[spectre] first monday special issue on urban screens

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Wed Feb 8 12:02:15 CET 2006


Urban Screens: Discovering the potential of outdoor screens for urban 

By Pieter Boeder and Mirjam Struppek

Introduction to First Monday, Special Issue #4: Urban Screens: 
Discovering the potential of outdoor screens for urban society 
(February 2006)

Welcome, gentle reader, to this First Monday Urban Screens special 
issue, the first publication of its kind. With the advent of digital 
media, the global communication environment has changed dramatically. 
In the context of the rapidly evolving commercial information sphere of 
our cities, especially since the 1990s, a number of novel digital 
display technologies have been introduced into the urban landscape. 
This transformation has intersected with other major transformations of 
media technology and culture over the last two decades: the formation 
of distributed global networks and the emergence of mobile media 
platforms such as mobile phones. Their cumulative and synergistic 
impact has been profound. Convergence of screen technologies with 
digital communication technologies such as GSM, RFID, Internet and 
database technologies has lead to the emergence of a new, interactive 
and increasingly pervasive medium: Urban Screens.

Urban Screens can be defined as interactive, dynamic digital 
information displays in urban environments. Their genesis is the 
consequence of two parallel technological developments: evolution and 
subsequent growth in magnitude of the traditional display screen, and 
its subsequent convergence with other digital media technologies. Forms 
and appearances range from large daylight compatible LED billboards, 
plasma or SED screens, information displays in public transportation 
systems and electronic city information terminals to dynamic, 
intelligent surfaces that may be fully integrated into architectural 
façade structures. Their introduction in the urban environment poses 
new, unparalleled challenges and opportunities, which we will explore 
and document in this issue.

Currently, the primary purpose of this new infrastructure appears to be 
the management and control of consumer behaviour through advertising. 
Commercial companies are starting to realise that digital billboards 
are a powerful medium to communicate their goals and missions, in line 
with the new paradigms of the digital economy. Interconnected Urban 
Screens have tremendous potential to serve as a platform for 
information exchange. Such large networks are already being developed 
Russia, China, USA and South America, where Urban Screens are rapidly 
becoming a key element in commercial and government informational 
infrastructure. The implications for the public sphere are profound. 
Information density per square metre is increasing, yet at the same 
time individuals have less control than ever over the actual format and 
content of that information.

Public space has always been a place for human interaction, a unique 
arena for the exchange of rituals and communication. Its architecture, 
being a storytelling medium itself, plays an important role in 
providing a stage for this interaction. The ways in which public space 
is inhabited can be read as a participatory process of its audience. 
Its (vanishing) role as a space for social and symbolic discourse has 
often been discussed in urban sociology. Modernisation, the growing 
independence of place and time and individualisation seem to devastate 
traditional city life and its social rhythm. The Urban Screens project 
explores the opportunities for opening this steadily growing 
infrastructure of digital screens, currently dominated by market 
forces, for cultural content, along with its potential for revitalising 
of the public sphere.

Urban Screens 2005 was the first international conference that was 
solely dedicated to the emerging Urban Screens phenomenon. 
Presentations covered a broad spectrum of topics and issues, ranging 
from critical theory to project experiences by researchers and 
practitioners in the field of art, architecture, urban studies and 
digital culture. It addressed the growing infrastructure of large 
digital moving displays, which increasingly influence and structure the 
visual sphere of our public spaces. Urban Screens 2005 investigated how 
the currently dominating commercial use of these screens can be 
broadened and culturally curated: can these screens become a tool to 
contribute to a lively urban society, involving its audience 

A new medium that is digital, interactive and pervasive

What we are seeing is the emergence of a new medium that is digital, 
global and local, interactive and pervasive at the same time. What 
happens if the convergence of new technologies such as Internet, 
database and mobile technologies suddenly enable interactive access to 
the visual streaming of these digital surfaces? Can it revitalise the 
public sphere by creating an information-dense urban environment or is 
it a major threat? How does the growing infrastructure of digital 
displays influence the perception of the visual sphere of our public 
spaces? Metaphorically speaking, can or do Urban Screens already 
function as a mirror, reflecting the public sphere?

