MAI Blog

Interview on Media Architecture

This interview was given to Scott Johnson and Ashlen Williams, graduate students from the University of Kansas currently developing a research project on “Communicative Architecture: An Analysis of How Digital Infrastructure Shapes Human Interaction in the Built Environment.”

1. How does the interactive, animated nature of the newest forms of media facades redefine public space?

Well, I think we all must admit that we simply don’t know. Always when a new technology emerges there are some prophets that predict salvation and the dawn of a new era of communication and there are others that warn against negative effects like light pollution or excessive advertising. In a sense both sides are true but one has to develop more differentiated points of view. In other words: an emotional but also rational discourse is needed in order to tame the chances and risks of this new field. The discussion has to be as public as possible and is to involve different stakeholders. – That’s a main reason for organising the Media Facades Festival in Berlin (

2. How have digital media facades on new urban infrastructure changed the ideas of branding architectural styles?

It is certainly true, that media facades will be used in order to brand Corporate Identities (CI) of large companies. Some Companies like Coke already use “the pixel” as part of their CI. But more and more companies will discover media facades as a means to communicate with their clients and to a certain extent they will take over functions like public information and orientation that have been so far the domain of public entities. E.g. informing about time and temperature has traditionally been a service by cities and/or churches; Nowadays it’s more and more the private sector that provides this information. But that’s only the start as media facades have the potential of displaying lot of other services like traffic, pollution, news. That’s simply a means of getting more public attention. And finally there’s the potential of involving passers-by in games or other feedback-cycles what ties clients to a company (or a site).

3. Does media architecture created a new form of architecture or simply apply a fa├žade to previously derived styles?

It is certainly possible to see it either way. I personally believe that integrating a display in a building changes its entire character. In “good” media architecture there should be a relation between a building it’s media facade and the media content. In “bad” media architectures the facade forms a separate layer from the building behind. “Good” media architectures like e.g. the projects of “realities united” or the “Galleria” project in Seoul or “Chanel” project in Tokyo tend to have customized display solutions that match quite perfectly the specific needs of the site. In “good” media architectures the display and the building should merge and it it’s up to the creativity of designers and architects HOW this merge is done. That’s a new topic within architecture and a big challenge for young architects and designers.

4. Have media facades become our modern urban monuments?

There are different sorts of monuments, but some media facades are certainly among them.

5. Media architecture is considered unnecessary ornamentation by some, does the interactive element involved justify the costly nature of installing large-scale media systems?

As pointed out above “good” media architecture doesn’t mean ornamentation, because the display should be an integral part of the building. The justification of costs is subject to individual judgement. A marketing manager has to look on it in terms of “facade impressions” and might consider it a unique means of communication on the other hand a critic will see it as an enormous waste of energy. I like to take up different positions before I come to a conclusion. In some cases it is certainly justified to speak of a waste of money and energy.

6. What are the future risks of installing media facades if they become subjects of neglect and poor maintenance? Do any examples of this neglect currently exist?

Media facades generally require a high level of maintenance.

LED sources lose brightness and have to be replaced after some time. They “burn” faster when they are lit at 100%. So the management of the display is crucial and helps to save costs. The human eye is very accurate at detecting mistakes in large images. A single broken pixel may cause irritations. Another risk is deriving form the fact that many media facades have a web interface for maintenance and content upload. Like website also media facades may be attacked by hackers that are interested in taking over the display for communicating their agenda.

7. Movies like Blade Runner and Brazil, now 25 years old, produced quite accurate representation of the future of large-scale, animated media. If one cares to speculate, what films currently exist that could present a feasible view of public media displays? Are we moving towards 3-D projections like those seen in Minority Report and A.I.?

I think you are right that movies and science-fiction in general are always avantgardistic, in the sense that they inspire designers and architects. The media facades in Blade Runner were certainly very influental. I also think that we will see more flying displays for certain events like Olympiads or World Championships. On the other side not all visions make sense for a large public. I very much like multi touch sensitive interfaces like shown in Minority Report – and it was very successfully applied to Apple’s iphone – but I don’t think that they make sense on large facades. They might be useful in shop windows but once they distance between the display and the user interacting with it becomes to large, other people cannot understand who is actually controlling the interface.

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