Media facades: When buildings start to twitter

Very good overview of recent examples of media architecture. However, I personally think that some more earlier examples (e.g. by Nicholas Schöffer (”Mur lumière”), Mischa Kuball (Megazeichen), Christian Möller (Kinetic light sculpture), Joachim Sauter/Christian Möller (Networked Skin) would add to its significance as a “historic overview”.

The timeline depicts international media facades with their different artistic, social or brand messages up to interfaces like iPhone Apps or brain sensors for public participation. The movie is a shortened version of the lecture, „The semiotics of media facades – When buildings start to twitter” that was presented at the Parsons The New School for Design in New York in 2010.

Luminous tweets and retweets
During the day, façade structures with their windows and material combinations grant a specific building image to the public. However, after sunset electrical light is the medium for an architectural image. The light appearance sends an atmospheric signal to the citizens like hang on in front of an asleep structure, look at an inviting but static façade or enjoy a vivid architecture sharing short stories. In the last decade, media facades have become a widespread element for luminous tweets. They establish a network between the building owner and the citizens, sometimes driven by aesthetical debates, other times by commercial intentions to avoid traditional light advertisement.
The pursuit of persuasion by way of big screens gives the impression that size receives a higher relevance than content, comparable with the large amount of trivial tweets in Twitter. Various media facades appear as monumental monologues repeating a fixed animation daily. A few facades use signals from the environment and transform them into a play of light and shadow. Others emerge as urban dialogues when buildings show combined moving pictures. Some even allow people to send messages to the building to receive luminous retweets. They turn the city into a community following the dialogue and with the respective Apps may possibly even gain a following community worldwide.

The historical overview of international projects covers various lighting methods and techniques from lighting designers as ag4, Arup Lighting, blinkenlights, Fusion, LAb[au], Licht Kunst Licht, L´Observatoire International, Mader Stublic Wiermann, Okayasu Izumi, magic monkey, Matthew Tanteri, Onur Sonmez , Qosmo, realities:united, Rogier van der Heide, StandardVision, Urbanscreens, Uwe Belzner, Yann Kersalé and architecture like Asymptote Architecture, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, O.M. Ungers, Peter Cook, Peter Marino, UN Studio, schneider + schuhmacher, Simone Giostra, WOHA architects1. Artists like Doug Aitken, Jaume Plensa, Kurt Hentschläger and Zhong Song are included in the timeline as well.

The clip has been put together by Thomas Schielke

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Conference Review: Media Architecture Biennale 2010

Meso: Siemens Stern des Südens.

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

Media Architecture Biennale 2010, Vienna

Transformation of urban, public space by media architecture.

“Media Architecture Biennale 2010 comprises an exhibition, a conference and workshops, which are closely coordinated. Some of the projects on exhibit are discussed in the context of the conference. Topics of the conference are illustrated by objects on exhibition. Events are planned so that they offer the best possible framework for the discussion of current topics, for getting to know each other and for the development of project ideas.
It is planed to hold the event bi-annually in Vienna in the future.”

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EXPO 2010 Shanghai – Innovative LED Facades

Nice video documentation on current LED-augmented architecture in Shanghai. By Frank Kaltenbach

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Live interactive mega billboard against agression

Design against crime using an augmented reality scenery on a digital billboard.

“Public service employees in the Netherlands face aggression and violence on the streets more and more often. Onlookers unfortunately do not intervene often enough when they encounter a situation like this. A live interactive billboard in Amsterdam and Rotterdam is used to place people in a similar situation witch confronts them with their inactivity.”

via @themobilecity @nielshendriks

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Engaging Walls

© Watermarks Project

© Watermarks Project

“Walls are becoming screens” was the title of a recently published article in Süddeutsche Zeitung, featuring work and an interview with Ron Wood from Microsoft Research (not from the Rolling Stones for that matter…). This statement holds true for quite a number of media art and research projects having appeared in recent years, and is probably the reason why there is this very research blog you are reading now.

The notion that urban building structures can serve as a surface layer for dynamic visual design, but also as a physical element being mirrored and cited by the dynamic mediations itself, has been exemplarily shown in projects like the 555Kubik facade by, or the urban projections by easyweb.

Some examples I came across and that struck me with their formal simplicity yet highly appropriate transfer of their subject and its immediate environmental impact are being presented here:

© Watermarks Project

© Watermarks Project

The watermarks project by Chris Bodle and Claire Underhill. This is an excerpt from their project description:

Sea levels are rising due to climate change… but how much could they rise and how quickly? And how could this affect the world’s coastal cities.

