As LEDs first began to make their way into lighting in the early 2000s, their digital programming and color capabilities opened areas of investigation for those looking to use lighting in a new way, particularly when it came to the exteriors of buildings. Designers saw the digital aspect of LEDs as an opportunity to reimagine the building façade as more than just a structural component that separates interior from exterior and instead to use it as a large-scale pixel platform for conveying information and graphics. Building façade now became billboard. One of the first firms to explore “façade as communication medium” was Berlin-based studio Realities:United (RealU).
RealU was founded in 2000 by brothers and architects Tim and Jan Edler. The duo had been exploring digital technology and ways it could be integrated into buildings. Their first media façade in 2003 was a project called BIX, a communicative light display embedded into the plexiglass panels of the Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria, designed by British architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier. BIX served as the foundation for RealU’s next media façade in 2005, a display called “Spots” (shown) for a newly constructed office building at 10 Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. The client asked RealU to design an interactive façade that would serve as a marketing device to entice future tenants. To form the “giant, low-resolution, grayscale matrix,” RealU used fluorescent light tubes as the pixels—1,104 ring-shaped tubes and 760 bars. The brightness of each lamp was controlled via a central computer. Over the course of the project’s 18-month run, a combination of curated images—movies, graphics, and animation sequences—as well as artist-commissioned, site-specific works were on display.