Media Architecture Awards Introduces New Category, More Than Human

Even if you don’t know what media architecture exactly is, you have probably seen it many times. You may even have interacted with it, which is often the purpose of media architecture. That interaction can range from commonplace activities such as checking the departure sign at a train station, to being immersed in art installations that mix digital technology with layered information. With this omnipresence it is now time to develop a critical outlook on this emerging discipline that is influencing our daily lives, says Martijn de Waal, co-curator of the upcoming Media Architecture Biennale (MAB20) that will take place as an online event from June 28th – July 2nd, 2021.

With the theme Futures Implied the MAB20 wants to open up the talk on how media architects can contribute to raised functioning societies. De Waal: “How can media architecture trigger social sustainability and citizen’s digital rights, collective action and new dynamics publicly spaces? How can it help to balance between consumption and sustainability and thus stimulating more circular economies?”

A recent media architecture project that clearly represents the theme Futures Implied is Walk Walk Dance by Daily Tous Les Jours, a Montreal-based art and style studio that made original artworks in additional than thirty cities round the world. De Waal: “It may be a reaction on the Covid-related restrictions publicly space, turning everyday routines during a more playful experience. It aims to enchant the post-covid city by connecting people during a smart, safe and playful way.” Walk Walk Dance may be a series of interactive music-making lines on the road , changing the way we walk (or wait during a line) into a playful experience. Different colors represent sets of instruments and invite people to bop with the music they triggered.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

MAB20 won’t only be a celebration of possible positive examples but also wants to supply a critical view on how digital media can have a negative effect on the livability of cities in terms of control or commodification of public space. As an example, De Waal mentions an idea by the Google-backed company Sidewalk Labs to form Toronto one among the world’s first real smart cities. But as skeptics warned for thousands of cameras monitoring streets, storefronts and parks, and harvesting data on the littlest movements of people , the Canadian municipality backed out. “Media architecture should prevent this type of surveillance capitalism, not enable it. Let’s not forget”, stresses De Waal, “technology isn’t objective or without value.”
But also, creative professionals should be alert on the impact of technology on their discipline. “Architects are complaining that they loose ground to land developers, who increasingly decide what is going to be build. But if architects don’t concentrate , they’re going to lose even more influence to the tech companies.”

“More Than Human”
Special attention are going to be also given to media architecture being “more than human”, says co-organizer Michiel de Lange. “As our planet is rapidly urbanizing, nature has become encapsulated in urban life, to the instrumental logic of recent technology. Sustainable cities need media architectures to embrace the well-being of the natural ecosystem as an entire .” As for now, some media architecture is contributing to a human-centered view on the town . The light-output or noise-effect of some media installations or architecture are often an unsightly disturbance of animal life. “We want to explore how media architecture are often nature-inclusive and enable us to measure along side all other life forms.”

More Than Human is therefore a replacement category for the Media Architecture Biennale Awards (MAB Awards), which can be presented on July 2nd as a part of the MAB20. An example of media architecture that stimulates all urban life forms is that the Smog Free Project of Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, says chair of the MAB Awards-jury Gernot Tscherteu, who is additionally interaction designer and researcher at Realitylab.at. “The main design is that the Smog Free Tower, basically a 7-meter-tall smog vacuum that uses positive ionization technology to filter CO2 from the air. This improves all life forms, from vegetation to animals, human and even aquatic life.” The Smog Free Project was nominated at MAB18 for a gift within the category Future Trends & Prototypes.

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageSmoke Free Tower

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageSmoke Free Tower

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageSmoke Free Towe

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageSmoke Free Towe

Smog Free Project is a series of urban innovations led by Daan Roosegaarde to reduce pollution and provide an inspirational experience of a clean future. Apart from the Smog Free Tower, it consists of a Smog Free Ring, made of compressed smog particles. Purchase of the ring consists of a donation of 1000 m3 of clean air to the city. Also, part of the project is a Smog Free Bicycle that functions as a compact and mobile smog tower.

