Excerpt from the domus China 035 interview by Brendan McGetrick. 
For the full interview please go to the /press section.

For the seventh instalment in the series, I spoke with John Dekron and Markus Schneider, the chief technology officer and chief executive officer of thismedia, a Berlin-based company that specializes in applying new media to architecture. Their company has projects in Europe, the US, and Asia, but recently became more deeply engaged in China. We talked about their recent work, the challenges of designing technologically advanced systems for technologically inexperienced users, and imagining media as a building material. 


Brendan McGetrick: The purpose of this interview series is to try to explore the collaborative aspect of architecture. I noticed that in your office description you say that thismedia acts as a bridge between designers, artists, architects, hardware companies, etc. To start let's talk a bit about that aspect of your work. 

Markus Schneider: I think we sit in a very important area where design constantly meets technology. This happens everyday also within architectural projects and this happens everyday without our help, but in these sort of situations the problem may occur of how to make sure that a design concept or an artistic approach can be synchronized with a technological concept or a technological solution. The problems that many projects are facing are derived from differences in language and approaches. 

An architect, who also plays his role as a designer, may have an idea related to media, but when he's talking to a company that is technologically-driven or engineering-driven, how do they make sure that they are talking about the same thing? Besides the different forms of knowledge that are delivered by those disciplines, there is also a simple communication problem. This is where our role as a missing link becomes more and more important. In many cases the involved parties like architects, designers and technology companies are basically helpless in terms of finding an appropriate solution. 

BM: Could you explain your experiences a little more specifically? Perhaps choose a single project and explain how the process of its creation worked - the communication and the wrong directions and adjustments that you mentioned. 

JD: OK, I would choose the BIX project [for the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria], because I think it's a very good example of collaboration. realities:united [a Berlin-based architecture office] were asked to do the media planning for the newly built Kunsthaus in Graz, and on their initiative they added a media skin layer on the outside. The first idea was to simply have special switches for the lamps that you can switch on and off to show an icon for each exhibition taking place in the Kunsthaus. While they were researching this, they found out that there is a company in Switzerland making fluorescent lamps in grayscale that can switch at 18 frames per second. Then they said, now we can play films on the building. They needed someone to design the software for that, and they asked me, because I had a little bit of experience with software, if I could help them to find the right person. 

Together we looked around for people to do that job, and we eventually found out that the people working on software were very gifted, but not very inspired to bring anything more to the project. They were very dry people who just wanted to know what had to be done and had no idea about how their work fit into the entire concept of the Kunsthaus. So there was not such a clear idea of what the software would have to do. After that, we decided that I would have a try at making the software. I had never worked on a project on that scale, but I said, "Well, I can try." So we started collaborating together and we ended up developing a simulation software for the building. We did this because we felt that no one would understand how to use media on that building unless we have a 3D simulation that people can use to preview their material. This proved to be a crucial step, because later it was often the case that people provided DVDs with material to be played on the facade and when we put it into the simulator they realized that it makes no sense. It sounds simple, but you just cannot explain these things by talking about pixel aspect ratio and pixel size, etc. 

MS: Maybe I can add that, looking back, the BIX project was a kind of best case scenario where a lot of solutions that were found there we continue to use in our daily work. Another important aspect of this project for me is that, if you are going to work with architecture in that way, you need to deliver very reliable systems. The system that was installed at the Kunsthaus in 2003 is still running and, as far as I know, it's still running on the same computer. I think that's an important part of determining the overall success of the project. 

But if we go forward a bit to more recent projects, I notice that the tasks that we are being faced with are getting more and more complex, although the structure and approach itself is not changing that much. But each task is getting more and more complex, because the media projects themselves are reaching a much more dynamic and much more sophisticated level. 

BM: One thing about the BIX project that I find interesting is that it is not as visually sophisticated as what is available in terms of facade-based media screens now. I'm curious about the effect using media that is essentially low resolution has on the kind of work that it inspires - from artists or film-makers. 

MS: I think the size of resolution has nothing to do with the level of sophistication. If something is low res or high res, there is no inherent value in that. I think it's more important to think about what you want to achieve. What is your idea? Ideas do not come out of resolution questions. It might be essential that a certain idea or a certain aesthetic image that you want to achieve requires a certain resolution - a higher or lower resolution.

It brings me back to another point that I think comes very close to this, and that is that technology itself does not initially lead to an idea, but technology must be used to realize an idea. What we try to do is first have a look at the situation - the building or the initial concept or the problem that the architect is facing - and then to develop concepts from that idea. Then resolution aspects or technology or budget aspects become important, but I think that resolution itself doesn't say very much about the quality or complexity of a project. 

BM: I totally agree with that, but what I think is interesting is that, because of the nature of technology and the speed of its evolution there is a tendency to want "bigger, better, faster" and in the process of that you lose a certain form of representation that being limited in terms of resolution forces you to explore. And what is interesting to me is that forms of low res imagery that you no longer see in other media, you can still find on building facades. 

JD: I think that your question is very important, because in the media technology that everyone now knows - like television or cinema - the goal is totally clear: you want to see cool movies in perfect quality, and for that it's clear that bigger is better, brighter is better, louder is better. But media facades for architecture are not like screens. It is sometimes like that: if you want to add a screen to show advertisements or something like that, then you should try for as high resolution as possible so that it is readable. But if you want to have visual elements as part of your building, then it's not clear from the first moment that the resolution should be as high as possible. Although you can have pictures on a building's facade, it's not necessarily a screen. It's not supposed to be a screen. 

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