Conference Review: Media Architecture Biennale 2010

Meso: Siemens Stern des Südens. www.meso.net

Meso: Siemens Stern des Südens

Conferences in the field of architecture or design sometimes tend to be a bit pretentious. Often, they contain a series of more or less enthusiastic project presentations and rather civilized (if at all) Q&A sessions mixed with a fair bit of self-presentation.

Well, usually.
The Media Architecture Biennale 2010 taking place last week in Vienna was however different to this general notion. Starting with the line-up the organizers Gernot Tscherteu, Martin Tomitsch and Oliver Schürer of the Media Architecture Institute managed to put together, the series of speakers and workshops covered quite a broad range of topics related to the growing field of Media Architecture. The program was structured along diverse conference panels with lectures and follow-up discussions, as well as a series of parallel workshops allowing for focused presentation and conversation. The conference was casual/relaxed in the best sense – good networking opportunities in a friendly atmosphere.

Certainly one of the main and recurring aspects that continuously came into discussion was the question of “content” in a range of facettes and semantic meanings. Obviously, the problem of content creation and civic relevance of media in urban environments was already a centerpiece of earlier discussions in the field (see Media Facades Festival Berlin 2008 ). However, many presenters highlighted the lack of strategies for creating and designing mediated architectural space that is engaging and contextualizing.

During a panel named “P.U.S.H. – Public Urban Space Hub”, Gregory Beck from AIA for example made a point for what he called “experience architecture”. He highlighted that media architecture is communication, not just mere illumination. It is about storytelling, not hardware. And different to many urban screen and billboard applications, media architecture needs to be integrated into physical existence of architectural structures.
Thomas Grechenig from TU Vienna focused on infrastructural aspects of smart cities. “People not only inhabit physical buildings, but live in  connected resource spaces”.Think of smart grids, concepts of power sharing and energy awareness, as well as shared mobility networks etc. This opens up a range of opportunities for ambient interactive environments in urban space, in which the individual is McLuhan’s medium as both a producer and consumer. Of course, this interconnectedness triggers questions of privacy and surveillance. But any new space needs to redefine these privacy borders.

Alex Haw, AtmosStudio, in this sense likes to refer to the term “Ambiveillance”, which he has explored artistically in LightHive, an interactive installation mapping real-time activities across the AA and its potential for productive community building. In their projects, Atmos focus on an artistic staging of interactive experiences: “If spaces resist instant comprehension, they stay more interesting in a permanent context”. For him, many public installations stay too blunt and shallow. Atmos is involved in “The Cloud” project, the London 2012 Media Zone and “pixel accumulation”, mapping many aspects of the site of the olympic games, such as weather, traffic, demographic info etc.

Dietmar Offenhuber of MIT’s Senseable City Lab presented the Labs vision of how the digital networks and infrastructures of our cities have value that goes beyond their original purpose. In anticipatory research projects, the Lab uses cellular networks to reveal social and economic patterns ( CurrentCity ), miniaturized location tags to highlight global flows of trash ( TrashTrack ),autonomous self-organizing light objects to create freeform objects ( FlyFire ) and hybrid electric bicycles with environmental sensors to address a city’s pollution and traffic problems ( Copenhagen Wheel ). For Offenhuber, the city is a civic body – and institutions should adopt and invest in digital infrastructure and smart tech as means for community services and communication.

The second panel on friday (M.U.S.E. – Media urbanism, smart & green city, environmental sustainability) Norbert Streitz shed some light on what he called “smart hybrid urban environments”. For him, many projects in the field of digital urban environments lack human representation or participation. He suggested a re-conceptualization of the idea of sustainability, that might shift from media as spectacle to media as collective system to control macro scale responsive environments. Small, bottom-up projects instead of top-down approaches will develop user-adoption of an urban digital environment that is moving from mobile devices to becoming the interface itself. The question stays however how much feedback we want.

Terreform One: Smart DOTS + Soft MOBS: NY 2028 Environmental Mobility

Terreform One: Smart DOTS + Soft MOBS: NY 2028 Environmental Mobility

Maria Aiolova of Terreform One showed scenarios of how the metropolis of the future could be built on symbiotic strategies and how design, computer science, structural engineering and biology can from new processes to define urban ecology and mobility of the future.
Zumtobel’s Bernd Clauß presented the company’s current solutions in integrative lighting technology, being able to be incorporated seamlessly into a complete building’s architectural facades while using less energy than a hairdryer.

StandardVision: City of Dreams, Macau

StandardVision: City of Dreams, Macau

The reactive architectural light installations of Adrian Veliescue of StandardVision, such as the City Of Dreams (Macau), the first installation using multiple buildings as a canvas, were impressive in scale and technology. However, they seemed a bit de-placed in a session on sustainability and smarter green cities.

Personally, I was quite curious on the CO.CO.ON session ( Construction, Content, Social Online Interaction). Hosted by Stefan Hofmann of Lichtwerke, which included engineering and artistic design methods and media usability / users as some of its main topics.

AEC Facade Terminal from Dan Wilcox on Vimeo.

Stefan Mittlböck-Jungwirth-Föhringer presented some of his work at the Ars Electronica Future Lab, specifically on external and internal signage and information systems ( Unit M for WIFISAP Source Code ) as well as simulation tooling and interfacing with media architecture, e.g. the new Ars Electronica Center Media Facade. Interfacing simplicity: people can manipulate the “pulse” of the facade with their own heartbeat, or simply use their ipod/iphone’s music / camera to interact with the architectural visualizations. “People find out how it works by themselves.”

