Urban screens: Towards the convergence of architecture and audiovisual media
First Monday

Urban screens: Towards the convergence of architecture and audiovisual media by Tore Slaatta

Architecture and media technology is melting into each other, and buildings are turning into becoming media infrastructure. Following Sharon Zukin's suggestions on how to interpret urban change as social and cultural change, the article discuss how our new electronic landscapes mediates, both symbolically and materially, between the socio-spatial differentiation of capital implied by market and the socio-spatial homogeneity of labour suggested by place. The focus is set on how large media corporations are presently developing building projects where the use of screen technology is an important element. These projects are analysed as reflecting shifting corporate and cultural ideas about the relations between media and society: a new material and symbolic relation between constructed spaces for symbolic creativity in the global audio visual industry and global urban centres. As with all "new" technologies, the convergence of buildings and media technology has been envisaged for some time; what is new is not necessarily the idea, but the ways in which current technology makes it possible. As the technological possibilities of urban screens unfold, we become able to analyse their social and cultural consequences more fully.


Architecture and digital screen media technology
The new media corporation building in the urban landscape
Redefining conditions for symbolic creativity
Interpreting electronic landscapes as urban culture





Picture Piccadilly Circus in London a December evening: a massive experience of light, sound, traffic and people. The buildings around the small junction are heavily draped in light bulbs and digital screens at various sizes and heights. Advertisements, logos and moving pictures are continuously flashed onto passing pedestrians, cars and buses. Like in a mastery painting of the Dutch renaissance, light and colours from various electronic screens and sources are reflected onto adjacent buildings, windows, cars, buses and all kinds of surfaces. The whole square is lit by an amazing artificial light, brightening up people's skin and faces as if they were moving on a large scale, theatre stage. And as far one can see into the streets are hung glimmering Christmas decorations from side to side, made out of thousands of light bulbs.

The rapid developments within digital screen technologies are emerging as prototypes and innovations in various social spheres. Following Brian Winston's theorizing about prototypes and innovations in the history of media technology, it seems that the urban space has become an experimental stage for all kinds of screen technologies, ranging from advertisement boards, decorative facades, information boards, live video screening, traffic signalling, stage backdrops and virtual landscapes, to experimental digital architecture using screens and illuminating or illuminated glass and transparent plastics as building materials. The wide ranging technological possibilities are presently pursued in hybrid combinational ideas for reconfiguring private and public spaces and visual forms into a performative architecture within a virtual, digitalised urban visual culture. Projects and buildings quite often seem to present themselves as "responding to an increasingly digital and commercial culture" and being "manifestations of modern commercialism", as for instance in The Times Square Prototype Project by Andre Cardoso Mandel or in _Re 00 by Ale Faticanti and Bebo Ferito, both presented in the 2002 FIEDAD Award catalogue on Developing Digital Architecture (Liu 2003). It will soon be more clear to us which prototypes will be rejected, accepted or met by parallel and partial responses in the social sphere according to Brian Winston's model of technological innovation and adaptation (Winston 1998).


Architecture and digital screen media technology

My concern in this essay is the way in which screen media technology is presently becoming an element of urban architecture through the combination of transparent building materials and digital light and transmission technology. Architecture and media technology is melting into each other, and buildings are more and more turning into becoming media infrastructure: just as the old built in furniture electronic bulb and the roof antenna was the material infrastructure of mass distributed television into people's houses, the architectural building is presently in the position of becoming the material infrastructure for the urban screen media. As with all "new" technologies, this convergence of buildings and media technology has been envisaged for some time; what is new is not the idea, but the ways in which present material technology makes it possible.

