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昭西陵 · Zhao-xi Ling x AR

Augmented Reality experience in the historical preservation of Zhao-xi Ling (the mausoleum of Empress Xiaozhuang of the Qing Dynasty)


This project is a part of Zhao-xi Ling preservation and reconstruction research project at Tianjin University that spanned across 2011-2019. It is aimed to exhibit the historical research to the public in an interactive and innovative way by the application of AR and VR. My role was to design AR experience in Zhao-xi Ling and develop demos to test the technological feasibility in Unity 3D with Google ARCore.

My Role

AR Experience Design & Development


Xinyu Kang (Zhao-xi Ling x VR)

Dongzu Li (Historical Research)

Xinjia Liu (Historical Research)

Xiangrui Meng (Historical Research)


ARCore, Unity3D, Revit, SketchUp, Photoshop, Xiaomi Mix2S as the test device


Sinan Yuan (VR/AR)

Peng Cao (Architectural History)


First Prize, National Design Awards for Outstanding Heritage Conservation Student Projects 2019



Rebuilding Long-en Dian Onsite - AR Animation

Using AR animation to show the reconstruction process of Long-en Dian on its ruins.

Meandering Digital Display - Buttons Floating

Creating simple interaction with similarly-styled buttons floating in the scene.

Display Construction History - Augmented Image

Display small scale animation on the site selection and construction history on today's satellite image.

Timeline & Workflow

Timeline2021 july.png

, 2019

, 2019



The historical ruins image of Zhao-xi Ling


Zhaoxi-ling of the Qing Dynasty is the mausoleum of Empress Xiaozhuang. The unique historical changes in its construction history have created its distinct architectural characteristics and historical values. However, due to natural deterioration and the lack of preservation in the past 300 years since it was built, most pavilions of Zhaoxi-ling exist as historical ruins today.

The unique value as historical heritage.


Based on the ongoing historical research on Zhao-xi Long, its unique historical value can be concluded as:

  • Zhao-xi Ling was the first mausoleum built for an empress in the Qing Dynasty.

  • The historical identity of Empress Xiaozhuang, who was buried in Zhao-xi Ling, makes the site unique.

  • The history of the construction of Zhao-xi Ling created a special group pattern of the pavilions.

  • The Long-en Temple is the only temple with yellow glazed cymbals on double eaves in the Qing mausoleums.

  • The Long-en Temple in Zhao-xi Ling inherited and optimized the "Xiaoling-style" timber structure system.

  • Crafts of bucket arches in the Long-en Temple embody the characteristics of the early Qing Dynasty.

  • The style of the Gate of Coloured Glaze of Zhao-xi Ling is superior to that of any other emperors and empresses in the Qing Dynasty except for Ding-dong Ling in the late Qing Dynasty.

  • The column form of the Long-en Gate of Zhao-xi Ling is unique among the other mausoleums of the Qing Dynasty.

  • Zhao-xi Ling is the first mausoleum in Qing Dynasty to build The Sacred Way Tablet Pavilion, which turned out to have the biggest size among the other mausoleums of the Qing Dynasty.


Visitors have trouble understanding the values.





How might we present accurate historical information in an interactive and immersive way?


Rehabilitation x AR


Current ways of historical exhibition

Find appropriate AR methods to display


Comparing different AR methods, I tried to match different display contents in an appropriate way. Based on the immersive and interaction levels, I made three design decisions:

1. A combination of AR scenes in various types.

Based on the analysis of current AR technology, I decide to choose different AR methods for different types of historical information, including animation, augmented video and etc.

2. Simple interaction with floating buttons. 

To simplify the interaction methods, I use button activations for all AR scenes. There are buttons with similar looks floating on the scene, and AR displays could be triggered by the buttons.

3. Personalized experiences for every user.

Users could tap on whatever buttons they are interested in while exploring the culture relics. This allows every visitor to create their own AR experiences at their own pace.

AR Experience Flow

User Flow

AR Experience Guide

real site map xiao.jpg

1. The Sacred Way Tablet Pavilion 神道碑亭

The first scene of the AR experience in Zhao-xi Ling starts 30 meters south of the Sacred Way Tablet Pavilion. There will be four buttons in the shape of a random ink mark of Chinese calligraphy floating in the scene as soon as users activate the whole scene. On pointing at either button, users are able to learn an aspect of historical information, including the introduction to the Sacred Way Tablet Pavilions in the mausoleum system in the Qing Dynasty, the story and unique identity of Empress Xiaozhuang and the reconstruction digital model of the Sacred Way Tablet Pavilion of Zhao-xi Ling.


Interaction buttons at Lone-en Gate and the shown historical photos at current view.

2. The Long-en Gate 隆恩门

Due to the actual rehabilitation plan of Zhao-xi Ling, which is to reconstruct the most important pavilions in several phases, the Long-en Gate would be the first rebuilt building. The gates on the east and west sides would be the entrance and exit of the relic area while the middle gate would be closed for the time being because of cultural reasons. 

