The Japanese architect Toyo Ito has won this year’s Royal Gold
digital wall, detail of the exhibition
‘toyo ito architetto’,
basilica palladiana, vicenza, italy
Ito is known for his aesthetic of lightweight, permeable membranes
composed of fabrics, perforated aluminium panels and expanded metal sheets,
resulting in projects such as Tower of Winds (1986), Restaurant Nomad (1986)
and Yatsushiro Municipal Museum (1991).
The new vortex-shaped, outdoor installation by architects
Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues warps the flow of space with a
featherweight rendition of a celestial black hole; “the deadliest
force in the Universe.” Hovering over M&A’s courtyard “Maximilian’s
Schell” is a spectacle the size of an apartment building that has
been stopping traffic along Silver Lake Boulevard since its
unveiling in June. Constructed with tinted Mylar resembling stained
glass, the vortex functions as a shade structure, swirling above the
The interior of this immersive experimental installation creates
an environment for enhanced social interaction and contemplation by
changing the space, color, and sound of the M&A courtyard gallery.
During the day as the sun passes overhead, the canopy casts colored
fractal light patterns onto the ground while a tranquil subsonic
drone from an integrated ambient sound installation by composer
James Lumb (Electric
Skychurch) entitled “Resonant Amplified Vortex Emitter,” lightly
rumbles below the feet of visitors
Interactive Architecture / Dynamic Architecture ?
By Daniel Montano
The wind “designs” / “sculpts” / “activates” this
Façades: expressive, responsive, interactive
A series of notes on the contemporary façade, from expressive and
performative to responsive and interactive.
Instead, this is simply a curated set of façades, juxtaposing a
few different approaches to expression or interaction.
Firstly, one of our Monocle
correspondents visited Guangzhou recently (for this
advertorial for UKTI), and I spotted this sequence on what
amounts to the cutting room floor of Final Cut Pro. It's a series of
complex expressive façades for displaying branding on waterfront
buildings, indicating how the city's skyline is used at night.
Synchronising animation across discrete buildings, using the
fabric of those buildings as the screen - quite impressive, yet for
all its immediate impact it's conceptually old-fashioned. It's
essentially a kind of 'scripted space', like London's Piccadilly
Circus, New York's Times Square or most of Las Vegas cf. Norman M.
The Vatican to Vegas: A History of Special Effects
(thanks for the book, Jon).
"Bizarre advertising displays – the honour guard of 50
Chinese hunchbacks outside the premiere of The Hunchback of
Notre Dame sticks in my mind – were part of the everyday reality
of the city, though I sometimes wonder if everyday reality was
the one element missing."
50 Chinese hunchbacks? Now that's an expressive façade.
John DeKron's animations for Peter Cook and Colin Fournier's
pixellated Kunsthaus Graz:
The hugely irritating 'dancing baby' animation finds its way onto
the KPN building in Rotterdam:
Again, variations on building as advanced billboard.
A more advanced example is CCC's work on
Blinkenlights, for the
Haus des Lehrers, at Berlin's Alexanderplatz. (Berlin, a city so
deeply in debt it might as well be renamed Das Vegas, is clearly
turning its urban fabric into a broad canvas for such things.) This
enabled games of Pong to be played on the building's façade,
controlled via mobile phone, shifting the building into interactive
mode, albeit frivolously.
I'm not even going to go near Tokyo with this, where seemingly
every corner is replete with display. Except perhaps two examples
Chanel's store exemplifies the modern media-rich façade:
"If facades are now screens, our Uniqlo facade is a pixilated
"electro-retro" version. It is made up of a matrix of one
thousand illuminated cells, whose luminosity can be individually
controlled to produce chunky Tetris-style patterns on the
facade. A mirror-finish stainless steel grid placed over this
screen has the effect of breaking up and blurring off its sharp
edges. The four-square Uniqlo logo shines through all, lit up
with a bright LED array. Luxury, at low-res."
Responsive is also Christian Moeller's 'Nosy' installation, Osaki
City, Tokyo 2006; there's
a video on his site.
"A robotic video camera randomly captures the surrounding
landscape and people, which are then displayed in bitmap
graphics onto three towers covered with white LEDs behind
frosted glass panels."
