The Empire State Building and Media Façades

Dave Colangelo: The Empire State Building and the Roles of Low-Resolution Media Façades in a Data Society


The very visible, low-resolution displays on the CN Tower (on the photo) and the Empire State Building shape the texture, tempo and legibility of urban experience.

Part of Paper Session 2: DIY and Participation

Abstract: MMedia façades are playing an increasingly important role in media circulation and the experience of the city. The highly visible and data-reactive low-resolution displays of the CN Tower and the Empire State Building, for example, shape the texture, tempo, and legibility of the urban experience, an experience that is produced (and consumed) in a unique combination of on and offline activity. I evaluate the role that these buildings play as public data visualizations by examining the degree to which they are situated, informative, and functional, and by the way they balance and extend a combination of environment, content, and carrier that include on an offline spaces.

Through historical research, and social media analysis, this paper focuses on the specific case of the Empire State Building and reports on the relationships between information, public space, and architecture that are sustained and supported by low-resolution, expressive architectural façades. Emerging from histories of weather beacons and illuminated architecture, I argue that these expressive surfaces increase the ambivalence and contingency of the experience of the city, enabling the formation of temporary publics through public data visualizations that combine elements of democratized urbanism, debate, emotion, control, and commerce. Furthermore, buildings with programmable low-resolution media façades are palpable substantiations of supermodernism, that is, of the irruption and imbrication of the “infoscape” and the cityscape, of information aesthetics in architecture. The paper also includes an evaluation and discussion of the potential for art and activism for low-resolution digital architectural displays through two research- creation projects: In The Air, Tonight (2014), a project created for the LED façade of the Ryerson Image Arts Centre in Toronto, and E-TOWER (2010), a project created for Toronto’s CN Tower.

Contribution to the Media Architecture community: Case study of Empire State Building and investigation of low-resolution media façades as tools for commerce, critique, and civic development through social media and public data visualization.

Read more about David Colangelo on his website

Paper Session 2: DIY and Participation
This session takes place in the afternoon of November 21. It features four talks:

Nemanja Memarovic, Marc Langheinrich and Ava Fatah gen. Schieck: Community Is the Message: Viewing Networked Public Displays Through McLuhan’s Lens of Figure and Ground

Dave Colangelo: The Empire State Building and the Roles of Low-Resolution Media Façades in a Data Society

Glenda Amayo Caldwell and Marcus Foth: DIY Media Architecture: Open and Participatory Approaches to Community Engagement

Henrik Korsgaard and Martin Brynskov: City Bug Report: Urban Prototyping as Participatory Process and Practice