Shared Experiences: Digital Media Technology Meets Architecture

Mahir M. Yavuz, Researcher on Visualization Interface Cultures, Art University of Linz, Austria; Claudia Bernett, Director of User Experience, Method; Phillip Tiongson, Potion; Andrew Bell, Visual Architect, Barbarian Group; Dean Di Simone, Founder, Tender Creative; and Michael Szivos, Director, Softlab (moderator, at podium)

Murrye Bernard

Event: RE:Think | Smart Environments
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.16.12
Speakers: Mahir M. Yavuz – Researcher on Visualization Interface Cultures, Art University of Linz, Austria; Claudia Bernett – Director of User Experience, Method; Phillip Tiongson – Potion; Andrew Bell – Visual Architect, Barbarian Group; Dean Di Simone – Founder, Tender Creative; Michael Szivos – Director, Softlab (Moderator)
Organized by: AIANY New Practices Committee
Underwriters: Axor/Hansgrohe; NRI.
Sponsors: Forest City Ratner Companies; Perkins Eastman; STV Group, Inc.
Supporters: Cameron Engineering; DeLaCour & Ferrara Architects; Ennead Architects; FXFOWLE; Ingram, Yuzek, Gainen, Carroll & Bertolotti; Jack Resnick & Sons, Inc.; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, PC; Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, PC; Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects; Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.; Viridian Energy & Environmental/Israel Berger and Associates.
Media Sponsor: The Architect’s Newspaper

We spend our days migrating from screen to screen—smart phone to computer to TV—noted Claudia Bernett, Director of User Experience at Method. Technology can be isolating; even “social media” isn’t always so social (ever look around a bar and realize everyone’s updating Facebook rather than talking to their real-life friends?). However, technologies including interactive screens and media façades are becoming increasingly popular features of buildings, and architects must recognize their shifting roles in coordinating these integrations. A panel of digital consultants gathered for RE:Think | Smart Environments to discuss how designers can best collaborate to create spaces that encourage social interactions and shared experiences.

“When people think about technology, they want to create spectacle—but the result is an audience of spectators,” Phillip Tiongson of Potion observed. His firm attempts to move beyond the spectacle by allowing users to take more ownership in spaces. Potion has designed wine bars that feature interactive menus, allowing customers to become their own sommelier. Similarly, Andrew Bell, a visual architect at Barbarian Group, said “technology serves as a layer to draw people into an experience.” For example, the new SoHo store for Cellure, a skin-care line, subtly integrates touch screens that appear as silvered mirrors, allowing customers to answer questions about their complexions.

Although digital media technologies have some interesting architectural applications, there are still a few drawbacks. Mahir M. Yavuz, a researcher on Visualization Interface Cultures, Art University of Linz, Austria, points out that media façades on buildings are often low-resolution and have poor visibility in daylight and can cause light pollution at night, not to mention they compete with our already short attention spans. Dean di Simone, founder of Tender Creative and developer of the Work+ app that allows freelancers to search for perfect spaces in which to work, wonders what crowd-sourcing—a means of pushing the creative process out to the masses—could mean for architecture. Sites like are already testing the concept, but haven’t been met with entirely positive responses from architects.

If a client shows interest in incorporating digital media in a project, the panelists advise architects to begin the coordination process with consultants like them early in the process. Rather than simply applying a screen to a wall, designers should strive to shape spaces that are interactive and truly social—creating an enhanced reality rather than a virtual one.

Murrye Bernard is a freelance architecture writer and a contributing editor to Contract Magazine and e-Oculus.