See also his Kinetic Light Sculpture, Reactive facade at the
Zeilgallery in Frankfurt, 1992, with Ruediger Kramm:
"A building façade which changes color distribution according
to current weather conditions. Behind a screen of perforated
aluminum, 120 floodlights fade from blue to yellow, illuminating
the front of the building. The overall image is directed by a
weather station on top of the building: the ambient temperature
(variables: 0º-30º C) determines the amount of yellow on the
blue wall. The yellow patches move in line with the direction of
the wind. Wind speed governs how fast they move over the
surface. Rain substitutes for wind and causes patches of yellow
to fall vertically. The upper area of the facade is crossed
horizontally by the wide, rapidly changing line graphic
(LED-Display 4m x 20m) that visualizes the noise in the street
"The scheme animated the preexisting structure’s uninspiring
facade with a dazzling skin constructed of 4,330 glass disks,
which displays computer-programmable text and images or else
blazes with light and color. To realize it, van der Heide worked
closely with the architect on a process that began when van
Berkel, considering the Galleria’s luxury-brand tenants,
suggested they “create an active structure” for the store. “We
had ideas about fluid lines that would go around the building,
but that was no good,” van der Heide recalls of their
brainstorming. “Then we thought, Maybe we should make the
building itself radiant. So we developed that. We understood
that we had to make the facade elements small to achieve
fluidity. So we said, ‘Listen, if they’re so small, they might
be pixels in a screen.’”
In Brussels, the Dexia Tower has been hosting nightly shows by
the installation artists Lab(au) for months now, with a recent
enthusiastically reviewed by CR blog. There have been
several shows on, including once called Touch, which enabled viewers
to control the light display from a touch-screen over the road:
“The project displays tomorrow’s temperature, cloudiness,
precipitations, and wind, by using colors and geometrical
patterns to visualise these data. A color-code corresponds to
tomorrow’s temperature compared to the monthly average, linked
to a scale of color-temperatures ranging from violet (-6° or
colder), blue (-4°), cyan (-2°), green (monthly average), yellow
(+2°), orange (+4°) to red (+6° or warmer)"
(You might pause to wonder about the waste of electricity in
these displays, though the creators and owners are quick to point
out that most are LED-based, and thus far more efficient than
previous displays (Dexia uses a third of the energy of Tour Eiffel,
for example.) And if they genuinely add to the experience of the
city, this positive contribution should be taken into account - in a
way most sustainability indexes don't.)
These last two - the Dexia in weather-forecasting mode and the
Allianz - both have a sense of utility allied to delight.
With all these examples, the buildings almost have secret
identity that comes alive at night, as if removing its glasses and
shaking its hair loose. Another performative work would be Mader
Stublic Wiermann's lighting display for the Uniqa tower in Vienna.
'Twists and Turns' is a playful work that responds to the implied
structure of the building its 'situated upon (video)
A possibly related example: I'd heard about this on
and it sounded vaguely interesting. Then
Paul Schütze sent me these
photos of cladding on a building site in Paris, covering the
renovation going on underneath. This is a 'special-effect' from the
old world, and truly low-tech in that sense. Paul reports:
"It works incredibly well. Located just down George V
about a block from the amazing Louis Vuitton building on the
Champs Elysée. For most of my approach toward its profile I
thought it was a huge plexi mirror offering great photo
opportunities. The illusion is so persuasive it makes objects in
the foreground seem distorted as well."
So despite the simplicity of the idea and realisation, it's still
a façade that powerfully affects, even changing perception.
Shifting gears slightly, we have Brisbane Girls Grammar School
Creative Learning Centre by the city's own
building is getting lots of attention in Australia, quite rightly.
More importantly it came first in
end-of-year 2007 poll.
It's a wonderful building all round, by all accounts, but the
façade is extraordinary. This finds a new way to deal with the
fierce Australian sun, first and foremost, as well as
demarcating the new centre from the surrounding late-19th century
buildings. The entire façade not only features, but is comprised of,
a giant moiré effect on the side facing the busy six-lane Inner City
Bypass, busway and railway line, which all snake alongside the
Dr. Sandra Kaji-O'Grady of UTS wrote about it for
Architecture Australia, in an issue devoted to schools in
"The western face, visible at some distance from the highway,
theatrically engages with the movement of the traffic. Using an
outer sunscreen of bronze anodised aluminium slats against an
inner wall of white with black vertical stripes, a moiré effect
is triggered. The building appears to melt and wobble in
circular waves as the viewer passes, leading some puzzled locals
to inquire of the architects as to its mechanics. From a
position on the highway where both the 1880s buildings and the
new building come into view, the ovoid forms of the optical
illusion neatly align in height and radius with the arched upper
storey windows of the old brick building. The optical facade
also forms the edge of the playing fields of the neighbouring
Brisbane Boys Grammar and one can only wonder what this mirage
of undulating curves does to the feverish minds of some teenaged
Obviously, photos don't do it justice (those above are from the
Architecture Australia article). There's a video of the
moiré effect on a scale model on
the m3architecture site - I'll try to get a video of the thing
in situ when I'm next up. I got the bus past this at Christmas and
can confirm that the effect truly works. As you drive past, the
entire six-storey wall appears to open up and revolve gently. It's
just subtle enough that it's unlikely to cause accidents - one
There's little or no description of this effect in
m3's write-up of their project. You might extrapolate from the
central idea of 'making connections' to see how that would relate to
connecting to the transit running alongside the edge of the school.
