“Membrane between the digital world and the urban sphere”

Feb 25, 2015 , , , , , ,

“Connecting Cities” – Managing Director Susa Pop about media façades.

Susa, why do we need media architecture and media façades and why do our cities need them?

That’s a good question (laughs). We actually define the media façade as a membrane between the digital world and the urban sphere. At the latest from 2007, when the smartphone emerged on the market, the whole thing is combined. Nearly everyone is online today. The digital and the urban space merge into each other.

A media façade, as a membrane, is not a space where people just individually connect through the smartphone screen with virtual worlds. But they create so-called “shared encounters” as places to meet. The façades themselves create communication platforms where people can come together und share a common experience in front of the media façade.

For the most part we certainly have social, artistic projects. There is a huge potential for these. That is what we think. But of course there are also other positions, if you beyond that. For example, cities can identify with a media façade, if it is a nice one. Media facades can become city icons. Identification, identity – that plays a great role.

At the Media Architecture Biennale in Aarhus in November 2014 an industrial building was honoured for its outstanding façade lightning – the Energy Tower in Roskilde in Denmark. That is a very new field for media façades. Is it also a new cultural acceptance of industrial buildings?

For sure. In Roskilde the Waste-to-Energy plant, which generates electricity, has got a spectacular media façade. It was planned by the Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat. Furthermore the power plant has a smoke ring which was developed by the creative company realities:united from Berlin. For every ton of CO² going into the sky, the smoke ring is emitted. It is a way to show how we pollute our environment and it is very important to talk about it and visualize it.

Susa, you are initiator and Managing Director of the network Connecting Cities.. About what context is this project? In what way should the project connect cities?

The whole thing has a prehistory. We organized two media façades festivals, 2008 in Berlin and 2010 in some cities of Europe. We’ve started to connect cities and their people via media façades and brought them together in a productive dialogue. It was pilot project where we have seen a huge potential for our cities. These façades can be used as a membrane for intercultural dialogues or community-building.

Then we, the Public Art Lab and me, initiated the Conntecting Cities- Network Project. We have started with eleven European cities and by now we are very popular worldwide. At the moment the network is so attractive that we do not have to advertise. They all find their way to us on their own. Most of our partners have an infrastructure which is similar to community platforms. Certainly we work together with commercial urban screens networks. That is also the way we started – creating cultural content for classic commercial urban screens networks. But in that field you are very limited – 30 seconds duration in an advertising field without interactive possibilities. Most of our projects are real-time, interactive or participative. It is very difficult to work with this kind of infrastructure. We consistently show our trailers and invite commercial people to our conferences – that goes without saying. But at the moment it is more exciting to work with urban community platforms which mainly show culture and do something for their neighbourhood.

ONLYGLASS participates in the development of the media façade for the Klubhaus St. Pauli – a great, new music and entertainment centre in Hamburg which opens in autumn 2015. For the new media façade there is a general agreement with the city – one third advertisements, another third for house advertising by the clubs and theatres and another third of time for art. Could this be a rule of thumb which is also sensible for other cities? Is this kind of agreement acceptable for the ratio of culture and advertisements from your point of view? It is also always about the refinancing of these façades and projects.

Yes, sure. I guess, it is always depending on the surroundings. If you take a look at media façades or media architecture, you always have to see them in an urban context. For the Reeperbahn, which presents nightlife and life with blinking and lights anyway, you can really see such an agreement.

The more culture, the better it is. Sure. I can really imagine such a media façade with intelligent advertisement in this area, when the club owners come up with some nice ideas. But the percentage ratio would have to be different, if this media façade was located, for example, at the Museum Island Berlin – 20% high-class advertisements and 80% culture and art. It always depends on the context.

How do you evaluate the situation in Germany? How acceptable are media façades in the public sphere, how great is the interest and the willingness to install them – also in comparison to other countries?

In Germany it is considered quite critical. Each city has its own regulations and in turn each city district has its own regulations. It is definitely not easy to install a media façade in Germany. But that is also the case for the placement of other kinds of advertising media in the public space.

For example, we had this huge poster with advertisement after the fall of the Wall in Berlin. If we talk about large advertisements or media façades, Berlin still feels embarrassed. It is not even possible to have a large projection in the centre of Berlin. The Festival of Lights is an exception because it attracts a lot of tourists. But we wanted to project some art work on some facades at the Alexanderplatz. That is impossible, if you take the official path. Most people avoid this by projecting in the night without an official registration.

Munich is also not very open-minded about this whole thing. On the other hand, if it is about Money Architecture or CI-Architecture, the situation is completely different. The stadium in Munich is such an example. There are also many other possibilities to integrate something in own buildings if they are financed by companies. In that case administrations are much more open-minded because companies per se do a lot for the city.

In Germany you really have to fight for it and it is not easy, even in our field where we talk about artistic projections.

A small vision in the end: What can we expect in terms of media facades for our cities in 20 years?

I wish our cities will be designed much more diverse in 20 years, with a lot of green spaces in the urban space. But there also will be some places where we can witness the latest media environments and can connect with other cities. Therefore there need to be some special places. An intensive experience which each place brings along, but also diversity – that would be desirable. It does not make sense to have per se large facades all over the city. Sometimes it is convenient, sometimes it is not. Not every door has to be interactive. If I have to hurry to get my train, I do not want to talk to a door and answer a question. Each place and each context has its own regularities and these should be fulfilled.

The interview was conducted by Christoph Sodemann, ONLYGLASS GMBH

Susa Pop

Susa Pop is a designer and EU cultural manager. As co-founder and director of Public Art Lab, she curates and produces urban media projects at the intersection of technology, science and arts. Public participation, community development and intercultural exchange are thematic focus points of the successfully realised projects: Mobile Museum (2004), Mobile Studios (2006), Media Facades Festival Berlin (2008) / Europe (2010). In 2011 she organised the BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research)-funded Innovation Forum Urban Screens. In addition she is Managing Director of the European network Connecting Cities.