Interview with Valentin Spiess, Founder and Chairman of IART - a studio for media architectures. The main difference between a traditional facade and...
27 December 2023
How do media facades differ from traditional architectural facades, and what role do they play in urban environments?
The main difference between a traditional facade and a media facade is that a media facade is a dynamic layer that can be used for communication. In the case of public buildings such as museums or concert halls, the task of a media facade can be to bring the communication or presentation of the institution into the public space and thus enable very low-threshold access to its themes. At the same time, media facades can enrich or enhance the public space in the sense of placemaking.
In what ways can media facades integrate sustainable design principles, and what features contribute to their eco-friendly potential?
The possibilities are enormous. One area where we see a lot of potential for the future is the combination of green facades with photovoltaics and light. Or how media facades can contribute to shading, microclimate or acoustics. By integrating plants into the facade, even a CO2-negative facade is conceivable. These are all topics that we are currently working on.
Your work for the pavilion design by Michele De Lucchi & AMDL CIRCLE located on the Novartis Campus in Basel is already an example of media facades that actively contribute to energy efficiency and sustainability. How did you achieve this?
With this project we wanted to show that a media facade not only consumes electricity, but can also generate it. By combining communication capability and energy generation, we are creating new possibilities – both in terms of design and sustainability. The facade features a total of 10,000 solar modules with embedded LEDs and consumes only as much power as it can produce. We use organic solar modules, because they can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes, are flexible and extremely light sensitive, making them ideal for use on a curved structure. In addition, organic photovoltaics have the great advantage that, compared to conventional solar cells, they require less grey energy in production and need little light to start generating electricity. They can be used in areas where light conditions are not ideal, such as a facade.
What are the challenges or limitations in implementing sustainable features in media facades, and how can these be overcome?
Costs and maintenance can be a challenge. Because these kinds of facades are new, they harbour certain risks. For projects such as the Novartis Pavillon, we always work with real-time 3D simulations to visualise the effect and embedding of the installation in the urban space. We also build so-called mock-ups – true-to-scale models – and prototypes of individual elements, which we use to test our solution in terms of design and technology.
Are there specific technologies or materials used in constructing media facades that align with sustainable practices?
We see great potential in technologies such as organic photovoltaics or transparent perovskite thin film, which enable integration into glass. Another approach is the combination of photovoltaics and kinetic elements to enable new possibilities for shading and simultaneously increasing the yield of photovoltaics.
How can the content displayed on media facades influence public awareness and behaviour towards sustainability and environmental issues?
The Novartis Pavillon media facade is a good example. Its content was created by three artists, who collaborated with scientists to develop science-inspired artworks. Daniel Canogar, an artist from Madrid, created generative animations that react to climate data in real time. Called “Oculus”, his work is informed by data from various websites that monitor different climate phenomena: rising ocean temperatures, the size of the ozone hole, or meteorological disturbances. So instead of showing graphs or numbers, he translates climate change data into art that can be publicly experienced. He raises awareness through his artwork.