(Equally, I half-wonder if it might be inspired by the everyday
moiré effect conjured by the ubiquitous domestic flyscreens over
windows here in Australia.) It's responsive, in the sense that your
movement past the building causes a visual transformation, but
interestingly it's essentially a 'special effect' using the
characteristics of material rather than a programmed projection onto
skin. It's an inherent quality of the fabric itself, and in that
actually more advanced than all those Ginza-style examples above.
Works in daylight, too.
A quite different approach - technically, physically,
conceptually - is provided the
Corpora in Si(gh)te
augmented-reality façade, by
doubleNegatives et al.
It's extraordinarily lovely. It's a responsive system, creating an
entirely virtual architecture conceptually overlaid onto the
Yamaguchi Centre for Arts and Media, responding to environmental
data in real-time.
"In "Corpora in Si(gh)te" a number of sensors are setup
forming a mesh network throughout the area of YCAM in order to
collect and distribute realtime environmental information such
as temperature, brightness, humidity, wind direction and sound.
The data collected from these sources are processed by a
software and translated into nodes reflecting the sensor
network. These nodes are the seeds for the virtual architecture
of "Corpora" representing a cellular, distributed network of
nodes that are reacting through realtime processing, growing and
subsiding like an organism. Each node makes local decisions
independently of a central architect. The nodes inadvertently
give rise to an architectural structure, both in the YCAM
building and in the park. This "information architecture" of
nodes has its own spatial perception to make itself transform
into various forms by relying on the super-eye concept. The
fluid character of this architecture occurs as a living form.
Visitors can observe this process by Augmented Reality
Technology, located in various parts of YCAM."
This façade can radically alter scale, form and state in response
to its environment, as it doesn't physically exist (except for a
model in the foyer). The fact that it's augmented reality is
interesting, though. It embodies the idea that the data around the
building is actually another façade; indeed, the informational
weight and density of this façade would be far more significant than
its physical façade, through some lenses. It suggests an
architecture which is purely informational, yet not without
an implied physical form and graceful aesthetic.
Finally, The Living
have just announced their latest work,
Living City. I invited
David Benjamin and Soo-In Yang to present an early prototype of
their 'Living Glass' at Postopolis!, and
at the time I wrote:
"By exploring different patterns of movement, and thickening,
stretching and contracting of material, they are able to build a
transparent wall with louvred "gills" across its surface. These
gills open and close when a wire contracts, in response to some
sensory input (they used infra-red but it could've been any of a
number of stimuli). The end result is that the 'glass' membrane
actually opens up when people approach, in order to let fresh
air in. They demo this in front of the Postopolis! crowd, and
it's truly impressive. It literally draws a gasp from the
audience. The transparent glass louvres bend and twist open as
Benjamin breathes on the surface. It's a lovely movement, far
more organic than mechanical (although this is work that blurs
concepts like organic and mechanical together.)"
They've now constructed an ecosystem around the living glass,
such that it can respond to environmental conditions across
buildings, even physically disconnected buildings. There's far more
to say about their work, in terms of the ideas of open APIs between
buildings that I also drew upon for
PWTE, or their far-sighted approach to platform-building rather
than building-building. But the façade they've built as the
manifestation of the ecosystem is also lovely, technically
impressive and powerfully imaginative. The facade isn't a displaced
window onto the system; it is truly the system's interface.
Deployed, with some chutzpah, on the Empire State Building and
the Van Alen Institute building, the sensor network enables these
two buildings to 'talk' to each other, sharing data as to their
state and that of the surrounding environment.
The living glass façade can then react to this data - in this
first, obvious sense, reacting to air quality by closing or opening
accordingly. But the potential is for the building itself to react
to its environment; of other buildings, and the air around it.
(Again, it's the call-and-response between extrapolations of BIM
(Building Information Modeling) and CIM (City Information Modeling)
that I referred to in
PWTE.) As they put it:
"With the facade as a location of data sensing, of
communication, and of responsive performance and display, the
city acquires a new layer of interactivity."
In this, the building façade melts into the public space around
it, its structure dissolving in the behaviour of the city. As such,
the façade becomes more powerful than ever.