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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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MediaArchitecture – New Technologies and New Materials

  • On September 25, 2007

Here are some notes from the "New Technologies and New Materials" panel hosted by Peter Cornwell at last weeks Media Architecture Conference. As the opening panel it revealed the current technological developents in media-facade design and exposed the practical experiences of the speakers over a range of different approaches, programs and contexts. As the opening panel, it set the stage for discussing "the next step" and revealed the speed at which technological development is occuring.

Of course architectural design is in no small part, driven by the technologies available to it, and with the refinement of LED components originally used in LED advertising billboards we are seeing a growth in there use in the design of the built enviornment. At the same time the development of sustainable computing and network systems able to operate extensive façade data systems over long periods of time, has led to robust and economical systems that satisfy the requirements demanded by architects and building owners.

Ludger Hovestadt speaking

Architecture and Flusser’s Technical Images – Prof. Ludger Hovestadt

Ludger Hovestadt began the day with an entertaining talk which started with him describing how against the background of the information technologies, architecture has gained a new reality. A reality becoming ‘creamier and creamier’, a phrase that caught on, and was used by a number of later speakers. As a professor for architecture and CAAD at ETHZ where his interdisciplinary research involves architecture, computer science, mechanical engineering, robotics and cognitive psychology, he spoke about his current research which centres on the adaptation of technological developments made in other industries of expertise, into the building industry.

Example of Nano materials providing base materials for new technologies – The University of Toronto has developed a ‘spray on’ solar collection material that is capable of capturing energy in the infra red spectrum

Looking through the technological development of the "information society", he described how the granularity of objects is becoming smaller and smaller, until today matter can be investigated and described
at sub-atomic scale. "The Big Zoom" as he called it, gives us an undertanding of the materials available to us which has led us to reconstructing objects from their most fundamental parts. We can build our environment from atomic scales upwards developing new smart, responsive and communicative material constructs. "No longer are objects or processes the constituting elements of a building. Now they are described as technical networks of communicating nodes, which balance themselves in contrived patterns."

"Printable" solar cells are coated with a common ingredient used in toothpaste and suntan lotion and are able to produce electricity from direct sunlight as well as low-light and indoor lighting. They are manufactured with a process similar to inject printing.

These ideas of creating new materials from elemental levels has a longer history in science, but with the aid of digital computation we are seeing a wide range of rapid protoyping and CAD-CAM systems giving architects the ability to construct bespoke materials in relation to specific needs at low costs, quickly. One example of this change in design and manufacture of our built environment highlighted by Ludger, are printable solar cells. With current solar technology becoming financially benefical, and with print on demand, Ludger suggested that perhaps one day we could print onto virtually any other material, mixing previously unlike material combinations, to generate sustainable power supplies in the most unlikely of scenarios.

RepRap  – Replicating Rapid-prototyper. A self-copying 3D printer using a process called fused deposition modeling

With the ability to rapidly create our environment as and when we need it, he suggested that "We are going towards the end of devices and instead the construction of devices by print processes." Unfortunately Ludger, ran out of time, and by the looks of things he was only getting started so he didn’t quite get to a full conclusion, but none the less gave a positive look into the near future of architectural practice and the freedom it will provide for artists, architects and designers to generate their own technology and suprising applications from microscopic up to the architectural scales.

Rogier van der Heide – Arup Lighting – Hyperreality in the urban context

Rogier began by giving a historical example of what he considers a mediafacade by showing the stained glass windows of Notredame Cathedral in Paris.


He discussed the question "Who are we building these facades for?" and talked about the process of design and manufacture of one of his best known pieces of work, as the lead designer for Arups on the Galleria facde in Seoul. The windowless Galleria West mall used to be a drab, understated presence in the Apgujeong-dong district, one of Seoul’s most exclusive shopping areas. The client, Hanwha Stores Co, wanted to turn it into a landmark building that would reflect the exclusive boutiques within its walls.