Watermarks is an ongoing public art project that explores these questions. Between 6th and 12th February 2009 a series of large-scale projections were displayed at sites across the centre of Bristol (UK).

In Bristol, flood level marks were projected on to the sides of buildings, showing how high water levels could potentially rise as the sea inundates the central, low lying areas of the city. By displaying these levels in real space, the project aimed to help the audience imagine the depth and extent of this potential future flooding – allowing us to measure the possible future water levels against ourselves in familiar environments.

The Bristol projections were the first phase of Watermarks – further phases will extend the project to other cities in the UK and globally.

Climate on the Wall

Climate on the Wall

Another similar project is “Climate on the Wall” by the Danish Center for Digital Urban Living at Aarhus University. The simplicity of the interaction metaphor it is using (magnetic poetry, most of us might know from various flat-share kitchens) guarantees an enjoyable interaction experience, not only with the dynamic system, but also together with other people and passers-by.

The way the projected words are formally adapted to oversized dynamic speech bubbles nicely involve individuals into the mediated scene. Often, public installations or media facades at building scale exactly fail at this point, and sometimes are not much more than mere decorative elements within the urban landscape. However, as this example is showing, a simple yet playful interaction taking into account its geographical and individually public location is a great opportunity for mediated architecture and display.

La Vitrine

La Vitrine – Montreal from steven bulhoes on Vimeo.

La Vitrine is “Montreals’s cultural window”, a tourist information office promoting cultural events in the Greater Montreal Area.  They have been recently installing a permanent outdoor interactive wall, featuring a low-resolution led matrix and built-in sensor technology.

From the press release:

Thanks to the creative talent of Moment Factory, passersby can come interact with the luminous forms displayed on the giant screen. A technical and artistic achievement, the screen is lit with 35,000 LED bulbs and is an achievement of the Quartier des spectacles Partnership in collaboration with La Vitrine.


New Book on Media Facades

Media Facades. By M. Henk Häussler. AV Edition

Media Facades. By M. Hank Häussler. AV Edition

A new book on the subject of media facades and technologies, recently published by AV-Edition

Hank Häussler introduces categories for the technical integration of dynamic media into building structures and facades. giving various examples of each type, the book is an extensive resource and collection of contemporary media architecture.

Some of Hanks work was also on display here

Digital city layers: Amsterdam SMS messages

Amsterdam SMS messages on New Years Eve from Aaron on Vimeo.

Video capture of SMS visualization tool looking at the city of Amsterdam on New Years Eve. Data from KPN Telcom. Project with MIT Senseable City Lab and Current City.

Media Facades Festival Berlin 2008



Last weekend I have been lucky to attend the Media Facades Festival in Berlin. For the second time, after last years take-off as Media Architecture Conference at the CSM Innovation Center in London, organizers and curators Susa Pop, Mirjam Struppek, Gernot Tscherteu and Oliver Schürer managed to gather a quite illustre and international crowd of theoreticians, practitioners, manufacturers as well as outstanding projects in the field of contemporary urban digital display, this time at the Deutsches Architekturzentrum in Berlin. The Festival combines life screenings, an exhibition and a conference, and is one of the rare occasions to meet many of the internationally active key figures in this relatively young field of mediated urban space.

There’s a growing need for the research of different creative contents that are able to make these new media for urban space vivid and attractive. Creatives in the different areas of media and culture are confronted with entirely new challenges in respect to resolution and distribution of pixels; there are also new forms of interaction arising from the specific dimensions of size and distance that differ basically from classical media formats.

The content of media facades and digital moving Images in public spaces should not only be determined by market forces, yet should follow urban necessities. Therefore we aim to transform the growing number of digital architectural surfaces in our cities into experimental visual zone on the threshold of virtual and urban public space, contributing to a liveable urban society.

I only managed to attend day 2 of the conference, however the panel topics as well as the invited speakers (.pdf) promised to be very interesting: The day started off with project presentations by Marc Largent, Magic Monkey and Dr. Hank Häusler, SIAL, RMIT Melbourne;

Grand Lisboa Casino by Magic Monkey. Image © cnmark (Flickr)

Grand Lisboa Casino by Magic Monkey. Image © cnmark (Flickr)

Hank Häussler

Hank Häussler

Next, leading managers of Arup Lighting Europe/Worldwide, Rogier van der Heide, Rudi Scheuermann and Andrew Hall joined the presenters to engage the panel and audience in a discussion about light as a space-defining means in architecture, the role of communication, context and dynamics in the planning process as well as sustainability issues raised in current debates about energy efficiency.