Already in 1984, Paul Virilio asked the question whether our basic dimension for space and time were being lost with the replacement of interiors and furniture with mobile telecomputer furniture and electronic matrix screens of pixels and artificial light. New media technology seemed to destabilise our senses and make us move as mobile nomads in a space without dimensions. Our relationships to physical objects and understandings of space were undergoing profound changes:

"Will we soon replace the ensemble of apartment furniture with the active and dynamic vectors that will themselves progressively but radically modify the configuration of the building, and then the architectural morphology? (...) Having made the window autonomous trough the television screen, and the door through the automobile, will we now participate in the complete disintegration of the building? " (Virilo 1984/1991, p. 80)

Now, more than 30 years later, Virilo's question is naturally extended to include the exterior and the urban space as well. As he foresaw, we seem to be replacing the ensemble landscape of urban buildings with active and dynamic media technology that radically modify the configuration of the city and the urban morphology. Buildings, urban landscapes and sites are disintegrating to become autonomous, informational and transitional objects. Virilo's thinking is of course much in line with McLuhan's prophetic vision of the urban landscape as an electronic extension of man (McLuhan 1964).

We are at that breaking moment when technology and material conditions for production enable the diffusion and use of new media technologies. The urban landscape is being reshaped by new technology, inspiring investigations into the future of "technocities" (Downey and McGuigan 1999). And we can start reading the meaning of this electronic landscape as Sharon Zukin suggests, in terms of how it mediates, both symbolically and materially, "...between the socio-spatial differentiation of capital implied by market and the socio-spatial homogeneity of labour suggested by place" (Zukin 1991:16). The screen technology in itself is becoming a landscape, challenging the border between a "natural" and "electronic" understanding of landscape itself. Reading this new, digital landscape of the city as a cultural geographer, we can start understanding the cultural signification of the ongoing convergence of media and architecture. The intentional use of digital screen technology in transparent or fluorescent building materials for projection of digital images on building facades is changing the meaning of both media and architecture. Thus to interpret this emerging electronic urban landscape, both as a cultural and socio-spatial landscape is of great importance.

I am intrigued by the fact that some of the most prestigious "signature" architecture now being designed and built around the world with this mutating use of materials and media technologies are media company buildings. Particularly interesting are in my view the new buildings that are presently being planned or built for national public service broadcasters around the world. I will in this essay particularly refer to two such projects: the new building for the national public broadcasting institution in Denmark, Danmarks Radio (DR) in Copenhagen, and the Chinese television corporation, CCTV in Beijing. Both being high profiled, urban architecture projects, using digital screen technology in advanced and new ways. My reading of the projects will focus on three dimensions: First, the way the new urban media architecture can be understood as a way for the old national cultural institutions of public broadcasting to redefine a connection between market and place, or more precisely between public and space. Second, I want to discuss what the new media architecture implies in terms of changed condition for symbolic creativity in the cultural industries. And third, I want to comment on the aesthetic and urban experience that might come out of this new digital architecture.


The new media corporation building in the urban landscape

It's perhaps not so surprising that the media corporations, private or public, are presently the ones engaged in avant-garde architecture and urban development projects, since some of the global media companies obviously have been winners both in terms of profits and prestige in the accelerated global economy. The economy has become informational, according to Castells and others, and the same has happened with the urban landscape and architecture. Now urban change and regeneration is happening at the same time as the cultural industries are becoming increasingly global and local, rather than national, giving a renewed focus on urban cultural politics (McQuigan 1996). National media and museum buildings used to be monumental national architecture, for instance housing public libraries and public service broadcasting corporations owned by governments. The buildings signalled stability and national pride, and the institutions they housed were fulfilling political goals in national and local cultural policies.

The present reconfiguration of market and place is particularly transitional and salient for the old media and museum institutions of modernist national cultures. For instance, the national public service broadcasters are presently undergoing profound change because the technological borders of transmission no longer fit the national cultural space (see for instance Morley and Robins 1995, Papathanassopoulos 2002). In some of the newly designed and built buildings for the old public service broadcasting institutions we can see an interesting expansion of meaning: the new buildings are supposed to be defining the creative space where the (still?) publicly owned media and communications industry will be producing their audio-visual products for public consumption. But technology has decoupled the old connection between technological infrastructure and the national cultural space, and the media consumption market no longer belongs to the nation place. Thus, the new buildings of the public service broadcasting institutions are reflecting an attempt to redefine the connection between a publicly owned institution operating at an increasingly global market, and a local connection to the urban space.

