Nocturnal Skins

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Last week, while strolling through the galleries of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art's First Thirty Years exhibit, I rediscovered Dan Flavin. It wasn't actually his "monument" for V. Tatlin (1969) that struck me as much as the description of the materials used for this piece: "cool white fluorescent light with fixture."

The approach is so contemporary. He captures an important point that I think we have to continue to remember. It's not about the technology and the "stuff." Bulbs die and pixels change. It has to be about the effect and the experience. That is what makes something authentic, unique and timeless.

I wanted to share with you some historical and contemporary projects that I think do just that. They are all nocturnal, plugged in and are more interested in experience than hard or soft ware.

There are no scientific criteria for the selection. They are all building facades, they all deliver some kind of specific or ambient brand expression, they all seamlessly integrate technology and I like all of them for one reason or another. This is by no means a rigorous survey of all of the world's media facades. It's more of a teaser, selected at my discretion and (hopefully) for your entertainment and inspiration.

All the projects are divided into two types: GLOW and PIXEL.


These fabulously glowing buildings embed light into the fabric of their architecture and create a low resolution radiance that encourage us to forget their materiality and allows them to float in the night.

Dreamland founded by William H. Reynolds, Coney Island, 1904-1911

The tower of Dreamland stood 375-feet tall and was illuminated at night by 100,000 lights.

De Volharding Building by Jan Willem Eduard Buljs and Joan B. Lürsen, The Hague, 1928.

Designed to facilitate nighttime advertising, silhouetted letters placed behind glass panels and bricks carried messages for the Dutch socialist cooperative, De Volharding ("The Perseverance.")

Kunsthaus Bregenz by Peter Zumthor, Bregenz, 1997

Supported by a metal frame, a free-standing glass skin structure catches light within all its surfaces and distributes them in and around the galleries. This box of light is ever-changing - depending on the type of exhibition installed inside, the time of the day and the color of the sky.

Verbundnetz AG Administration Building lighting installation by James Turrell, Leipzig, 1997

Turrell placed colored neon tubes in the floors between two external glass layers, within a tower that is independent of power sources and serves to showcase the capabilities of its owner, a power company. The colors reference the changes in varying temperatures that the power company provides.

Illumination: Evolution for the Senckenberg Museum by Markgraph, Frankfurt, 2004

This natural history museum celebrated at its artifacts at night using rear-projection in its projection foil covered windows.

Gutenberg Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh by Casamagica, Pittsburgh, 2008

Standing163 meters tall, this 1920s Late Gothic Revival style building, evokes Gutenberg's invention of movable type printing as a historic milestone for thought and knowledge through temporary installation of stacked typography and text.

Beijing National Aquatics Center by of PTW Architects, Arup international engineering group, China State Construction Engineering Corporation, and China Construction Design International of Shanghai, Beijing, 2008

This home of the Beijing Olympics is the largest structure made of Ethylene Tetra Fluoro Ethylene, a translucent plastic-like material. ETFE allows more light and penetration than traditional glass, decreasing energy costs by 30%.


A matrix of pixels is definitely an interesting canvas for dynamic high resolution content. The pixels' materials are varied, and their choreography can be driven both by pre-rendered and real-time content. Visible and dramatic or tiny and transparent, the pixel façade offers great possibilities for the future.

Tour lumiére cybernetique by Nicolas Schöffer, Paris, Proposal, 1963

A 327-meter high Parisian performing light tower was conceived to be driven by data captured in the city, including traffic, mail, the stock exchange and temperature.

Tower of Winds by Toyo Ito, Yokohama, 1986

A tower of steel framework, thirty floodlights, 1,200 small light bulbs and twelve neon bands, is wrapped with perforated steel sheets to create a 70 foot tall oval column. The lights are choreographed by a computer program that captures data about external forces such as the wind (speed and direction) and noise from the street, translating it to a performance of light.

Bix Media Façade by Realities: United, Graz, 2003

A 900m2 large media membrane made of 930 light rings is mounted beneath the acrylic glass surface of the building. Each light is a pixel and can be controlled individually by a central computer that is able to map low-resolution images on the building, at up to a speed of 20 frames per second.

Galleria Department Store by UN Studio, Seoul, 2004

4,3000 glass discs wrapped in special dicroic foil generating a mother-of-pearl effect, are illuminated by a tapestry of LED lights that reflecting the dynamics of the weather conditions of the day through color.

T-Mobile 2004 by ag4, Bonn, 2004

This seemingly transparent media-façade decorates T-Mobile's headquarters in Bonn. . Over 250,000 LEDs are attached to custom-made horizontal aluminum slats that integrated the electrical components.

Uniqua Tower by Licht Kunst Licht + Barco, Vienna, 2006

"twists and turns" on the Uniqa Tower, Vienna from Alexander Stublić on Vimeo.
7525 square meters of LEDs are seamlessly integrated into the building's façade to create a living video screen.

Sitooterie Restaurant by Thomas Heatherwick, Essex, 2007

The structure is a cube punctured by over 5000 long aluminum windows glazed with transparent orange acrylic that project light to all its surfaces from a single source.

Stereoscope by project Blinkenlights, Toronto, 2008

960 window lights of Toronto's City Hall towers were wirelessly controlled, creating a digital canvas for play, both for artists and passersby.

Greenpix-Zero Energy Wall, Jingya Group, Beijing, 2008

This 2,200 meter media façade combines photovoltaic systems with LED systems that harvest energy during the day and illuminate art content by night.

Rundle Lantern by Fusion, Adelaide, Australia, 2008

This kinetic media facade is made up of 748 programmable square panels, each illuminated by 2 LED lights.

Chelsea Art Museum by Mader Stublic Wiermann, New York, 2010

Chelsea Art Museum:
Animated vertical LED rods that at certain places even surpass the height of the building create a light fence around the façade of the new Chelsea Art Museum.

Dan Flavin captured it all in a caption. It's all about the effect and the story, not the technology.

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