Borderline Mural Project” covers 200 feet of underground space. At least six of the paintings that make up the mural have the “augmented reality” feature.


Julia Rue, who will be a senior next year, came up with the initial concept to make use of the bland wall that stretches beneath Ames Street, turning it into a place where students could show off their creativity.

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The hallway is commonly used by students and staff to get between buildings while avoiding the harsh New England elements.

In a video posted by MIT recently, detailing the scope of the mural and the moving parts within some of its paintings, Rue said she was inspired to pursue the project after having a conversation with others in her art studio class.

At the start of the semester, the professor running the class had asked students why they were taking the course. In a place where technology and science often crowd the spotlight, a lot of them provided similar answers, Rue said.

“It was basically, ‘I used to do art in high school, and I want to continue it now at MIT,’ but I didn’t really have the chance,” Rue explains in the 3-minute video. “So I wanted to make this project where other MIT students could do that same thing, where they could really do art and have other people appreciate it.”


For the artwork to move, people must download the app and hold their phone in front of the mural.

One of the paintings features a woman swimming underwater. But when using the app, fish will pass her by. A second painting shows two people sitting down, facing one another while playing with a rubber band. When viewed through a smartphone, a cat suddenly appears and begins batting around a ball of yarn.

The mural will remain on the tunnel walls until at least December, according to MIT officials. The public is welcome to download the app, and visit the paintings. The app is available on both iOS and Android smartphones.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.