An interesting example is the new building under construction for the national public broadcasting institution in Denmark, Danmarks Radio (DR) in Copenhagen. According to the official website, the decision was taken in 1999 to relocate the 12 DR sites in Copenhagen to a new home in the central area Ørestad Nord with the ambition of making the new DR multimedia house in DR Byen (the DR-city) the envy of the world. The competition for the overall plan was won in 2000 by Vilhelm Lauritzen AS, architects, and Carl Bro AS, civil engineers. For the nation as a whole the relocation is supposed to lead to "better programs and more choice", and for staff it is supposed to lead to a "more flexible, open workplace" and a "lively setting for team-work and creativity":

"DR intends to be the focal point for creativity and innovation. At the new multimedia house people will work in light, airy, open spaces with room for lots of different work processes ranging from great art to craftsmanship and mass production. The house will be designed to ensure the greatest possible flexibility. The new DR multimedia house is inspired by the kasbahs of the Middle East. A kasbah is a kind of town within a town, with a mixture of covered squares and streets, shops and workshops. Every quarter has its own identity and personality. DR Byen will consist of four segments: four houses individual in character. So we arranged four separate architectural competitions, one for each segment. The four segments are linked by The Inner Street that will become the DR Byen meeting place. This street stretches from the second floor to the sixth floor and will provide a glass-roofed precinct via which DR staff will be able to move from one segment to another. The whole site will be imbued with transparency. It will seem bright, open, and inviting. DR staff will enjoy an inspiring ambience, with creativity apparent from within and without. The multimedia house will cover an area the size of four soccer pitches; the area of the building in square metres will correspond to twenty soccer pitches." (http://www.dr.dk/)

The French architects Atelier Jean Nouvel won the competition for the concert hall in 2002, and the building is planned to be finished within 2007. It is this building that mostly uses the new screen technology and which in my view embody the visible interpretation of the "new multimedia house" in the DR-city. The building now has its own webpage that can be accessed through DRs main page.

Danmark Radio; Copenhagen. Architect:Jean Nouvel
Danmark Radio; Copenhagen. Architect:Jean Nouvel

The text presenting the concert hall on Atelier Jean Nouvel's webpage is instructive of how the Danish public service institution is presently transforming itself through the convergence of architectural structures and screen technology:

"Building in emerging neighborhoods is a risk that has often proved fatal in recent years. When there is no built environment upon which to found our work, when we cannot evaluate a neighborhood's future potential, we have to turn the question around: what qualities can we bring to this future? We can respond positively to an uncertainty by using its most positive attribute, that is, mystery. Mystery is never far from seduction. When the surroundings are too neutral we must create a transition, a distance between them, and us, not as a retreat into ourselves, but as a means to establish conditions that will allow a particular territory to blossom. In other words we need to bring value to the context, whatever it may be. For this we must establish a presence, an identity. I propose to materialise the context by creating an exceptional urban building respecting the planned layout of the site. It will be a volume, a mysterious parallelepiped that changes under the light of day and night whose interior can only be guessed at. At night the volume will come alive with images, colors, and lights expressing the life going on inside. The interior is a world in itself, complex and diversified. An interior street lined with shops follows the path of the urban canal; a restaurant and bar spill into it. The restaurant is dominated by a covered square, a large empty volume beneath the wooden scales, cladding the concert hall above. It is a world of contrasts and surprises, a labyrinth, an interior landscape. On one side, the world of musicians, with courtyards and exterior terraces, and vegetation. On the other, Piranesian public spaces link together the different performance halls, the restaurant, and the street. The abstract is invaded by the figurative; the permanent is complemented by the ephemeral. The facades are diaphanous filters permitting views of the city, the canal, and the neighboring architecture. At night these facades become screens for projecting images. The architecture asserts itself through details - doors, lighting, ceilings, and staircases - a testimony of respect for the buildings' visitors, concertgoers, and artists. Each room becomes a discovery, each detail an invention, lessons learned from Theodor Lauritzen and Hans Sharoun whose certain kind of architecture should never be forgotten, and to whom this project is a discrete homage. Architecture is like music; it is made to move and delight us. Jean Nouvel." (http://www.jeannouvel.com/)

