One universal element that one can count on seeing at a world exposition is an electronic display. Video monitors are used to convey important information, but they are no doubt also deemed by expo planners to communicate a sense of high technology and forward-thinking. At this year's exposition in Yeosu, South Korea, an additional capability of the latest technology enhances the electronic display's appeal: interactivity.
Although the iPad and other touch-screen devices were commercially available when Shanghai held a world exposition in 2010, at Yeosu, this technology now seems to be part of every large flat screen display within visitors' reach. What is more, tenacious pavilion guides encourage visitors to interact with these screens "to find out more" about various facts related to their exhibitions's content. These screens are now so common that they often replace static signage or other surface materials, as if deemed to constitute a kind of "universal surface" that can project any information, color, or pattern, and in a way that encourages interaction.
While I am certainly an advocate of pursuing new technologies, I find this approach disappointing. The electronic display cannot replace architecture—especially a conventional, consumer-grade device that is simply hung on a wall. If one insists on the flexibility and interactivity afforded by electronic screens, it is much more meaningful when exhibition designers find innovative ways to integrate the projection of digital content with physical space. One compelling example exists in the Hyundai pavilion at the Yeosu expo. When a visitor enters the black box theater located on an upper level of the pavilion, he or she is surrounded by seemingly innocuous white walls. When the scheduled presentation begins, however, the walls come to life. Three walls of the four-sided room are composed of white, brick-sized modules whose individual depth can be independently controlled. The result is a huge pixelated space in which individual bits of physical matter shift quickly in and out of wall surfaces according to preconfigured animations. Not only do these walls literally tremble, but digital content is also selectively projected onto these surfaces in coordination with their movements.
The Hyundai dancing bricks are for now relegated to a regularly timed show within an enclosed space. But this innovative bridging of electronic and physical realms suggests many future architectural opportunities. What about dynamic brick walls that reconfigure themselves to convey important information, supply temporary seating or storage, or provide targeted shading based on tracking sun angles? As this profound example demonstrates, we can certainly do better than simply hanging a screen on a wall and calling it architecture.
Read Part Three of this series.
The Hyundai animated pixel wall. Video by the author.