Buildings: An information medium, 20th-21st centuries

Information systems and urban management (18th-21st centuries)
By Stéphanie Le Gallic

Paul Virilio used the expression “media-building” in 2000 to qualify buildings with screens like those erected in Times Square, and we observe an increase in experiments involving architecture and digital technologies over the past fifteen years. Presented as an architectural novelty, it is generally agreed that “media-buildings” have implications which arose in the 1960s with Cybernetics and Marshall McLuhan’s theories of communication.Nevertheless, at the crux of questions concerning information systems and large city planning, this article analyses how the advent of “media-buildings” were anchored in long-lasting trends, widely promoted by outdoor advertising, even if artistic, and sometimes libertarian, initiatives contributed to this evolution. The study of illuminated advertising – and that of electric newspapers – from the beginning of the 20th century shows that, beyond technological evolutions, the display of information was linked from the beginning with press agencies, traffic flows and speed of information transmission. The article demonstrates that the advent of video screens did not revolutionize relationship with time, but rather relationship with space. Thus the development of “media-buildings” does not constitute the advent of the building as information medium, but that of the building as communication medium. It is not the function of the building that changes – giving emphasis to its information function – but the relationship between the building and the passer-by.


  • screen
  • advertising
  • architecture
  • media-building
  • interaction
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