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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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MediaArchitecture – Media Urbanism

  • On September 27, 2007

Media Urbanism hosted by Mirjam Struppek was the second panel of the MediaArchitecture conference I recently attended. Mirjam began by highlighting the new challenges faced in urban design and planning caused by the use of media technologies, in particular, LED screens. The main focus was how these technologies have a social impact and how how cities have responded to these entering our public spaces. Along side the discussion on urbanism, individual projects were discussed by some of the panelists who are working in the field of interactive design and architecture.

Mirjam Struppek has been very active over the past couple of years organizing events such as Urban Screens 05 held in Amsterdam, and building up a great online resource for people interested in how the currently commercial use of outdoor screens can be broadened with cultural content.  "We want to network and sensitise all engaged parties for the possibilities of using the digital infrastructure for contributing to a lively urban society, binding the screens more to the communal context of the space and therefore creating local identity and engagement. The integration of the current information technologies support the development of a new integrated digital layer of the city in a complex merge of material and immaterial space that redefine the function of this growing infrastructure."

Malcom McCullough

Following Mirjam’s introduction Malcom McCullough spoke about how this new medium added another layer of information to the city and how information could be considered in itself a kind of pollution. He described how the ratio of information to knowledge is declining and the responses some cities have had to mediafacades that contain commercial content.

Sau Paulo following the ban on urban advertising

Malcom used the example of Sau Paulo where on January 1st, 2007, the city of approximately eleven million people, South America’s largest, awoke to find a ban on public advertising. Every billboard, every neon sign, every bus kiosk ad and even the Goodyear blimp were suddenly illegal.  The ban on what the mayor calls “visual pollution” was the culmination of a long battle between the city’s politicians and the advertising industry, which had blanketed Brazil’s economic capital with all manner of billboards, both legal and illegal. Within months, the city has gone from a Blade Runner-like vision of the future to a reclaimed past. More Images

Prof. Joachim SauterART+COMNew Media in Public Space

ART+COM are a well known and highly regarded German interaction design studio who have done a number of public interactive installations. Joachim as a director spoke about their practice and their approach to using media technologies to create dynamic spatial experiences.

Renders of one of the projects Joachim Sauter discussed called Duality

"During the last years, “New” Media have advanced more and more from private and semi-public institutional spaces into public city space. The reasons for this are two fold. The necessary technologies have become cheaper, more easily manageable and more stable; users of city space are media literate, and the designers and decision makers are better educated and skilled."

In the design of media façades, ART+COM are directed by two principles stemming from “façade’s” etymological root ‘facies”, Latin for ‘face’. They design  "the skin of a face, not a mask or make-up. This means that the media have to be an integral part of the architecture, not something added as an obvious later thought. The second principle is the face’s mimics and its expression. The narrative on the façade is thus expressive of the building, its architectural stance and its interior. The façade is a membrane from inside to outside and from outside to inside."

"Duality" completed

Joachim went through a number of projects which I can’t cover all of here. One project in particular which caught my eye was "Duality". Located on the bank of an artificial pond at the exit of the metro station Osaki. The project deals with the "duality between liquid / solid, real / virtual and water ripples / light waves. Pedestrians walk over a 6 x 6 meters large LED plane, installed right on the edge of the water. The LEDs are covered with translucent glass diffusing their light. With their steps, the passers-by provoke virtual waves on the LED plane, computed in real-time. When these waves hit the edge of the pond, they are extended into the water as real ripples. It looks really magical and brought a childish smile to my face with its combination of screen and kinetic technology.

see more of ART+COM’s projects here

Andrew Shoben – Greyworld – Transforming the City into an Urban Playground

Greyworlds "The Source"

Andrew spoke about ways of transforming the urban realm into a public playground. To allow some form of self-expression, through small interventions in the urban surround, in areas of the city that people see everyday but normally exclude and ignore. Using Greyworlds own projects such as The Source (2004) their 32m kinetic sculpture which opens the London market every morning at the London Stock Exchange as well as their much lower tech railings project , he presented how Play can be an intergral part of the experience of our whole built environment.

Greyworld Railings project

Andrew talked about how he wanted people to find emotional connections with their work and give little twists to the urban experience"Art for people on the way to the supermarket" as he put it. Greyworlds "Railings" project was a perfect example of this, working with the childish pleasure of running a stick along a set of railings to make a "clack-clack-clack" sound. Instead of a clack clack sound they tuned the railings so that when you ran a stick along them they it played "the Girl from Ipanema."

Michael Batz – Hamburg Art Ensemble: Scenographies of a City

Michael spoke of how Contemporary Lighting Master Plans define the underlying conditions for lighting public spaces: intelligent harmonization of all light sources on the urban stage in order to give the greatest flexibility while at the same time consuming as little energy as possible. "A new perception-oriented approach to lighting planning for architecture and urban areas is now becoming significant, in contrast to earlier technical-functional methods. Accentuated by the paradigm shift towards the “reflecting city” from the traditional stone and translucent (glass) cities, responsibilities for transforming the townscape and the city identity have now received political meaning."

panel – Mirjam Struppek, Malcom McCullough, Michael Batz, Andrew Shoben and Joachim Sauter

He also explained that any attempt to do justice to a locality must inevitably take into account the existing specific architecture. Basically, it is not a matter of ‘throwing’ light at a group of structures, but using light to accentuate them as a special treasure of the city. In other documentation of Michael I found this quote particularly interesting "Rhythmisation, characterisation, accentuation – concepts traditionally used in the theatre – are appropriate here. Atmosphere, emotion and changes in ways of viewing are qualities that have a major influence on the character of a city. Artistic concepts can be compositionally fruitful here: playing with tones and hierarchies of brightness, temporary strong chords over restful bass lines, the rejection of over-accentuation, deliberate omissions and the retention of the essence of darkness." A general discussion at the end focused on the problems each of the presenters had with the idea of the architecture being overwhelmed by screen technology. One mentioned that the architecture of the cityscape is scenographic enough and questioned if there was any need to embed stories when architecture can do that itself? I couldn’t agree more with this statement and I’m glad that the entire conference was focused on the really important question, how media technologies can go beyond "urban screens", beyond hi-tech billboard s for advertising and engage us in new types of scenographic and emotive experience. It was evident in the work of ART+COM and Greyworld that there is clearly a lot of potential, for spatial and time-based narration that could go beyond linear and undemocratic screens. The next morning I was lucky enough to be starting the 2nd day of talks with this issue in mind, and presented how I thought contemporary architecture and urban design could learn a lot from some of the mediaarchitecture of the 1950’s and 60’s… more on that soon.


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