BIX junio 11, 2008Posted by christian saucedo in Media facade.
Tags: Media facade, Media facade - Auto active
Autor. Peter Cook & Colin Fournier
Autor instalación. Realities-United
Edificio. Museo Kunsthaus
La ciudad de Graz en [Austria] fue capital cultural europea 2003, y como parte de estas celebraciones se crearon varios edificios, entre otros el nuevo “Kunsthaus”, un museo para exposiciones internacionales de arte moderno y contemporáneo, que fue inaugurado en septiembre de 2003. El diseño del edificio es del arquitecto británico Peter Cook, su socio Colin Fournier y del equipo de spacelab.uk. La estructura del mismo es de forma irregular, biomórfica, flota como un cuerpo independiente, a modo de globo, sobre una entrada acristalada. La fachada pulida de un azul brillante es la característica excepcional de este “alienígena amigo“.
Bajo la fachada acrílica que da al río Mur y al centro de la ciudad, se desplegó una matriz de 930 anillos de lámparas fluorescentes cubriendo un área aproximada de 20 m de altura por 40 m de largo (cerca de 900 m2). Cada anillo de luz actúa como un píxel gigante, y su luminosidad se puede controlar por ordenador y variar infinitamente a razón de 18 valores por segundo.
De esta manera se pueden generar patrones de luz de baja resolución sobre toda la fachada, visibles a una distancia considerable desde toda la ciudad. La “resolución” de la matriz es extremadamente baja. Sólo hay 930 píxeles – tan sólo un 0,2 % de los píxeles que encontramos en una típica pantalla de TV. Además, solamente son en blanco y negro. Por una parte, esta baja resolución de imagen impone grandes limitaciones.
Por otro lado, permite que tanto la estructura modular como el gran tamaño de la instalación estén muy integrados en la arquitectura. No es un video montado por separado sino la propia Kunsthaus la que irradia personajes e imágenes; la proyección y el edificio consiguen un nivel extremadamente alto de integración como una única entidad. Las 930 luces de la instalación BIX parecen estar “tatuadas” sobre la piel del edificio como puntos separados de pigmento. Desde su inauguración BIX es todavía una de las pocas instalaciones permanentes de pantalla urbana a gran escala del mundo, dirigida por una entidad no comercial y exclusivamente diseñada y dedicada a mostrar producciones artísticas.
Debido al comparable bajo precio para construir la instalación BIX, pueden rechazar cualquier tipo de presión para refinanciar la inversión técnica vendiendo tiempo de emisión comercial, por ejemplo, forzando al Kunsthaus a emitir anuncios en su fachada.
The city of Graz in Austria was the European Cultural Capital 2003. As part of these celebrations the city commissioned several new buildings, among others the new “Kunsthaus”– a museum for international exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, which was inaugurated in September 2003.
The irregularly shaped, biomorphic building structure floats as an independent body, balloon like, above a glass foyer. The sleek, blue shimmering façade is the outstanding characteristic of the so called “Friendly Alien”. It is constructed out of over 1100 individually shaped opaque acrylic glass panels wrapping the whole volume of the building like a skin.
A s a part of the commission for the conception of a comprehensive integration of media technology into Kunsthaus architecture the BIX concept was initiated and developed by the Berlin based architects realities:united in summer 2001 – a time when overall planning for the Kunsthaus had already reached a very advanced stage. In addition to the late date and technical complexity of the project, it was also a challenge to integrate an architectural concept of foreign authorship into such an expressive building design.
Beneath the acrylic surface facing the river and city centre realities:united deployed a matrix of 930 light rings covering an area approximately 20m high and 40 m broad. Through the possibility to individually adjust the lamps’ brightness at an infinite variability with 18 frames/second each lamp acts as a pixel. In this way low resolution light signs (images, films and animations) can be generated over the whole eastern façade being visible at a considerable distance all over the surrounding city.
Each of the matrix’s individual pixels is a conventional fluorescent lamp with 40W and a diameter of 40 cm. The decision to use this industrial module exemplifies the asymmetrical design character of the BIX concept. For the development central design features of conventional large screen displays had been abandoned in order to obtain a number of substantial advantages in exchange.
As a result the “resolution” of the matrix is extremely low. There are only 930 pixels – these are mere 0.2% of the pixels in a conventional TV screen. And they are “black and white” only.
On one hand, this low image resolution imposes strong limitations. In exchange, however, this “deal” enables both the modular structure and the huge size of the installation to be highly integrated into the architecture. The BIX installation is practically covering the entire facade facing the riverside. Using conventional big screen display technology  the surface area which could have been covered with the same budget would have been nearly a hundred times smaller.
Sharing the same scale the architecture and the media installation together generate new aesthetic results. Not a separately mounted video wall but the Kunsthaus itself radiates characters and images; the link between the aspect of projection and the building as entity achieves an extremely high level of integration. The total area is broken down into 930 independent light sources, like individual spots of pigment “tattooed” onto the skin.
Hidden behind the acrylic glass facade only the active light rings are visible, while the rest of them remain invisible behind the skin so that the installation’s edges are not always visible.
The light matrix does not constitute a rectangular field with straight sides, but rather an amorphous zone tailored to the complex shape of the building and gradually fading away towards the edges. Thus one has the impression that the blue bubble itself renders the light patterns from within. In the absence of a recognizable boundary, it looks as though the light patterns could dance freely on the outside skin of the building. The complete fusion between architecture and media technology defines a new standard.
