Light Matters: What Media Facades Are Saying

Light Matters: What Media Facades Are Saying
© Patrick Bingham-Hall

Light matters, a monthly column on light and space, is written by Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting, has published numerous articles and co-authored the book „Light Perspectives“.

Today we have permanent media façade installations worldwide that call for attention. With size, tempo, colour and brightness they stand up as individuals within the urban nightscape. Many of them send out their luminous messages in a broadcast mode. For this reason, neighbours, on occasion, demand an intense dialogue with regard to content and form of the media façade, especially as it’s often unclear whether light installations are architecture or advertisement.

However, in the same way a good book requires a storyteller, media facades demand curators to arrange exciting stories that fit into the site and suit the client. The following four examples show how media facades reflect the story of the buildings themselves - see them all, after the break...

Bix Installation / realities:united

© realities:united

Awarded for the category, "Animated architecture" by the Media Architecture Biennale 2012, the BIX installation by realities:united at the Kunsthaus Graz is one of the first examples in which media became a part of the architecture itself. Integrated into the overall building concept and planning process, this media façade is driven by narrative content, forming an identity for the building. Even though the low image resolution induced strong limitations, it eliminated the option to use the media façade as a TV gadget like many other media screens.

Iluma Facade / realities:united

Whereas New York Times Square is a commercially-driven space filled with large advertisements that asks for minimum light levels to keep the story of a vibrant hot spot alive, other regions try to minimize the light emission in order to maintain a dark sky without light pollution. The central Orchard Road in Singapore, for example, has turned into a fascinating location for more architecturally orientated media facades.

The white crystal structure for the Iluma façade in Singapore, again by realities:united, stays away from highly naturalistic images and conventional LED screens in order to avoid the impression of ordinary high-resolution advertisement screens. Realities:united induced low resolution solutions with artistic content so the pixel itself forms an aesthetic quality, at night as well as during the daytime. Abstract dynamic light patterns attract attention for urban orientation and welcome customers. The crystalline forms also evoke associations to diamonds and thereby underline the high- class brand image.

In some European cities the argument of implementing artistic content, as in the Iluma facade, also opens doors for the building approval process. Certain cities tend to minimize or avoid LED screens for advertisements due to urban space and road safety issues. However, if builder-owners start off with an artistic media façade concept, their chance for approval increases. An interesting question for future media façade regulations will be, if these luminous interfaces will be designed as a part of the façade and would thereby undergo the normal planning approval process, or if they will be regarded as interior design elements, like curtains for example, and would not require any permission.

Dexia Towers / lab-au

© ie :: fotografie

Originally meant to act as a beacon for the city of Brussels, displaying for example, interactive scenarios or temperature and weather forecasts, the Dexia Towers came to represent the financial crisis. When the maintenance budget for the media facades was lowered, the colourful storytelling was drastically reduced from all night to a 10-minute period every hour. 

Green Pix Zero Energy Media Wall / Arup

Courtesy of Simone Giostra & Partners and ARUP

Could media façades represent a green story? Even with efficient LED technology it will be an ambitious path to include large media facades in green buildings with energy labels.

However, China chose an exceptional strategy to define a benchmark for green luminous storytelling. The Green Pix media facade includes photovoltaic modules to gain energy free of charge by absorbing sunlight in the daytime, and converting the energy into artistic stories at night.

Of course the energy specialists know that vertical photovoltaic modules do not provide the most efficient sun orientation. Yet, today’s media world looks for iconic images that are easy to read and to communicate. Would the world be able to capture this concept as a green story if the solar cells were hidden on the roof with a better sun orientation?

Light matters, a monthly column on light and space, is written by Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting, has published numerous articles and co-authored the book „Light Perspectives“. For more information check or follow him @arcspaces

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "Light Matters: What Media Facades Are Saying" 19 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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