Public interactive landscape ‘Dune 4.2′ from Daan Roosegaarde on Vimeo.

Daan Roosegaarde, interactive artist, creates interactive sculptures adressing the dynamic relations between architecture, people and e-culture. In his presentation, he eloquently stressed the term “techno poetry” as a concept to use (social) technology as a tool to engage with people. They need to be able to plug into the concept of an installation. For Roosegaarde, such engagement can only happen if installations are both mirror AND display, reactive AND communicative. An interesting side note on two reasons why for example his “dune 4.2” project in Rotterdam worked as a piece:
1. There was a maintenance contract. 2. It was built on the participation of civilians.

Adaptive fa[CA]de from marilena on Vimeo.

Marilena Skavara of Microhappy used her recent “Adaptive Fa[ca]de” to talk about how context awareness and concepts of mimicking can be applied to create sustainable aesthetics. Based on cellular automata and parametric processes, she suggested these concepts as a form of relational contextualization and abstraction of surfaces, being an ambient and responsive regulator between outside and inside.

In terms of social relevance, identification and adaption of mediated architectural structures, for me the Indemann project by Mark Maurer and ag4 represented an interesting focal point of the continuous discussion about media architecture, relevance and content. As an intentional landmark and object of identification for not only a community, but a whole multinational region, the Indemann shows that Media Architecture can be more than lighting technology, or ornament, or sensation. It is about communication, including the immediate environment, but also aspects of regional culture and identification.
During the closing panel discussion, Kas Oosterhuis questioned if media architecture could/should be regarded as a soundtrack. Personally, I doubt this, as “soundtrack” implies a somehow passive and consumerist attitude in perceiving urban media. I am convinced that media architecture needs to be inclusive, not sensational in the first place. We need to work on sets of tools, systems and techniques to understand and operate architecture and media as a compound entity. So Oosterhuis’ suggestion of staging diverse aspects of users, use and content as the subject of the next Media Architecture Biennale seems more than welcome to me.

Some more interesting links, topics, workshops:

Content Development Strategies for Media Facades
Sebastian Oschatz – Meso

Face to Face. The Rhetoric Functions of Media Architecture
Vera Bühlmann – ETH Zurich
Susanne Seitinger – MIT Fluid Interface Group
Michael Shamiyeh – DOM Researchlab Kunstuniversität Linz
Jens Geelhaar – Bauhaus University Weimar

The event’s official press review can be downloaded here

Nicolas Schöffer

Nicolas Schöffer (1912-1992)

Nicolas Schöffer (1912-1992)

Quite an interesting figure as a sculptural artist, and at the forefront of kinetic art, Nicolas Schöffer is acknowledged to be the father of “cybernetic art”.

Already in 1948, he created the term “spatiodynamique”, which he defined as he constructive and dynamic integration of space into sculptural work.

In 1954, he created a 50m high “sound cybernetic tower” for the 1st Salon Bâtimat in Paris.

A major project was the 1961 Cybernetic Tower of Liege (52 m high – 66 revolving mirrors – 120 colored projectors – photoelectric cells and microphones), together with a 1500 m2 animated coloured performance on the facade of the Palace of Congress. This Light Wall or “Mur Lumière” was constantly transforming thanks to moving and colored spot lights. Some of these luminodynamic effects could be controlled, modified and altered by the users/audience.

1961 The Cybernetic Tower of Liege & le Mur Lumière

1961 The Cybernetic Tower of Liege & le Mur Lumière

In 1970, Schöffer also proposed a monumental 324m high responsive kinetic light tower for Paris-la-Défense.

1970 La T.L.C. de Paris-la-Défense

1970 La T.L.C. de Paris-la-Défense

It was only through adverse circumstances, that this project never was put into place:

Connue et attendue par le monde entier, elle aurait été installée au Point M de La-Défense pour 1990, si un concours de circonstances malheureuses n’avaient empêché sa construction. Nicolas Schöffer considérait qu’elle existait “virtuellement” du fait de l’accomplissement parfait de tous les travaux préliminaires des diverses Entreprises constituées en Société Civile de Construction et d’Exploitation. Le général de Gaulle l’avait acceptée, le Président Pompidou donnait la garantie de l’Etat… et la presse du monde entier avait longuement raconté le projet et diffusé interviews et photos… A l’avant-garde de tous les projets existants, elle est encore plus facilement réalisable “matériellement” aujourd’hui du fait des nouvelles technologies.

16 years later, Schöffer again proposed his La-Défense tower project for Liberty Parc, New Jersey. But once again, through unforeseen circumstances (this time the events of 9/11), the construction plans were put off in 2001 by the mayor of NYC.

A smaller version (26m) of a “Tour Lumière Cybernétique” has been installed permanently in Kalocsa (Hungary) in 1982. Microphones capture sounds from an industrial area and public nearby, which are used as parametric input for the programming of colored projections and moving mirrors.

Here’s the link.

Kinetic Lights by LAb[au]

Flux Binary Waves

Flux Binary Waves

A recent kinetic LED installation named “Flux Binary Waves” by the very interesting belgian group LAb[au]. Here is a description from the project website:

fLUX, binary waves is an urban and cybernetic installation based on the measuring of infrastructural ( passengers, cars…) and communicational ( electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones, radio…) flows and their transposition into luminous, sonic and kinetic rules. This relation between the installation and the urban activity happens in real time and sets each person as an element of the installation, as a centre of the public realm.

16n - ƒ53

Kinetic light sculpture: 16ⁿ _ ƒ5³