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Light fantastic: the flank of the Graz Kunsthaus has become a giant illuminated screen using simple, readily available technology.

Oozing its way around the Baroque fabric of Graz, Peter Cook and Colin Fournier's new Kunsthaus (p44) is more than just a fashionable biomorph. In a modern manifestation of Cook's and Fournier's adventures in technological optimism with Archigram, the chameleon-like building can also be a light show, cinema screen, advertising hoarding and public notice board. In their competition entry, they boldly proposed an 'intelligent skin' that would pulsate with changing colour, light and images, hinting at activities within. In practice, the cost of LEDs proved prohibitive, so a more modest solution was adopted, which, as it turns out, is equally informed by a spirit of pioneering ingenuity.




The external carapace is made up of a 20mm thick layer of double-curved, blue acrylic panels supported at each corner on stainless-steel spider clamps. These hold the panels clear of a waterproof membrane behind. On the main east facade, 930 circular 40w fluorescent fittings are mounted in the gap between the two layers. Each doughnut-shaped lamp (from a standard range by Zumtobel) effectively acts as a pixel, individually activated by a central computer. As well as being switched on and off, lamp intensity can also be varied, from 0-100 per cent. Supplied and monitored by a digital control system, simple animations, graphics, messages and text can be displayed (at a speed of 20 frames a second), transforming the bulging flank of the building into a giant low resolution screen. The ad hoc-tech use of standard fittings and relatively simple technology makes the enterprise admirably economical, though replacing exhausted light bulbs might prove a bit tricky.


Known as BIX (big pixel), the system was developed by realities: united, a Berlin-based architectural lighting firm directed by two former Bartlett students, Jan and Tim Edler. The large pixel size does mean that it helps to be some distance from the building to register the images, though the slightly coarse grained effect (like watching an old black and white movie) is quite compelling, compared with the often vapid slickness of LEDs. Various artists will be unleashed at intervals to create different installations exploring the relationship between image and architecture, permanence and ephemerality and so on, though perhaps none will match the Edler brothers' own effort in a demonstration press video featuring Graz's favourite son, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on one of his familiar cinematic rampages.

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Title Annotation:Design Review
Author:Kunsthaus, Graz
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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