Smoke Free Ring. Image© Studio Roosegaarde

Smoke Free Ring. Image© Studio Roosegaarde

Call For Entries Of MAB Awards Is Still Open
Submission for the Media Architecture Biennale Awards is open to April 12th, 2021. Projects can be submitted in one or two of the following six categories: Animated Architecture, Branded Architecture, Participatory Architecture, Spatial Media Art, Future Trends and More Than Human. Since the launch of the MAB Awards in 2012, the number of submissions has more than doubled to over a hundred in 2018.

The first of the three criteria for judging the submissions are “innovative in a technical, social or artistic way”, says Ava Fatah gen. Schieck, a jury member, a trained architect, and Associate Professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. As an example, she mentions Spaxels, a spectacular quadcopter swarm performance at Ars Electronica in 2016. “It has the wow-factor, but it is also showing new possibilities of moving architecture and choreographed media.”

Spaxels is a formation of quadcopters equipped with a programmable LED system developed by Ars Electronica Futurelab and performed at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria. They comprise a swarm that’s able to fly in formation and ‘draw’ dynamic three-dimensional figures in the night sky. Aesthetic forms of expression that were previously possible only on a computer are translated via spaxels into the real world of three-dimensional airspace. It was the winner in the category Future Projects at MAB16.

Courtesy of MAB20. ImageSpaxels

Courtesy of MAB20. ImageSpaxels

Courtesy of MAB20. ImageSpaxels

Courtesy of MAB20. ImageSpaxels

“A new way media and architecture are integrated” is also a criterion. Fatah gen. Schieck mentions Lotus Dome, another Daan Roosegaarde project (2012, Netherlands). “This dome is made of advanced interactive material. It combines shape and light into a crossover of disciplines and thus offers completely new possibilities for both media and architecture.”

Lotus Dome is a ‘living’ dome made out of hundreds of ultra-light responsive aluminum flowers. When approached, the big silver dome lights up and opens its flowers. Its behavior moves from soft breathing to a more dynamic mood when more people interact with it. The lights slowly follow people, creating an interactive play of light and shadow. It was nominated in the category Spatial Media Art.

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageLotus Dome

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageLotus Dome

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageLotus Dome

© Studio Roosegaarde. ImageLotus Dome

Finally, “contributing to the improvement of society” is a leading criterion at the MAB Awards. This quality is distinctively seen in Blinkenlights, an early project of 2001 in Berlin. “By email or phone text people could send personal messages of love or comfort that were pictured on the building, which stimulated social cohesion and interaction. At that time, it was groundbreaking. It’s a classic!”

Blinkenlights consists of 8 floors with 18 windows each, staged by the Chaos Computer Club in Berlin. Behind each window there is a single lamp on a self-made tripod. Each lamp can be switched on or off independently by a control computer. In order to achieve the appropriate self-illuminated effect all windows were painted white. This way letters and symbols like a heart could be lighted up on the building. It was a winner in the category Participatory Architecture.

Courtesy of MAB20. ImageBlinkenlights

Courtesy of MAB20. ImageBlinkenlights

These three examples also show the constant evolution of media architecture, says jury-chair Tscherteu. “It started with a rudimentary use of buildings as a screen, Blinkenlights, to the integration of new technology to completely new forms of both media and architecture, as with Spaxels. Since 2012 the focus of the Media Architecture Biennale Awards has shifted from the visual and spectacular to the innovative and positive impact of media architecture on society in general and urban life in particular. This makes the expansion of the MAB Awards with the new category More Than Human a logic next step.”

Also Wanted: Prototypes and Work in Progress
Also, open for application (until May 8th, 2021) is Demos & Posters, an online exhibition offering artists, architects, designers, researchers and other professionals an opportunity to present early-stage prototypes, more mature work-in-progress or learnings from finished projects. The participants in Demos & Posters can explain and discuss their work during online sessions. Furthermore, Demos & Posters will be documented in the Media Architecture Online archive, a publicly accessible website.

Download the information related to this competition here.

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