Digital Surfaces Pose Opportunities and Challenges

Through advancements in technology, digital facades are becoming significantly easier to implement on a wide variety of architectural projects. Programmable surfaces maybe a big part of the future of buildings.
December 19, 2009, 5am PST | Nate Berg
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But planners will be challenged to keep up with the fast pace of development and the facades impact on urban settings.

"Digital facades, sometimes referred to as media facades, are nothing new, of course. Recent examples, such as UNStudio's Galleria Department Store (2004) in Seoul, trace their lineage through the earliest neon signs and architects' responses to 20th century media and computerization. But cheaper display technology, and the money to be made from digital outdoor advertising, suggest that more buildings will incorporate digital signage. Noncommercial uses of lighting, digital screens, and other programmable, reconfigurable elements are also on the rise.

Digital facade is a broad term, but these dynamic claddings typically feature LED lights or projection systems and might display images. Some newer, energy-efficient 'smart skins' control light and shading in response to the weather and can also display images. For example, RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia recently broke ground on its Design Hub, the exterior of which is lined with thousands of sandblasted glass tubes containing solar collectors. The tubes double as pixels when lighted. 'The direction is toward essentially all architectural surfaces being potentially programmable,' says William Mitchell, director of MIT's design lab."

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Published on Thursday, December 17, 2009 in Architectural Record
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