Buildings show normally slow responses to current social issues. However, in the case of the Coronavirus, dynamic media facades have started to send messages of empathy to the citizens of Wuhan. At first, the Chinese government used screens covering complete buildings to create powerful images of hope and solidarity. Later, some countries like the United Arab Emirates joined this effort while a majority of countries has not followed so far.
Often media facades have emerged worldwide as striking tools for branding in the nighttime. Ornaments meet high-tech when software-adjustable pixel alter the image of facades and start to tell stories. Corporate headquarters or cultural institutions have selected this approach to underline their uniqueness with an individual story. But in China, the government can also determine the content of connected media facades. They made use of it for important national events like the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. During the traditional Lantern Festival, China has illuminated skyscrapers, bridges and towers in several cities to pay tributes to the death in the Coronavirus. The red color drew a clear link to the national flag. Slogans like "Stay Strong Wuhan, Stay Strong China" sent messages of support to the people affected by the Coronavirus. Although not many people may have seen the animations on site due to the isolation restrictions, the TV channels broadcasted the impressive aerial photos and videos to the nation. In this way the media facades in China have transcended the role of branding and highlighting individuality, because they sent messages from connected buildings and addressed the community with its current social challenges. However, with the growing awareness of sustainability and light pollution, the media facades need to take off environmental issues in order to avoid a negative connotation.
The United Arab Emirates was the first foreign country to show solidarity with light and architecture. Within six weeks they scheduled a second event of empathy to combat the Coronavirus. Buildings like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Zaha Hadid's Sheikh Zayed Bridge or the ADNOC Headquarters, designed by HOK, in Abu Dhabi, expressed with red color, gold stars and text the confidence that China will be able to conquer the Covid-19 crises. Here again, the LED media facades have turned into a powerful medium to address messages in a flexible way.
A bit later Iran lit up the Azadi Tower in Tehran and offered support for China dealing with the Coronavirus. The iconic landmark from 1971 clad in white marble was illuminated like the national flag of China and complemented with text in English and Chinese. Egypt responded with red color and gold stars as well when they illuminated historical landmarks like Luxor's Karnak Temple or the Cairo Citadel.
It is noteworthy that many other countries did not join the act of solidarity so far even though they have used nighttime illumination before to honor a nation affected by the tragedy. The worldwide illuminated buildings with the French flag sent a powerful message of empathy after the sad terror attacks in Paris in 2015. The Sydney Opera, London's Tower Bridge, Berlin's Brandenburg gate, One World Trade Center in New York and the Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City were part of the probably first synchronization of worldwide illuminated buildings with one motive dedicated to one country's tragedy. This attack was a sudden incident in the center of Europe and shocked the world instantly while the Coronavirus emerged in a Chinese province in Central China and grew over weeks to a worldwide pandemic. It seems that the Covid-19 impact has been underestimated by Europe and America and was not worth a symbolic act of solidarity with light and architecture in these regions. In the meantime, China has started to tell new stories on media facades with a more human scale by displaying images of medical staff and saying thank you to them for their efforts.
Light matters, a column on light and space, is written by Dr. Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting and works as an editor for the lighting company ERCO. He has published numerous articles and co-authored the books “Light Perspectives” and “SuperLux”. For more information check www.erco.com, www.arclighting.de or follow him @arcspaces.
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