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Social Buildings

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A glance around just about any commercial or residential space today will quickly make apparent the fact that audiovisual is everywhere. But we have a long way to go before it will be comfortably usable. First a number of factors must be considered in the production and implementation of these technologies, including physical design, interaction design, cognitive psychology, familiarity, social usage, adequate technology, and cultural fit, to name a few.

Evidently, we have a long way to go. As William Gibson perceptively observed, "The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet."
In this column I will be on the lookout for signs of improvements in the usability of what will inevitably be "ubiquitous AV". I will look within our industry and outward to artists and architects for ideas. I hope that my hunting for these signs of the future-or what I call "AV leading indicators"-will be helpful as you design the future of AV.

Our first AV leading indicator is a bold one: video displays on building exteriors. While Times Square certainly proves that these are nothing new, recently there have been several display projects where the buildings themselves are evolving through the intelligent use of digital signage. These new video building "skins" are moving with images that do more than just advertise.

An example of this is the amazing new Zenith concert hall in Strasbourg, France, by architect Massimiliano Fuksas. The 12,000-seat concert hall is skinned with a semi-transparent textile membrane similar to the Denver Airport main terminal. The unique aspect of this building, as reported by the architectural blog Eikongraphia, is that at night it glows like a lantern and "will eventually display projected images, video, or text of what's going on inside."

Directly displaying the inner workings of a building may help observers to understand the purpose and usage of the venue, but can displays also help buildings to communicate in more complex ways? In his book Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles, Donald Norman states that as machines become more autonomous, they will need to become more social. How does a building become more social?

In a recent art project in the U.K., designers from Haque Design + Research projected abstract images onto the exterior of York Cathedral that responded to the sounds from the viewing public. It is not hard to imagine a similar piece that might reflect the sounds coming from within a church-a visual and emotional demonstration of the sonic, spiritual contents of the building.
One of the most sophisticated approaches to developing a socially interactive building is the design by architects and artists Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio for the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. There a single, moving 16-foot-tall by 30-foot-wide moving LED screen display on the exterior of the building projects live and recorded video of visitors inside.
Based on these examples, imagine the kind of information buildings might relay in the future.

One provocative proposal for the future of the Los Angeles skyline is a Blade Runner-inspired 14-story LED video screen on the 30-story Concerto development. If it is approved, it will be a very visible part of the downtown Los Angeles skyline, and although there is little doubt that much of what we will see on these displays will be advertisements, imagine other ways we might be able to develop them into more socially useful machines. Imagine if these displays revealed implicit details about a building's tenants. They could also have helpful personalities providing external information, like atmospheric C02 levels or impending weather conditions. If information becomes more ambient and ubiquitous in this way, it may allow us to feel less anxious when we sit down at the relentless spigot of information on our desktops.

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