For advertising, art, or the corporate message: the façade increasingly plays a role as attention getter. In the past years we witnessed the emergence of façades containing photo prints, texts and poems, abstract images or variable translucence. All instances of a rather static form of communication. However, these façades are merely the beginning of a new development. The façade of the future communicates interactively. Using movement, color and light. The façade as interactive communication tool.
The façade’s multifunctional uses only seem to grow with several high profile projects demonstrating that the structural skin is very well capable of interactive communication. Glass, color and light play an important role. Striking aspect in the instances reviewed in this article is the use of semiconductors, so-called LED’s.
LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes) provide light at very narrow wavebands. When screen-colors red, green and blue (RBG) are combined at various intensities, the eye will perceive innumerable complex colors. These tiny lights provide not merely exciting effects: it is precisely the combination with other materials and technologies that gives these media façades their magical status.
Glass with Dichroic Coating
In the Galleria Hall West in Seoul, UN Studio in collaboration with Arup used the effect of LED’s. A glass bowl is placed in front of a set of four LED’s, with an added green LED for color balance. The bowl is made of two layers of glass with a dichroic coating between them. The glass contains etching to give it a soft and “frosty” effect. The glass contains etching on both front and back to prevent sunlight reflection and to obtain evenly distributed light impact on the entire glass element.
Nights the LED’s are computer controlled. The system is based on an ethernet network converted to DMX-512. The software treats the façade as a large TV screen where each LED equals one pixel in the screen. As every LED can perceive sixteen million colors, the façade of the Galleria is basically the largest TV screen in the world – with low resolution though.
The combination of lighting and video allows the light designer to show digital clips. The façade control system converts the clips into DMX data. The system includes a wireless transmitter, allowing the designer to sit in front of the building and program the lighting while keeping the façade in view.
Not only glass proves an effective medium for LED generated effects, metal mesh can be used too. German manufacturer GKD has a reputation in architectonic metal meshes. Responding to the media façade, they called their latest product Media Mesh. This mesh contains woven-in LED profiles creating a glitter effect. The mesh transforms the façade into an individually programmable media platform enabling the generation of simple images to high resolution clips. To achieve this, different LED profiles are linearly linked via a cable. To the eye of the spectator it appears one single image. The associated control units can be integrated into other structural elements like ceilings. Media Mesh is a co-development of GKD and AG4 Media Texture Company.
Another metal mesh development – also by GKD – may be admired in an application, though you have to go to the other side of the globe. Near Sydney’s World Square stands a twenty meter tall steel construction clad with metal mesh, type “Lamelle”. The façade serves as media façade with luminescent letters attached to two “Lamelle” panels. The panels are 20 x 4 meters each and directly fastened to the underlying construction.
So far our review of media façades capable of broadcasting a message. However, there already is an interactive version available. Sensacell is an interactive sensitive surface, available in any shape or size, to be used for interactive applications in the entertainment industry or architecture. Sensacell modules consist of four so-called non-contact sensors and LED’s. When an object approaches the surface, the LED’s light up: every movement along or over the surface leaves a light track, giving a special effect.
Sensacell can be applied in interior and exterior design and is scaleable from one single module to thousands of square meters. The sensors can detect objects through materials up to 15 cm thick (glass, plastic, wood, tiles, et cetera).
No LED’s but fluorescent lights make up the SPOTS façade. SPOTS on display at 10 Potsdammer Platz in Berlin is one of the world’s largest (temporary) media façades. The eleven floor building is floodlit for a period of eighteen months. The media façade is a realities:united design. This firm that designed the BIX media façade for Kunsthaus Graz (architect Peter Cook).
SPOTS is a matrix of 1,800 ordinary fluorescent lights, integrated into the ventilated glass façade. A central computer controls all lights individually. The system enables variations in light intensity or complete light switch off. This has transformed the outer skin of the building into a “communication membrane” primarily used for art projections. With its large scale “knitting pattern” and low resolution the matrix of fluorescent tubes match the scale of the Potsdammer Platz environment. Architect Jan Edler (realities:united) describes this new form of architecture as follows: “Our work starts in the transition zone where architecture, design, art and advertising merge. What we do is create architecture by using resources other than the building proper.”