Media façades, part 1

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikoulichev

Within this article and the next one, we shall continue our review of media façade projects, attract our reader's attention to the main events of 2008, 2007 and 2006, try verbalizing main tendencies, and providing information about some interesting and successful projects known to the editorial board.

The topic of media façades was repeatedly discussed on the pages of our magazine:

However there are a few projects that are more visible than these. Media façades became a fashionable subject and started appearing in large and small cities around the globe. Media façade projects became possible due to close cooperation of numerous architect and designer groups, specializing in city landscape decoration and urban lighting design as well as due to appearance of new technological breakthroughs in the hi-tech area of LEDs. In this article materials from magazines www.ledsmagazine.com and www.mediaarchitecture.org were used.

Uniqa Tower media façade

Uniqua Tower media façade Uniqa Tower media façade

The Uniqa Insurance Company built a new headquarters in Vienna's 2-nd district. The front of the Tower is constructed as a double layered glass facade. In between there is enough space to position LED modules. The spacing between the vertical LED stripes is identical with the construction grid of the main facade. The resolution of 40 000 pixels is not that high for such a huge area, but good enough to display photographic imagery. The special artistic content was done by Mader Stublic Wiermann. The technical part was done by lichtkunstlicht and Barco. The display may not be bright enough to run during daytime; it's just being used during nighttime as the majority of similar projects.

In fact, brightness is the main limiting factor for media façades. To turn the facade into a video LED screen capable of working in daytime it is necessary to fill the image area with modules, thus completely blocking the windows. To leave windows unobstructed, it's necessary to use high-power LEDs with wider pitch - but even that is insufficient to maintain the necessary brightness of 4000-5000 nits for daytime watching. Thus, all such projects operate during the dusk and nighttime only.

Let’s have a look at what the specialists say about! “When darkness falls, Uniqa’s new headquarters building in Vienna becomes an interactive sculpture. Architectural scenery in the form of enormous media façades is rapidly gaining in popularity, with many large cities making use of lighting schemes of this kind to illuminate public areas. One of the latest and most striking examples of a media façade is the vast Uniqa Tower project. The new headquarters for Uniqa, a leading Austrian insurance company, immediately became one of Vienna’s sights”.

In a desire to emphasize the company’s uniqueness, Uniqa’s management decided upon a bold experiment, turning their office building into an enormous light installation. Uniqa Tower stands on the Danube Canal, at the very beginning of Ringstrasse, Vienna’s central street. This ellipsoid structure is 75 meters high. Its author, Austrian architect Heinz Neumann, says he tried to make the building alive and full of energy and emotion. In his design he was inspired by the company’s dynamic logo, which resembles a spiral.

The main idea was that the building should be open to the city. And this is indeed the case. The tower is clearly visible from all directions and each of its windows offers an amazing panoramic view of the city. The lighting designers from Licht Kunst Licht faced a by no means easy task. They had to develop lighting for a building that was already standing, inserting their solution into the existing structure. Their intention was that the lighting should underline the tower’s expressive architecture, fit the building to the surrounding urban landscape, and reflect qualities which make Uniqa unique.

Here you are one not professional opinion. “I recently spent a week on my honeymoon in Vienna. Our hotel room balcony had a great view of the Uniqa Tower. It is fascinating and remarkable! My wife and I would just sit on the balcony with a glass of wine and watch in amazement at the building. I can see how some buildings with this technology can really accentuate an area. Contrary to the jungle of neon and JumboTrons of Las Vegas, NV or the brash lights in Times Square in New York City, I can see this as a real improvement for a city whose architecture above the second or third floor is ignored at night. Thank you to those who made it happens. We didn’t even know it existed until our visit”.

LED modules location in media façades LED modules location in media façades
LED modules location in media façades

Media façade conferences, festivals and exhibition

The architects and designers started meeting regularly to discuss the latest developments in the area of urban environment and lighting. Media façades feature prominently in such discussions. The next coming interesting event will be held in Germany soon. Myths and Potentials of Media Architectures and Urban Screens Berlin, October/November 2008 The MEDIA FAÇADE FESTIVAL 2008 builds on the successful international Media Architecture Conference held in London in 2007. By engaging a wide range of stakeholders this festival will explore the integration of social media and images into facade structures as communicative element and its effect on urban space.

An exhibition will explore the integration of moving images into the facade as communicative element and its effect on Urban Space. Implemented innovative projects will show possible connections of architecture and screens and detect different artistic and architectural strategies. Practical technical information will give architects a deeper insight in difficulties and possibilities of utilizing new media in architecture.

The Conference will address numerous issues including:

  • A sustainable integration of digital moving images in the urban architectural landscape;
  • A changing perception of architecture and public space in the digital age;
  • Relationships between developments in technology, site specificity and new content;
  • Interactive design and networking with other tools for the communication with citizens;
  • Models for a balance between commercial, communal and cultural interests.

Media façades are a new exhibition format. International media researchers, artists, architects will gain temporary use of 4 facades in Berlin and explore their cultural, political and social roles. The screenings as a demonstrative test platform invite a wider audience to gain hands-on experience in the special connection of content, format, and site-specificity and to take part in a new interactive infrastructure.

With enquiries, it's best approach the following Conference organizers:
Mirjam Struppek, Urban Media Research, Berlin www.interactionfield.de
Gernot Tscherteu, Mediaarchitecture Group, Wien www.mediaarchitecture.org

Project management:

Susa Pop, Public Art Lab, email: susapop@publicartlab.com

to be continued in the next issue...