We clearly see that the new public service broadcasting buildings are not any longer built to function mostly as effective production plants for national television broadcasts. They are also meant to become avant-garde signature buildings in urban settings. Spaces for local consumption and interaction with the architecture appear in the urban context. By using the latest screen media technology in the architectural design the buildings and plants are them selves supposed to testify the continued but changed cultural importance and power of the old public service institutions in society. They are in a sense physically becoming what they are known to produce, a visual impact, able now to imaging themselves not only as contributing to the old, two-dimensional visual culture, but entering the role of urban monuments, becoming a three dimensional physical interpretation of their self reflexive moment of peaking cultural power. At the same time, the actual placing of the buildings are central: They are thought to be interacting with local audiences, more becoming a combined amusement park and media production plant. Perhaps not in the vein of the Universal park area in Los Angeles, but more along the lines of becoming an audiovisual technology museum and experimental/experience centre.

The CCTV building in the new financial centre of Beijing is another instructive case, designed by architect Rem Koolhaas and awarded in 2002, now under construction.

CCTV in Bejing, China. Architect: OMA/Rem Koolhaas
CCTV in Bejing, China. Architect: OMA/Rem Koolhaas

The following text is found on the web page for Rem Koolhaas' company OMA, Office of Metropolitan Architecture.

"The project proposes an iconographic constellation of two high-rise structures that actively engage the city space: CCTV and TVCC. CCTV combines administration and offices, news and broadcasting, program production and services, the entire process of TV-making - in a loop of interconnected activities. Two structures rise from a common production platform that is partly underground. Each has a different character: one is dedicated to broadcasting, the second to services, research and education; they join at the top to create a cantilevered penthouse for the management. A new icon is formed, not the predictable 2-dimensional tower 'soaring' skyward, but a truly, 3-dimensional experience, a canopy that symbolically embraces the entire population... The consolidation of the TV program in a single building allows each worker to be permanently aware of the nature of the work of his co-workers - a chain of interdependence that promotes solidarity rather than isolation, collaboration instead of opposition. The building itself contributes to the coherence of the organisation. While CCTV is a secured building for staff and technology, public visitors will be admitted to the 'loop', a dedicated path circulating through the building and connecting to all elements of the program and offering spectacular views across the multiple facades towards the CBD, Beijing, and the Forbidden City. The Television Cultural Center (TVCC) is an open, inviting structure. It accommodates visitors and guests, and will be freely accessible to the public. On the ground floor, a continuous lobby provides access to the 1500-seat theatre, a large ballroom, digital cinemas, recording studios and exhibition facilities. The building hosts the international broadcasting centre for the 2008 Olympic Games. The tower accommodates a five-star hotel; guests enter at a dedicated drop-off from the east of the building and ascend to the fifth floor housing the check-in as well as restaurants, lounges, and conference rooms. The hotel rooms are occupying both sides of the tower, forming a spectacular atrium above the landscape of public facilities. On the block in the south-east, the Media Park is conceived as an extension of the proposed green axis of the CBD. It is open to the public for events and entertainment, and can be used for outdoor filming. (http://www.oma.nl/)


Redefining conditions for symbolic creativity

At the time when most European public television channels were built in the early 50s and 60s, the Fordist organisation of television production prevailed. The White City of BBC in London set the model. A circle of working areas was set around each studio to make easy access to paint, decoration, costumes, and recreation area for actors and production staff.

