Holography as an Element

of the Media Architecture

Vito Orazem

Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, Essen, Germany




In the recent theory of architecture and building construction there are two

architectural topics, which show how holographic elements and their

technical properties can make a valuable contribution to the solution of two

obvious problems in architecture. One is the high energy consumption in

offices and administration buildings, the other the information inflation

that takes place in many transitory spaces. In addition to this there is a

topic which refers to the aesthetic needs - i.e. the light design of

interior spaces with the help of holography in the scope of media





Because of the energy crisis of the seventies and the new ecological

thinking a process of redefinition of architecture has been going on for the

past 15 years. Thus, the fields of building and construction technology, of

design resources and of the quality of living are studied with energy saving

in mind. This sort of research only became possible as computer-controlled

measuring practices made possible the registration and processing of data on

environmental influences and the function of appliances contained in

architecture by means of electronics. In a second step construction elements

were searched for which, together with measuring instruments, could react

immediately and precisely to specific requirements. In the late eighties

these reflections were summed under the terms intelligent building and

intelligent architecture. These terms have their origin in the control

theory of cybernetics and they mean that a building is able to react to

changes in light and temperature and to choose the most favourable

alternative concerning energy and comfort without human action of any kind.

That is, in an intelligent building static architecture is being

increasingly influenced by dynamic software. [2]


The energy crisis led to the development of a number of passive improvements

in construction technique such as an improved sealing of doors and windows,

the use of multiple window panels or the introduction of passive cooling

with the help of water- these are now construction standards.


The architecture of the eighties also tried to divert sun light into the

buildings by using optical elements such as prisms and mirrors. One of the

most impressive examples is the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building in Hong

Kong, designed by Norman Foster.[3] By means of an extensive system of

mirrors the sun light is directed into the building and then distributed

into the rooms and corridors.


A different example is the sales department headquarters of the firm MAHO in

Pfronten in Bavaria, which has been designed by the renowned Austrian light

planning office Bartenbach. Acryl glass prisms help to prevent dazzling

caused by direct sun light inside the office and conference rooms. At the

same time light is diverted into the interior of the building. A comparatively expensive electronic control system is being used to adjust

the separate prisms according to the incidence of light. Concerning its

aesthetics this solution neverthless strikes one as anachronistically



This last project makes clear how the use of wrong material enormously

increases expenses and how the design tries to disguise this with a nice

ornamental structure. It is only the new technology exemplified by

holographic optical elements (HOEs) thatmale possible completely new

solutions concerning the management of light and the design of windows. It

is almost a banality to emphasize that HOEs with their optical functions as

mirrors, lenses and prisms are able to assume the task of controlling,

focussing and selecting light. However, there are only few architects and

theorists who are willing to examine and employ these elements



In his basic paper "Static Buildings - Dynamic Façades", given at the

symposium intelligent Building in Karlsruhe in the fall of 1991, Niklaus

Kohler of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale Lausanne included the role of

holographic elements in the structure of illumination and the technology of

facades.[5] While his remarks were mainly theoretical, the German company VW

and the glass producer VEGLA are searching for practical uses. In the scope

of an R&D project both firms developed wide holographic dichromate foils,

into which windshields will be integrated to increase comfort. Longwave heat

waves are reflected and only the visible spectrum of light is let

through[6]. The employment of these holographic heat filters faces creative

as well as legal obstacles. The results of this project, however, may be

used in architecture without restrictions.


The VW/VEGLA project deals with the passive selection of light, while the

Institute for Light and Construction Technique at the Cologne Polyechnic

employs HOEs to use light actively. The group around Helmut F.O. Müller and

Jörg Gutjahr is concerned with the development of construction elements that

focus light on solar cells with the help of HOEs. On the occasion of the

International Garden Exhibition in Stuttgart in 1993 the architecture group

HHS from Kassel completed a group of residential buildings in which

innovative technologies that create solar energy are tested. In cooperation

with the Institute in Cologne turnable solar paddles were fixed to the

middle of the roof, which are equiped with HOEs and solar cells. The HOEs

focus the sun light unto opaque stripes containing solar cells. This

achieves a double effect: the energy output of the solar cells is increased

while the focussing of the light unto solar cells impervious to light

resultes in a shadowy room and thus prevents its overheating. The

concentration of light beams by means of HOEs reduces the surface of the

solar cells by half, compared to previous models. [7] Over two years the

room temperature, lighting and electricity gains of these houses will be

measured to acquire exact information about the novel usage of this sort of

solar energy.


