Building Art: Bringing Architecture to Life

Riley —  February 26, 2010 — 4 Comments

Lately I’ve come across a few videos that show really creative, non-permanent displays of art on the sides of different buildings.  Before I show them, let me first say that I think graffiti is awesome, at least for the most part.  There’s a huge distinction in my mind though, between “graffiti” and “tagging.”  Graffiti is street art – people beautifying their surroundings as they see fit – while tagging is just marking territory.  They can overlap, but frequently don’t.

Many people think of graffiti as defacing buildings, but if it’s done right, I think it can have an opposite effect.  Every city has that one building, or that one wall, where, for whatever reason, a graffiti mural has been allowed to remain, and these are usually seen as examples of valuable public art.  Often times though, people graffiti ugly places and things, like trains and warehouses.  To me, this is a completely legitimate action.  If nobody is going to bother making a place aesthetically pleasing for its inhabitants, I think they have the right, maybe even the obligation, to do it themselves.

If we choose to view graffiti this way – as an art to enhance the run down, the dull, and the impersonal – then we’re treating it as a means to fill aesthetic design gaps.  That’s why graffiti has no place on great buildings and monuments, yet seems commendable on the side of train tracks – because those buildings and monuments are already beautiful, while the train tracks are ugly and aesthetically repellent.

But I’ve been digressing a bit, so let me get back to my original point.  These videos present ways of artistically interacting with buildings in a non-permanent way.  What I find so great about this is that it lets us expand building art into the realm of good design as well.  Few people would support graffiti-ing a wall of Notre Dame, but I think most would appreciate briefly incorporating it into a work of art.  The crux of the issue is that street art is good, but it isn’t that good.  No graffiti mural will match the elegance and beauty of Notre Dame, so to paint one upon it would truly be defacing the building.  But with temporary art, the building retains its integrity, but also gives form to an unrealized work of art.  In this way, nothing is lost, but something unique and wonderful has been gained.

The people at the Graffiti Research Lab came up with the idea to make multicolored LEDs with magnets on them.  Using hundreds of these “throwies” and a big group of people, they have “tagged” several buildings with metal siding.  The effect is an ephemeral, Christmas-like, light display that brightens the area in more ways than one.  What makes this project particularly great is the communal activity aspect to it.  It isn’t just an inert display, it’s a group creation that people have fun with.  I think that really comes out in the video, and sets it apart from ordinary graffiti.

As cool as it is though, it doesn’t even compare to what Evan Grant and the people at the Seeper Interactive Arts + Technology Collective did with Gorey Castle.  Using an ultra-bright, high powered projector and architectural projection mapping, they made the 12th century castle come alive for the Branchage Film Festival.

Architectural projection mapping is the incorporation of building form into the displayed media.  We often take for granted that videos have to be projected on flat, blank surfaces, but by tailoring a visual performance to fit a unique surface, you can create mind bending displays that exist in an eerie realm between video and reality.

And of course, I’ve saved the best for last.  URBANSCREEN is an artistic team that focuses exclusively on architectural projection mapping.  They’ve developed a process they call LUMENTEKTUR, that lets them interact with a building on an unprecedented level.  For their project, 555 Kubrik, they explored the idea of “how it would be if a house was dreaming.”  Seeper created an amazing visual display, but these guys bend reality.

Projects like this are incredible to me because they encompass so many mediums.  They’re really short films, but through their incorporation of existing architecture, they become sculptures, but also a form of performance art.  I wonder if this kind of technology could be incorporated into architecture as a tool rather than just an art form.  Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of this in the future.



Riley MacPhee is a recent graduate of Pomona College with a B.A. in Environmental Design and a minor in Philosophy, and has been writing for the JA blog for the last 3 years. He is passionate about architecture and design, and will be applying to M.Arch programs in the fall.

4 responses to Building Art: Bringing Architecture to Life


    Incredible. Thanks for sharing this!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Felice Varini: Landscapes of Perspective and Illusion « Johnston Architects - April 8, 2010

    […] between Varini’s work and the architectural projection mapping featured back in April (Building Art: Bringing Architecture to Life).  While the guys at URBANSCREEN turned essentially 2-Dimensional buildings into moving, […]

  2. The Illusionist: The Mind-Bending Paintings of Artist Felice Varini | gwarlingo - March 19, 2012

    […] and the architectural projection mapping featured on the Johnston Architects blog back in April (Building Art: Bringing Architecture to Life). While the guys at URBANSCREEN turned essentially two-dimensional buildings into moving, […]

  3. Human Projection Mapping | Johnston Architects - April 6, 2012

    […] we’ve ever posted on is the 3D projection mapping done by URBANSCREEN (check out that post here). Essentially they use a high definition projector to overlay a video onto the building’s […]

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