Today, there is a decentralised and mostly privatised field of audiovisual production and the pressure on architectural solutions from the material logic of Fordist audiovisual production is gone. Today, studios become more and more empty spaces as the creative staff in the units for digitally produced backdrops and computer graphics are taking over the control over the audiovisual product. The professional producer is also becoming a clerk in front of a computer, and less and less it makes sense to differentiate between an accountant and a drama series director in terms of skills, competences, tasks and working conditions.

What else can be said about the creative cultural works that are being performed on the inside of the new media buildings and their implied institutional structures? The cultural industries have for some time now been a highly flexible and formative industry, where technological innovations constantly are being tried out as a basis for profitable production and distribution of cultural products. However, as David Hesmondhalgh points out, the emphasis on change is sometimes taken too far. Most of the matrix of conditions for cultural production and consumption emerged in the early part of the twentieth century, and are still with us today (Hesmondhalgh 2002). However, increasing marketisation, conglomeration and mutually entangled networks and alliances of licensing, financing, production and distribution have made it much harder to envisage how the conditions for symbolic creativity will be in the future.

Inside the large scale, performative architecture of media corporate buildings, we might speculate whether the meaning of cultural work itself is changing. Symbolic creativity is here being performed in places where the material structures invite us to think that the physical, cultural and social difference between the outside consumer and the inside producer is disappearing. The imagined situation is parallel to the technological vision in the film version of Roald Dahls famous novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where both objects and persons are made able to move between the physical world and the television screen world. Not only does a chocolate bar suddenly appear in Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey. But also Mike Teavee, the incarnated adolescent television consumer, is inserted in a news program. Although there is some slight physical distortion, the technological experiment shows that "it works".

The same can be said about the screen architecture. We don't really know yet what kind of cultural change will come about, but we know that the digital architecture can at the same time house the creative staff on the inside, needed for audiovisual production, put their creative work on display on the outside through the use of transparent or projectable screen technology and signal their urban cultural importance as a beaming electronic building, standing out in the urban landscape.

But rather than believing that the final solution of democratic communication has been reached through audio visual technology, we should perhaps suspect the new technology of actually concealing its own logics and structures of production. The difference between inside and outside, between producer and consumer seems at first glance to have become systematically randomised. For instance it seems that in many parts of the audio visual industry, traditional higher education is not seen as really contributing to the kind of immediate street credibility and authenticity that is productive and profitable. Instead of giving priority to people with university degrees and work experience, media and cultural corporations increasingly look for creative people that embody a combination of street wisdom and intellectual curiosity, whatever their social and educational background might be. However, that the value of social and cultural capital are changing doesn't mean the social structuring of the cultural field of production is going away. Rather, it is being redefined, and we presently need to ask where the new corporate professionals come from, what kind of professional rhetoric they are surrounded by, and how they are positioning themselves in the field of cultural production.

Innovations in the cultural industries tend to simultaneously increase competition and heighten the competition for controlling power over the visual and informational environment of people's lives. It is a question of who will hold the magnum controller, shift the channel and corrupt the picture. Time is still a limiting factor when it comes to consumption of media and cultural products. One strategy that seems to go hand in hand with the new media architecture is the drift towards combining media production space with theme park and entertainment facilities. European public service institutions have had a tradition for housing orchestras, but to actually build a concert hall in the city centre as DR is presently doing in Copenhagen is something new. And there is a difference in the way the old institutions were open for visits to organised tours at the production site or visits as audiences in the evening live shows, and the way visitors today are invited to envisage the digital media future in experimental showrooms and "media experience centres".

An interesting thing is that these new strategies of amusement and amazement appear to attract consumers both as physical visitors to the urban centre buildings and as visitors to the fictional space of the domestic or mobile television screen. In a sense, they are competing with themselves, since the active, physical presence seem to exclude the fictional consumption from the coach. However, technology are constantly improving that can give the consumer more control on when and where consumption takes place. The old idea of live broadcasting presence is becoming obsolete, and there is no contradiction anymore between being participant/producer and viewing yourself as participant/producer. Both time and self-reflexivity seem to be merging in a possible ever-presence of mediated self-identity consumption.