UN Studio and Arup Lighting were brought on board to recreate the mall’s exterior, with additional support from Arup’s structural engineers. Together they developed a chameleon-like facade that reflects the subtleties of natural light on opalescent, dichroic glass discs during the day. At night the discs are individually backlit and controlled by a computer program to create colour schemes all over the building – each disc acting like a big pixel on a screen.


Rogier van der Heide went through various stages of modelling the facade, begining with very simply with cardboard, fibre optics, gels, and colour filters, followed by more sophisticated technologies and analysis, plus input from fellow design team members. 4330 discs, each 850mm in diameter, make up the entire facade of the mall.

Dr. Gernot Tscherteu, – a team approach to develop standardised media facade components.

Gernot explained that was a research group, comprising of design consultancies and major architectural and manufacturing companies as well as research institutions. "The group’s main innovations arise from its simultaneous reformulation of all of the architectural, structural and electronic components required for next-generation media facades so that display and built structure merge functionally, technically and aesthetically." He began by making some observations that often the relationship between the building and contemporary media facades is quite seperate and that the challenge is to build closer connections between the building and its facade, "between the form of the building and its skin". His criticisms of much screen technology in urban settings, was that it covered up buildings, rather than intergrating into a more unified architecture.  Using examples of the media facades that cover Times Square in New York he argued that co-operation between architects, and engineers should begin with the design of the lighting components themselves rather than architects using lighting technology "off the shelf".

"While there are now many examples of ambitious projects, significant issues of resolution, brightness, maintenance expenditure and invasiveness of display systems with the building spaces located behind them, still remain. In this last respect, especially, difficulties arise because most media facades are planned after the architectural concepts – and often much of the construction itself – have been completed. In contrast, considers display systems to be an integral part of architecture and the construction of such display systems to require long-life building components and materials in the same way as glazing and HVAC installations."

One part I found paricularily interesting was in all the challenges faced in such development work. Gernot disected the issues faced when designing these schemes into 4 main parts. Im afraid that I didnt quite have time to complete my notes so apologies to Gernot but heres what I got.

Content/Format – viewing distances – resolution – narrative/symbolic – day/night
Display Tech – maintainance – cabling – energy – sun protection – structure
Urban Plan – traffic – light polution – neighbours – cultural heritage
Building – Users

After discussing some of these he ended his talk by presenting some current research on the development of aluminuium extrusions for combining structural strength and screen technologies into the buildings core framework. More information about their development of standardised media facade components can be found at

Thomas Schwed – Mediafacades as integral part of architecture

The final speaker in the panel was Thomas Schwed who presented a series of projects he was involved in alongside examples of other artists, architects and designers operating at around the same which I thought was a very nice approach to looking at specific issues in his own work as well as more global issues in the design of mediafacdes. In particluar he spoke about his experiences developing a media skin for the T-Center (Vienna), an office building completed in 2004 and designed by architect Günther Domenig. In the end, due to urban planning restricting the facade to non-commercial imagery, the client of the architects eventually dropped the proposal due to financial issues.

Thomas’ discussion highlighted a re-occuring theme in how clients consider these technologies and the financial attraction of these kinds of systems weighed up against the aesthetic implications for content on such media facades. I personally liked the T-Center as it is, without a mediafacade but its often difficult to really assess looking at renders and animation how successful these kinds of proposal will be until the lights are turned on for real. Certainly there are examples where mediafacades have been benefical to architectural projects but in this case, we shall never know.


  1. Tel Aviv

    I honestly belive that thera are better ways to improve the current architecture practice. We shouldn’t keep on using artificial elements such as computers to give a value to our work because, this value will always be a doubtfull value, a sign of our own decadence and mental lazyness. Of course this is just another hippish opinion for you to discard.

  2. Media-Architecture is not an artificial element of the built environment but a logic evolution and the result of the convergence of media, our environment and technology. Our experiential perception is increasingly based on a hyperreal view on the world around us. Is the city becoming better than real?

  3. Hey Rogier, thanks for getting in touch. I enjoyed seeing Galleria for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting Seoul.

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