On a fairly non-descript street in Washington D.C.'s downtown business district sits a not so undescript public artwork. Commissioned by the building developer as part of an overall refurbishment for the 1970's office building he purchased, Low-Rez/Hi-Fi, as the piece is called, adds vibrancy to the streetscape and turns a rather mundane building into something distinctive. The project consists of LED pixel nets encased in glass vitrines—one on the sidewalk and two in the building's lobby interior, and a grove of stainless steel poles, which emit sound. The collaborative work of architects Meejin Yoon and Eric Howeler, and engineer Will Pickering, Low-Rez/Hi-Fi takes the design-build idea to a new entrepreneurial level. Fabricated and hand-assembled by the team themselves, the construction of the individual pieces is a feat unto themselves and every bit as interesting as the finished installation.

The project explores imagery, levels of transparency, and interaction. Because the LEDs are addressable, specific patterns can be programmed, in this instance the building's address digits—1110. Added to this is a background image of scrolling ones and zeros. As Eric Howeler explains, “When a viewer approaches the vitrine, a surveillance camera captures his or her image, adjusts the contrast and send the signal to the LED net. The ‘live feed' will broadcast the image on the net, forming a ‘digital shadow' in real time.”

The second component of the project is the “Sound Grove,” a field of 20 interactive poles that emit sound in “response to touch” and is a further evolution to the ideas originally explored in the firm's piece White Noise, White Light commissioned for the 2004 Athens Olympics (See “Highlights: White Noise, White Light,” Sept/Oct 2004). Accenting the poles are blue LED illuminated rings, which connect the piece visually to the LED vitrines of the same coloration.

Straddling the boundaries of public and private, inside and outside, individual and collective, Low-Rez/Hi-Fi, challenges our notion of the traditional streetscape inviting people to, as Howeler + Yoon describe—play. The result is a far more engaging urban realm in which we are confronted with sight and sound and forced to think about our interaction with the built environment—to be an active participant rather then just merely an observer.


PROJECTLow-Rez/Hi-Fi, Washington D.C.

ARCHITECT MY Studio / Howeler + Yoon Architecture, Boston

ENGINEERING AND FABRICATOR Will Pickering/Parallel Development, Brooklyn, New York

IMAGES Courtesy of Howeler + Yoon Architecture