Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012

These days interactive media screens are ubiquitous. They are with us constantly. We carry them in our pockets as an all-in-one mini PC, phone and camera. They travel in our cars as GPS, even giving us verbal directions. Our portable PCs commute with us in our satchels or handbags. Most of us spend our days and nights in front of them – TVs, computer screens and most of us have even had them from a young age – playing Mario Bros in the car and playgrounds. Now however, media screens are not only used as a personal device, they are being embedded in our public environment on a grand scale. In less than 3 decades (interactive) media screens have developed from basic micro (digital watch) to complex macro – buildings.

Dr M Hank Haeusler, senior lecturer at the school of architecture, UNSW, and member of the global society; Media Architects Institute, delivered a dynamic insight last week at the new Aecom premises, George St., Sydney.

Hank talked us through the typologies of the media facades/screens and the technical attributes between the mechanical and electronic, and the communication of interactive facades, pointing out firstly the separation between architectural lighting design and media architecture:


Lighting Design Architecture:  the lighting and illumination of public atmospheres

Media Architecture: text, graphics , image, interaction integrated with the architecture



In media architecture there are many ways of achieving this. The techniques differ, as does the end result. So having a range of options allows one to choose the best technique to suit the desired results.

Mechanical movement - In the mid 1990’s, Mark Burry, Professor School of Architecture RMIT VIC, produced the first interactive wall of light; Hypertechnology. It was created of movable (opening and closing) apertures which creating pixels of light. Each one was independently interactive and was connected to movement sensors. the screen interacted with people as they walked past mimicking their form and tracing their movements as like a shadow, and would slowly fade away as the apertures slowly closed shut.

Although the effect is impressive, the mechanical composition was fraught with issues. Over time as each aperture and other mechanical elements moved, they should move at slightly different rates causing the apparatus to cease and not function correctly.  This was sadly  the case for Jean Nouvel’s rather beautiful and inspiring Arab Institute. The façade comprised of apertures, similar to a camera lens, which were receptive to the intensity of sunlight, and through mechanical movement would stipulate the amount of rays to penetrate the skin.

Flare - this is where 2 mirrors would work together (similar to the composition of many sparkling shells of beetles, in which the skin is actually 3d on a minute scale, one side might be green the other pink – as with Christmas beetles where you get 2 tone colours). On a Flared façade,  one mirror reflects the sky, and the other the ground beneath the building – so you get a glittering white next to dark opaque black , resulting in 2 tones moving together creating imagery.

Urban screen (front projection) - as seen at Vivid on the Opera House and Customs House – a projected images/film on to a 3D canvas (building)

Back Lighting (rear projection) - this works really well and is simple, yet affective way of adding life and character to buildings. Place a projector inside of building projecting on a window, place black backing around the projector and window to block out rest of interior from the view of the street. Images from the projector are seen through the window from the outside.

One example was of huge giant butterflies fluttering around inside a large room, or large animals walking around inside a building.

Facades - light which moves and creates images, which is integrated in to the architecture.

One great and ingenious example is by architecture great Sir Peter Cook, and Colin Fournier. For the art gallery Kunsthaus Graz in Austria they created an interactive façade with use of the simple Circular T5 ,each lamp is Dali addressable.  These are simple and effective without having to use LED and with use of colour. Each window contains a T5, and are used like pixels, each one can turn on and off independently and can be sequenced so it seems like the façade is moving.  They can also create text, images, blink and modulate.


Now of course we are easily able to work with LEDs allowing an abundant range of movements and colours and activities to be generated through the screens.

Window Raster - Animation this is similar to the above façade, where you use each individual window of a building as a pixel and can create cartoon like moving image, pattern. A simple love story between 2 people, as was demonstrated on a building in Germany. To conceive the story / patters, simply use graph paper and, like making old school cartoons, you fill in squares of each movement/frame, one by one, which when sped up creates an animation.



LEDs introduces a whole new set of rules and a universe of possibilities when creating media facades. Their small scale allowing for clear imagery, movement, finer screens. The list goes on. Generally these are custom made to suit physical building, as well as the clients requirements.

MiPix20 – define buildings through light patterns – seemingly like the building is twisting and morphing,

Tom Barker – created LEDs shaped as hexagon so each module fits perfectly to the next, unlike round led modules which leave gaping gaps.

Media Mesh, metal and LED screening. Could work like hoarding while under construction  – promote their building, or use as advertising  to generate revenue, or artists creating interactive urban artworks.


Overseas interactive facades have been part of the skylines for many years. Colour and movement have been integrated in to facades long before LEDs were used in lighting, and screens have been attached to many buildings bringing news updates and advertising to millions of pedestrians. Now the present and future is where whole building facades are information technology, and screens will be interactive so that people to upload download and who knows what else …


Future - Architectural and Media Students these days are learning how to create these 3D films to infuse with 3D canvas as part of their every day course. Easily and cheaply any one can download and spend a few weekends and be able to create these technological artworks.

Hans sees a great future with new local billboards where one can easily gain information of local venues, happenings, transport timetables etc offering people a portal of real time information.

Microsoft is in development of interactive screens for classrooms to superseding whiteboards, where teachers and students can upload and download and change the information on the screen in real time with their mobile phone / PC / tablets.


Hans pointed out - BLADE Runner, 1982 – this was first sci-fi film to really portray the media facades as we have now. This is only 30 years ago so we can only imagine what is to come in the next 30 years let alone 10 years!  Already we have projection which we can easily interact with, mobile computers which are probably 1000 times more powerful then the first computers which took up whole floors for a computer machine punching out ticker-tape. Mobile computers we can touch screen and get information from anywhere in the world, we can video ourselves live to others on the other side of the globe, we can talk to our phones and to get it to do things for us! Next perhaps we will have PCs connected to our brains so we only have to think about something and it gets done…like even typing this will become obsolete – I will merely have to think it and my PC will automatically create a typed copy, all spelling and grammar corrected and sent straight to our editor Julie…ahhhh I don’t think I can wait 30 years for that!!





text : Siobhan McNabb