Interpreting electronic landscapes as urban culture

Seen from the perspective of architecture and urban design, the screen technology is representing a new way of thinking about facades and decorative elements in building structures. The new technology can be combined with various materials, particular glass and plastics, which gives architects and urban planners the possibility of thinking about buildings as more transitory and mobile objects with transformational, decorative and informative possibilities. Instead of the grey concrete or the darkened windows that tortured urban architecture in 80s, new urban architecture is transparent and translucent, fluorescent and colourful. And it can change itself, being transparent at one moment, and translucent in the second, and carrying moving pictures in the third. An early example of this kind of dynamic and transforming architecture is the Lentos Museum of Modern Art in Linz and the Bibliotheque National in Paris.

Lentos Museum of Modern Art in Linz, Austria. Architect: Weber & Hofer
Lentos Museum of Modern Art in Linz, Austria. Architect: Weber & Hofer


Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France. Architect: Dominique Perrault
Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris, France. Architect: Dominique Perrault

The convergence of these two, originally separated cultural industrial products, architecture and the audiovisual media has the potential to interrogate the borders between the urban and the suburban, and between the urban landscape and the natural environment once more. As technology becomes smoother and screens not only can be hung on walls, but actually form the walls of a house, of a concert hall, of a skyscraper, the architectural object. The buildings can carry text, as for instance the new building for the Norwegian telecommunication company Telenor in Oslo, does when it carries a large scale digital text screen showing Jenny Holzer's moving digital textual fragments in large, miniscule letters, red on black. Looking at it when daylight disappears, the building adds a digital subtitle to the diffused natural landscape of buildings and surrounding mountains of Oslo. The whole building structure has actually been shaped as the company logo, seen from above. As staff and visitors await a satellite monitoring of the birds eye, the company culture can be shaped around the knowledge that the digital image of its advanced building design at least exists.

As mentioned earlier, the screen technology actually in itself is landscape, which can be seen from the way in which the technology actually include reflection and camouflage strategies. These capacities make it possible to simulate a seamless integration between screen and environment. The screen media technology can (more or less) in one moment be made to disappear. And in the next moment it can stand out, seek for connections; ask for your involvement and interactivity. The screen thus does not resemble earlier media technologies that had to have a separate physical carrier (the television set, the radio, the telephone). Instead, it can disappear, become a wall, become a window, hide as modern architecture, or fake another building's facades. The urban screen imitates nature, and it is the mediated visual, the technologically produced and distributed image that stands out or melts into the environment. Media becomes landscape. The screen can potentially become invisible by imitating or reflecting its surroundings. Like the skyscrapers with mirror glass surface, mirroring the opposite building structure and thereby borrowing the structural appearance of the opposite buildings floors, windows and decorative elements. Or, as in Harry Potters more fictional universe, a building or a doorway can be made to disappear, like the ceiling in the grand hall at Hogwarth which appears to be the sky outside and the hidden entrance of platform 11 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. When the screen/building stands out, it creates active visual borders and frames, designing new visual structures within the screen, flagging posters, boxing in SMS texts, etc. When it disappears, it loses its meaning as a medium.

If the fireplace were a prehistoric metaphor for domestic media culture, the urban screen metaphor is more like the sky: where stars appear at night, but where a cloud could bring everything to disappear. Like the weather, which is possible to "read" from the movements and lights from the sky screen, you know it is there. You do not have to look at it all the time. You can move under it, throw a glance onto it, and adjust your behaviour to future prospects and expectations of weather change. But there is no deeper social, political or economic need or meaning to stop and watch. There seem to be no real story being told unless you are in a shopping mode.

