Electronic outdoor screens as part of modern city media architecture

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikulichev

This issue is devoted to a topic that has acquired increasing attention in the recent years. Let’s start with a question “What makes a town look modern and prosperous?” There may be numerous answers that approach the question from various angles. However, one factor clearly stands out, especially when we talk about the electronic outdoor screens – a factor of city illumination. Illumination and city lights help shape the artistic and media architectural image of a city. Moreover, city illumination becomes an important tourist attraction.

In this respect, the most advanced cities are the cities in Japan, Korea, North America, France and some cities in Russia. Moscow has even developed a Special Conceptual Program on artistic and architectural illumination of city streets for 1999-2005. In that Program each year focuses on a specific topic:

  • 2000 – “The Orthodox Moscow and the Meeting of the Third Millennium”;
  • 2001 – “Moscow and Motherland: Historical Perspective”;
  • 2002 – “Moscow as a City of Light”;
  • 2003 – “The Enlightened Moscow – a Symbol of Revival”;
  • 2004 – “The Hospitable Moscow for Muscovites and Tourists”;
  • 2005 – “Illumination of Moscow – a Step into Future”.

This is not just an attempt to single out one’s city of many. The work on illuminating city streets, promoting neon outdoor advertising, including large outdoor electronic screens pursues several specific purposes. It has been repeatedly proved that well-illuminated cities with a large number of neon and lamp screens and neon signs:

  • attract significantly more tourists that helps to increase city budget;
  • have much lower crime rate;
  • make evening streets more attractive to citizens and tourists that boosts attendance of cinema-halls, theatres, shops and bars;
  • attract more small businesses that increase evening sales and directly and indirectly replenish city budget from private firms, cinema-halls, casinos, restaurants, etc.

The practical experience of Tokyo, Seoul, Las Vegas, Paris and Moscow proves that the city gains more by spending its own resources on artistic and architectural illumination than by fighting night-time crime that always rises when it is dark, when there are no lights, or bright outdoor advertising. The development of new technological solutions in this area leads to new approaches is resolving age-long city problems.

Giant advertising LED screen in Moscow Giant advertising LED screen in London
Giant advertising LED screen in Moscow Giant advertising LED screen in London

For instance, a technological leap in designing and constructing large outdoor electronic screens (for general municipal and advertising purposes) opens new possibilities to illuminate the city, make it attractive and safe. Not to forget that outdoor advertising helps to cut city expenses for city illumination. It is not the city or its citizens who pay for the bright advertising lights but advertisers who are interested in selling through attracting people to the sites. Moreover, outdoor electronic screens are a modern mass media that provides not only advertising but social information to citizens and tourists while they spend time outdoors.

Modern architects start using electronic screens as a tool and media to:

  • transform a boring concrete building into a lively bright site attractive by day and night;
  • provide modern shape and gleam to any old decrepit-looking building;
  • turn an inconspicuous part of the road into an attractive lively city place;
  • introduce a lively focus of everybody’s attention into a uniform space of a city square;
  • single out an office building, a shop or a casino from other surrounding buildings.

In fact, if there are several outdoor screens nearby, they may all have different commercials running. To change a program of commercials is nothing like building a new house. And all this bright light and brisk activity is created by advertising budgets of various companies and not by tight city budgets.

Most modern cities have already started utilizing these advantages that modern technology brings into city streets. Large outdoor screens, displays, signs have become a factor of everyday life. A city like New York would seem grim and dark if all advertising would be switched off one day.

A special research conducted in the USA has proved that outdoor advertising using large electronic screens and displays does not have any adverse effect on citizens but in fact it contributes to a better mood during the time any person willingly or unwillingly spends outside.

The impact of electronic information displays

Excerpts from a Report by Signline

Flashing signs are unquestionably part of the American experience. Animated signs are those which either move or create the illusion of movement by electromechanical means. The difference between a flashing sign and an animated sign is that in the former, the intensity of illumination varies by one hundred percent (either on or off) while in the latter, the intensity of illumination is relatively constant, even though the light patterns change to give the illusion of movement.

Prohibitions of “flashing” signage which are overly broad and which do not delineate differences in animation technology occasioned by the advances might well be counterproductive to development or truly performance oriented sign code.

Electronic information displays can promulgate varied and changing information over completely controllable segments of time. Programmable signage can provide an almost infinite variety of public service, commercial, and public interest information. Electronic variable messages can provide a positive addition to commercial landscape of most communities by providing valuable and varied information to both pedestrians and motorists alike. Such signage can project civic and commercial messages with no adverse environmental impact, no demonstrable traffic hazard, and at cost significantly lower than any other public information medium.

No verifiable evidence has yet appeared to substantiate any conclusion that even the most flagrant of flashing devices has the inherent capacity to distract motorists from their essential task of operating a motor vehicle in a safe manner.

US Federal Highway Administration Report No. FHWA/RD- 80/051- “Although the research studies reviewed in this report present apparently conflicting findings, they seem to indicate that under routine driving conditions there is little if any correlation between driving performance and the presence of roadside advertising signs,” FHWA/RDp.43 – “The report confirmed that roadside signage could actually be an aid to safety by providing a means to combat the dangerous condition known as “Highway Hypnosis.”

The following states found no evidence of increased traffic safety problems after the installation of electronic information displays in their city centers and highways: Nevada; Utah; Texas; New York; New Hampshire; Massachusetts. Any fears that electronically programmable variable message signs could negatively affect traffic safety clearly appear unfounded.