GreenPix: Zero Energy Wall, Bejing

Arup Lighting: GreenPix. Zero Energy Wall, Bejing

Although this part of the programme was quite successful in generating a vivid and open discussion, the lack of a specific focus of this particular “workshop” was a bit of a backdrop, resulting in a few quite general and superficial discussions about “interdisciplinarity”, the quest for relevant “content”/”social participation”, or “sustainability”. However, it surely brought up questions for later discussions at lunch.

The next panel, named “Perception and behavior – facing Urban Media” was hosted by Mirjam Struppek.

Urban scenarios are always part of an interactive as well as competitive process. Any medially enhanced urban environment will amplify these dynamics. Has the medial intensity reached the limits of human perceptive capacities? Is there an aesthetic answer? What is the position of art, how can art stand out against the glut of information in public space and not be perceived in terms of mere spectacle?

Daniel Michelis, a recent PhD graduate from UdK, Berlin presented quite an interesting insight into his research on human computer interaction within urban screened environments. His presentation on findings and some resulting methods for engaging with passer-bys can be found here. Next Ursula Stalder, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Luzern, talked about “Media@Work: Out of home displays”, showing some interesting examples of hyper-real spaces in art and commerce, such as a public staging of an operette in a commuter surrounding (La Traviata at Zurich main station), as well as debating aspects the representation of commercial values in contemporary car museums (Mercedes-Benz or BMW as hyper-real spaces). Odd Arne Blindheim, Director WideMediaGroup, Bergen gave a talk about responsibility in merging light, graphics and video in public spaces, e.g. regarding visual pollution or energy consumption. He had some interesting thoughts on what the effects might be for developing ambient visualisations “inspired by nature”, as well as how the urban planning process needs to be adapted to such possibilities. While he clearly sees current drivers of mediated architecture in advertising and art, he suggests that usage by security technology and public information systems will be highly important in the future.

After some more project presentations by Stefan Hofmann from LichtKunstLicht and Sakchin Bessette, Moment Factory – by the way really great work for the current 2008 NineInchNails Tour, the next panel, called “Dynamic Ornament- Towards a new Iconography?” was hosted by Dr. Oliver Schürer.

MomentFactory: Schematic visualisation for Perkins Rowe

MomentFactory: Schematic visualisation for Perkins Rowe

MomentFactory on the responsive large scale video installations for the 2008 NIN-Tour

What are the cultural signifiers that could generate new forms of digital urban content? AS a new mass medium, media facades could become more influential than radio, TV or the Internet. The potential of a specific iconography or of user interaction has not been discussed yet. What are the opportunities offered by light emitting or kinetic components? Why are traditional media formats being reproduced on media facades?

Christopher Bauder, WHITEvoid interactive art & design, showed some recent projects developed partly as concept, prototype and final artistic piece. He explained the development of the Flare Facade prototype, the Moving Wall project and a lounge object called Polygon Playground as an artistic art piece.

Christopher Bauder from WhiteVoid

Christopher Bauder from WhiteVoid

Dr. Andrea Gleiniger, ZHdK, ETH CAAD, titled her lecture “Architekturen des Augenblicks” after a term coined by Franz Hessel in the 1920s. She gave an overview on the notion of imagery in (public) space in a historc context, from Georg C. Lichtenberg (1775), Walter Benjamin, Lazlo Moholy Nagy, to Venturi/Scott-Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Toyo Ito’s 1986 “Tower of Winds“. She ended by questioning there is a new quality of simulation, namely the simulation of public through mediated architecture.

Dr. A. Gleiniger: Lewis Mumford

Dr. A. Gleiniger: Lewis Mumford

Prof. Christa Sommerer, Interfacedesign Universität für Gestaltung Linz, gave her own quick overview on the history of interactive art, in an architectural context, highlighting among others some of the works of christian möller or monika fleischmann and identifying an austrian predecessor of the better-known blinkenlights, called “Click-Scape“, developed already in 1998. Skipping through some of her earlier projects, such as “Growing interactive plants” (1992) and “Wissensgewächs”(2007), she presented her 2008 patented concept called Solar Display, a solar-powered architectural display, using solar cells as pixel elements and mechanical tilting of each solar-cell as a means to create light/dark contrasts and “greyscale”.

Aether Architecture

Aether Architecture

Adam Somlai-Fischer, Aether Architecture, had the unfortunate role of being the last presenter on a quite dense schedule of talks and presentations. However, in a charming and entertaining way, he visually explained some of the main aspects of his practice, using methods of hacking and low-fi technology application and presenting some examples of engagement and accessibility resulting from these aproaches. Adventurous architecture at its best.

Some more impressions from the conference can be found here.