Read as a sign of civilisation, the screen media building achieve some meaning as a new lighthouse of a new modernity: not as in Edward Hoppers image of the lighthouse on the cliff, placed at the border of civilisation, beaming its light into the dark and the unknown, securing the navigation of ships. Now the beacon appears in the centre, as a landmark of a total and electrified, commercial culture, first turning skyscrapers into light bulbs, then, as technology moves on, turning them into enormous screens for mediation of all kinds of images and digitally produced visible surfaces. We should keep in mind the link between these fascinating objects and the reconfiguration of the global audiovisual cultural industry.

As Armand Mattelard once put it, the paradoxes of modern communication are "...tumult rhymes with secret, overdose with scarcity, and transparency with opacity" (Mattelard 1991: 186). According to Virilo's more hyperbolic interpretation, we are loosing the human capacity for seeing and understanding from a certain perspective. Everything is moving and sliding:

"...The pixel replaces the bolt and rivet. The eye of the telespectator slides along the length of an infinite electronic perspective, and the architecture of light becomes nothing more than the computer's memory - a sequential, modular or matrix system that was prefigurated by the first metallic structures, the optic theaters and other panoramas of the nineteenth century." (Virilo 1991:94)



December, London, Piccadilly Circus again. Behind a curtain in the open entrance of Hauser & Wirth Gallery at 176 Piccadilly Road, the contemporary multimedia artist Pippilotti Rist exhibits her latest video installation. The 19th century room is furnished with couches standing in row around a square of mirrors. In the middle of the ceiling, a colourful video projection can be seen in the defined circular space of a cast rosette. A young female character with white fairy-like clothes and red shoes walks around in a forest, then moves into an urban setting: a street, an artificially lit corridor. She moves in and out of the picture, seemingly being weightless and perhaps also invisible for passers by. Then the video loop takes her back to the forest. Gallery visitors are lying on the couches, looking up. The mirrors on the floor underneath are projecting a decorative moving background of flowers, leaves and trees onto the ceiling. In the background, surround synthesised music with a distinct rhythm and a melodic sensitivity. Inside/outside, upside/downside. We are what we see. A visual impression of the projections can be found at http://butwhatsgoingoninlondon.blogspot.com/2005/11/pippilotti-rist-in-london.html

A wide range of new possibilities for visual art and cultural reflection has arrived with new screen and projection technologies. From a critical media perspective, it is necessary to look into the urban screen technology also as a mean for developing alternative media. The question is how one might influence the development of screen media technology so that interactive, popular and participatory, political use of the urban screen media is not politically prohibited and economically restricted to commercial culture, governmental information for social control and potential political abuse. As Virilo observed about Benjamin's urban studies, the protocols of physical access are what used to give meaning to the space of a city, linked as it was to "the primacy of the sedentary over the nomadic ways of our origins", which presently is being "swept away by advanced technologies" (Virilo 1991, p. 99). Thus, it is increasingly access to technology itself that designates the insides and the outsides of society. It is the ability to interact with technology rather than physical experience of urban landscape, nature and buildings that gives meaning to space.

In this creative and hopefully still open period of ideation and innovation, media researchers, artists, architects, urbanists and media activists should explore and challenge the supervening social necessities that will define the outcome of technological innovation processes in the future. The commercial and corporative pull is strong, and it is important to explore and expand the legitimate space for alternative uses. Not only is it a question of traditional communicational values and norms related to access, interactivity and discursive control. It is also a question of the aesthetic control over urban landscapes, environments, buildings, streets and public spaces.End of article

About the author

Tore Slaatta is Professor at Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. He writes on issues related to European cultural policies, urban development, design, architecture and art criticism and has worked as a consultant and board member in the Norwegian design industry. From 1999 - 2003, Tore directed and coordinated the Norwegian media research programme "Power and Democracy". Previously, he worked on issues related to Europeanisation, cultural identity and democratic communication with ARENA (Advances Research on the Europeanisation of the Nation State) in Oslo (1995 -1999).
E-mail: tore.slaatta [at] media [dot] uio [dot] no


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Urban screens: Towards the convergence of architecture and audiovisual media by Tore Slaatta
First Monday, Special Issue #4: Urban Screens: Discovering the potential of outdoor screens for urban society

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