The Urban Screens project aims to address these questions in a 
transdisciplinary debate and present new approaches to answering the 
most pushing urgent questions, exchange experiences and create and 
maintain a thematical network around the subject for initiating future 
collaborations. The Urban Screens 2005 conference in Amsterdam 
addressed the existing commercial predetermination and explored the 
nuance between art, interventions and entertainment to stimulate a 
lively culture. Other key issues were mediated interaction, content, 
participation of the local community, possible restrictions due to 
technical limits, and the incorporation of screens in the architecture 
of our urban landscape.

Urban Screens 2006: Demonstrating the potential of public screens for

Building upon the results of Urban Screens 2005, the 2006 Urban Screens 
2006 conference (Berlin, October 5-6) will elaborate on the discussion 
and develop the broad spectrum of possible formats and usage of this 
emerging new media infrastructure. Urban Screens 2006 will be a 
platform for demonstrating the potential of public screens for 
interaction in a trinity of infrastructure, content and cooperation 
models. Interconnected topics will be the politics of public space, 
multimedia content as a service for an array of portable devices, urban 
neighbourhood reactivation, interaction design of urban screens, 
standardisation and integration in the urban landscape. Using existing 
screens infrastructure as well as future 'Urban Screens furniture' in 
the urban space of Berlin, we will demonstrate the impact of Urban 
Screens, their contextualisation and situatedness. This unique 
accumulation of projects will serve as a playground and research field 
for practical observations on the interplay of screen technology, 
content, location and format.

Urban Screens 2007: Expanding the potential of content for community 

Urban Screens 2007 is currently under preparation in collaboration with 
BBC Public Space Broadcasting. While Urban Screens 2006 will have 
'brick & mortar' accents, Urban Screens 2007 will have a distinct focus 
on the potential of journalistic content: issues surrounding the 
production and display of media content for Urban Screens, as well as 
adaptive reuse of 'old' content for new media will be explored in 
detail. Key issues and topics will include Public Space Broadcasting 
(PSB), the politics of public space, mediated interaction and 
participation, as well as experiments with new participatory formats. 
PSB can energise the hearts of cities by bringing together communities 
to share events and broadcasts, creating public news and information 
points that double as local meeting places. Largely due to the 
innovative work of the BBC, PSB is starting to prove its potential to 
provide an outlet for community and educational activities, public 
service information, visual arts, digital innovation and local content 
production, revitalising the public sphere.

We hope that you will share our excitement.


Table of Content:

Introduction: Discovering the potential of outdoor screens for urban 
by Pieter Boeder and Mirjam Struppek

Urban screens: The beginning of a universal visual culture
by Paul Martin Lester

The politics of public space in the media city
by Scott McQuire

The poetics of urban media surfaces
by Lev Manovich

Interpreting urban screens
by Anthony Auerbach

Story space: A theoretical grounding for the new urban annotation
by Rekha Murthy

The urban incubator: (De)constructive (re)presentation of heterotopian 
spatiality and virtual image(ries)
by Wael Salah Fahmi

Urban screens: Towards the convergence of architecture and audiovisual 
by Tore Slaatta

Towards an integrated architectural media space
by Ava Fatah gen. Schieck

Art and social displays in the branding of the city: Token screens or 
opportunities for difference?
Julia Nevárez

Hijacking the urban screen: Trends in outdoor advertising and 
predictions for the use of video art and urban screens
by Raina Kumra

For an aesthetics of transmission
by Giselle Beiguelman

Intelligent skin: Real virtual
by Vera Bühlmann

Programming video art for urban screens in public space
by Kate Taylor

Augmenting the City with Urban Screens
by Florian Resatsch, Daniel Michelis, Corina Weber, and Thomas 

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