The animation showing the site selection and construction process of Zhao-xi Ling would be activated on scanning the Augmented Image lying on the exhibition stand in front of the middle gate.


Rendering of the reconstructed Lone-en Gate and Augmented Image Exhibition there.

Screen record of the Augmented Image scene at the Long-en Gate.

3. The Gate of Coloured Glaze 琉璃花门

The unique features of the Gate of Coloured Glaze would be shown in this scene. Drawings showing the unique location of the Gate of Coloured Glaze of Zhao-xi Ling compared with other mausoleums in the Qing Dynasty would be floating in the scene. Besides, the photos of the Gate of Coloured Glaze of other mausoleums in the Qing Dynasty could appear if users touch the buttons, indicating that the style of the Gate of Coloured Glaze of Zhao-xi Ling is higher than that in other mausoleums.


Collage of AR scene at the Gate of Coloured Glaze.

4. Sceneform at the Long-en Temple area 隆恩殿前

Entering the biggest relic area of Zhao-xi Ling, users could first find the location with specific signs to activate the Sceneform. Floating in the scene would be numerous buttons in the shape of random ink marks of Chinese calligraphy. On touching the buttons, the exhibition contents would appear in the scene. Users can touch the buttons freely, thereby exploring the historical world of Zhao-xi Ling and creating their own AR experience on their preference while visiting the site.

This scene has been developed and tested in situ. See the screenshots below or the video at the beginning to learn about the experience in the relic area!


Touch the sign to activate and place the scene at the right location.

Users could even walk into the reconstruction Long-en Temple and experience the difference between the digital models and the cultural relics in front of them.

Scanning the ground to find a plane.

Buttons floating in the scene.

The crafts of making bucket arches.

Buttons floating in the scene.

Touch the button the activate the reconstruction model of the Long-en Temple.

Animation showing the construction process of the timber structure system of the Long-en Temple.

Reconstructed digital model in situ.

Model of the West-side House.

Touch other buttons to show information about dimentions on Yangshi Lei Charts in the real scene.

The colored painting.

Learn about what bucket arches with coloured paintings look like by activating the buttons.

5. The Fang Cheng Area 方城明楼

When users finally climb up to the Fang Cheng Area, they would enjoy the nice view to reflect the relic areas. They could activate the scene showing the "Ping-ge" Plan of Zhao-xi Ling, which is also a part of the Yangshi Lei Charts. As they walk around the Bao Ding, they could use the app to learn the orientation of other mausoleums in Qing Dong Ling and learn more about Qing Dong Ling.


Collage of AR scene showing "Ping-ge" plan of Zhao-xi Ling.

明楼2 xiaoxiao.jpg

Collage of AR scene showing the orientation of other mausoleums in Qing Dong Ling.

AR Prototyping

AR Development

Step 1 Build AR Display Scenes

I had several site visits to Zhao-xi Ling and researched real cultural relics with architectural history researchers. Then we revised digital reconstruction models together for display. We also worked on the reconstruction research of colored paintings in the Long-en Temple.

下檐平身科斗拱 色彩版.jpg

After researching and adjusting all the digital models, I imported the models, videos, images for the display into Unity3D and designed the augmented scenes. 


Step 2 Add Buttons & Animations in AR Scenes

I first created buttons in the shape of random ink marks of traditional Chinese calligraphy in AR scenes and then added C# scripts to the button to trigger AR contents. Animations in Unity3D were used to show the information of several construction processes in Zhao-xi Ling as well. The activation of the animations was controlled by the buttons.


Step 3 Locate AR Scenes on the Historical Site

With Google ARCore package, I tried both AugmentedImage and ObjectManipulation to help users locate AR scenes on site. AugmentedImage is accurate but has more requirements on the devices.  







Step 4 User Testing On Site & Refine

I tested the AR demo every time I exported it and checked if it worked. Everytime we visited the historical site, I tested the demo with local villagers for user feedback to refine the experience design. Notably, I showed the AR scenes I developed  to experts in person in the original environment of Zhao-xi Ling. Fortunately, the feasibility of this project has been acknowledged by the experts.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

This is the project that brought me to the field of user experience design. By developing this AR experience project, I have come to understand the users' expectations of AR experience, the historical researchers' presenting needs, and current AR technology availability. Seeking the balance among the several stakeholders, I came to understand that what the digital product really is might not be the most important thing. In my mind, how to provide accessible approaches for users with different backgrounds and ages to recondite historical information with the help of AR is the mission with top priority. 

Imagination can take you anywhere until it meets reality. During the first half of this project, I expected high AR experience results. I am eager to design a continuous AR experience that showcases everything I learned and am amazed at historical research. However, when I learned to use ARCore SDK in Unity3D and really started developing, I came to realize the limits set by the huge amount of model elements and the chock points of AR. Moreover, buttons and more powerful methods to locate AR scenes at the site are needed as well. I got to learn a bit of C# for the scripts in Unity3D. The development experience required eagerness, patience, and persistence.

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