In the explanatory text accompanying the winning competition entry in 2000 the architects Cook and Fournier had envisioned the skin like that:
„…Much of it is opaque, but from time to time there are revealing slivers of transparency or hints of the presence of action within. Strange things appear and disappear within the skin: signs, announcements, short sequences of film or images : glimpsed for moments, only to fade away. For this sleek cocoon is a membrane that hints of new and creative activities within…“ 
BIX adopted these architectural pretences at a time when it became clear that this original concept of a mostly transparent skin needed to be changed for technical reasons. The installation conserves these design aspects even if in a mediated way.
In this way BIX was not only fulfilling part of the former architectural vision but the installation became an important argument in order to politically legitimate the expensive acrylic facade panels to be mounted in front of the non transparent, hermetical sealed-off inner bubble construction .
BIX as a communication laboratory
The BIX media installation and the Kunsthaus’ architecture share a strong symbiotic relationship. The facade as a display extends the communication range of the Kunsthaus, complementing its programmatically formulated communicative purpose. In an abstract and mediated form the media facade transmits the internal processes of the Kunsthaus out into the public forming a symbiosis of art, architecture and media. BIX therefore becomes an important identity- and image-building factor of the Kunsthaus Graz.
Peter Pakesch, the director of the Kunsthaus Graz sees in BIX a new level of art mediation:
“…It is also the quality of the outer skin and of the BIX fassade and I think that the architects and especially realities:united, the creators of BIX, have succeeded in presenting a different kind of transparency – it is not the superficial kind of transparency of a glass house which is useless for an art museum anyway, but more a transparency of information, the translucency of content, for which a lot is still to be developed and for which the architecture is a challenge…“ 
If a cultural institution like the Kunsthaus was a tool for artistic articulation, the BIX installation multiplies it’s power turning the Kunsthaus into a “powertool”. Power in the physical sense but above all power to define and broadcast meaning. As the content producer the Kunsthaus has the chance as well as the responsibility to develop methods for a dynamic communication between building and surroundings, between content and outside perception. Hence a unique form of communication, consisting of vocabulary, syntax and rhythm needs to be created.
However at the same time the communicating skin is also a unique experimental working platform for art projects investigating forms of interaction between media and space. With BIX artists can research alternative cultural and artistic principles, whose implementations on commercially used propaganda surfaces are widely excluded.
The enormous size and the rough resolution of the installation in comparison to conventional display systems aim at core aspects of artistic research: reduction and intensity are well established strategies of contemporary art to advance towards the inner essentials.
In this way BIX not only extends the Kunsthaus’ communication range – both spatially as well as temporally – but the installation replenishes the overall program of the Kunsthaus.
The choice to use “low tech” fluorescent light tube as the basic module of the display addresses the issue of sustainability. In comparison to architecture new technology of large screens ages at a tremendous fast rate.
However by using conventional fluorescent lights as pixels – known since the Sixties as kitchen lamps and almost a design classic – the question of up-to-dateness does not arise: Now as you approach the building the complex image deconstructs in an abstract pattern and finally into individual lamps which you happen to be quite familiar with. The light rings are not new, they have aged already so they can meet the architectural demand of constancy.
This central attribute of the installation saves the operator constant upgrades and guarantees a balance between architecture and technology at comparatively low costs.
The specialized software tools, which also belong to the BIX project are of outstanding significance for the efficiency and precision of the creative productions to be shown on the facade. There are two major software modules:
The “BIX Director” application allows the user to compose and schedule a program to be shown on the facade. The application’s interface is similar to those of popular video editing environments. Four different video tracks are available for arranging and mixing multiple “events”  on a 24hour time line.
In this way the Kunsthaus can set up complex “shows” for single days as well as for several weeks.
Besides this administrative function this application is suitable for artists who work on contributions mixing multiple source files.
For artistic productions the second software module is even more crucial. The “BIX Simulator” enables artists to examine the results of their productions on a real-time 3D computer simulation of the Kunsthaus in the historic centre of Graz. Navigating through the city like using a 3D shooter game, artists can ensure that their personal productions adapt to the large scale, the complex geometry and the coarse resolution of the facade display.
In order to provide tools, which are customized to the special needs of artists, the software was developed in cooperation with programmers from the art scene. This approach prevents complex translation processes during the production, which would have been necessary when commissioning “regular” software companies. The results are highly flexible and assure future upgrades and adaptations.
 The competition entry was designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier with Niels Jonkhans, Mathis Osterhage, Marcos Cruz and team: Nicola Haines, Karim Hamza, Anja Leonhäuser, Jamie Norden
 In 2001 realities:united was commissioned by the building’s client, the Kunsthaus Graz AG, to develop a “conception for the thorough integration of media technology into the Kunsthaus’ architecture”. As a result realities:united developed a broad catalogue of ideas aiming at the creation of a over all “technical character” suiting functional as well as aesthetic needs of an institution like the Kunsthaus. Bix was one “small” part of this conception belonging to the chapter “electronic aura”.
 Like LED or CRT technology etc.
 Andreas and Ilka Ruby, “Architecture as a generalist reprogramming of reality” in: ArchPlus #167 (2003), Aachen/Berlin
 spacelab.uk, 2000, competition entry for the Kunsthaus Graz, London
 Still in 2002 the material for the outer transparent and double curved skin was not found yet and different materials were being tested. At this time a political discussion arose, arguing that the outer skin could be constructed out of a much cheaper non transparent material.
 Clipping from an interview with Peter Pakesch in: coop99 film production, “Kunsthaus Graz, A Friendly Alien” (2003), Vienna; published by Kunsthaus Graz at Landesmuseum Joanneum GmbH, Graz
 Events are “containers” that can contain references to local and remote movie files, to streaming media files as well as to a specific IP address which thereby is authorized to “play” the BIX system for a certain time slot from the outside.