This medium-term research is necessary not only to draw up a de facto energy

review for this type of building but also because it demonstrates one of the

biggest problems concerning the employment of holograms in the open. All

attempts concering energy- rich sun light miscarry in the long term because

of the instability of the input material towards UV radiation. The team from

Cologne swears by the desensibilising chemistry of the exposed silver halide

material, but in the long term it will have to put it stakes on a different

material. The only media currently possible to work with in sun light are

embossed holograms and maybe photopolymer material. Before untrained persons

like architects or civil engineers can be persuaded of the advantages of

these elements it is necessary to get mandatory garanties and data about

their stability from the producers.




While the complex control of architecture in the areas of climate and energy

was termed intelligent building the term media architecture denotes the

conquest of the interior by the electronic media. First of all this media

architecture is characterised by its attempt to structure the wealth of

information entering the building by means of information technologies and

then to present this information to everybody, not just the user, by forming

interfaces. The media such as the jumbo screen, electrochrome glass,

LC-displays or interactive information systems, are distributed throughout

the buildings and give them a technoid feel.


The abundance of information as well as the abundance of technological

networks not only produce more knowledge and better judgement, they also

cause an inflation of data which can not be managed any more by human

working speed. We have thus reached a point where many communication

technologies and media are not used any longer to make information

accessible but to choose and structure it. [8]


The changes caused by tele-technologies also vitally influence urban space.

On the one hand essential communication situations that formerly took place

in urban spaces are being increasingly shifted to electronic networks [9].

On the other hand public architectural spaces like airports, railway

stations and malls need points of reference for orientation. Their

infrastructure increasingly resembles that of the electronic networks.

Movement and communication in public spaces, too, more and more resembles

the navigation in data space because the references to our environment are

lacking. Therefore it will be the central task of media architecture to

shape tele- information and to control it appropriately. Since communication

elements in most cases are also sources of light like for example monitors

or LC-displays, methods of designing and structuring light are suitable for

solving pending problems of interior design. Here holography plays a

significant part.


The construction of multifunctional, general accessible spaces requires an

easily comprehensible, universal and univocal sign system. For this, simple

boards and signs were developed, as well as neon signs, light displays,

motion displays, light cable displays and print displays. It is a sometimes

expensive technology often in need of repair which is used to update and

present information quickly.


The possibility of storing holographically successively information and of

reproducing these discretely depending on the positon of the lamp or the

position of the recipient means that proceedings as well as other totally

different data can be stored on comparatively small displays. Media

architecture can make use of this feature. The fact that holograms often

suffer under their restricted visuality here turns into an advantage. Where

the amount of information can only barely be processed only meaningful

information may be communicated. Since 1986 the Holography Laboratory in

Osnabrück has been developing studies and prototypes of holographic

information elements. First the holographic floor tile AENA was conceived

and developed 1988 for production. With this tile an information system on

the floor was created that can be used as a floor guide. This project was

the basis for the cooperation with the design department of the Krupp

company, to complete a study on optical barriers for subway tracks.

Furthermore the Lab in cooperation with Walter Giers and Daimler Benz

developed 1990 a wall system with which holograms can be illuminated by

diffuse neon light. Together with the architect Bruno Urh a study of a Solar

Pavilion was completed. The facade of the pavilion contains holographic

panels which are tilted to allow the spectator to read varying information

depending on his position or that of the sun. The employment of a

holographic facade pursues the idea to expose the frame of the building to a

continuous change in order to overcome the rigidity of architecture. The aim

of the project was to visualize how the facade could become a sort of

pulsating membrane between the house and the environment.[10]




The technology of air-conditioning and construction regards holography as an

intelligent storage medium. Its aesthetic qualities are of less importance.

But in field of communication displays and interior decoration the

importance of light design is obvious. It creates a relation between light

and the surrounding space while dispensing with holography's most

characteristic feature, it's three-dimensionality. Concerning this the

pioneers of interior light design with holography, such as for example Sally

Weber or Doug Tyler can be seen as part of the tradition of the light

environment as practised since Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Light-Space Modulator or

by the group ZERO and artists like James Turell or Dan Flavin.


Thomas Lück and the author of this article created in the last two years two

new light installations, Arche-Di-Em and Diffracted Wall which will be the

subject of the following description. ArcheDi-Em is an architectural

installation that was conceived for the exhibition 'Feuer Erde Wasser Luft -

Die vier Elemente' during the MEDIALE Festival in Hamburg in the spring of

1993[11]. The idea was to design a light environment with the help of

holographic optical elements and video monitors. In Arche-Di-Em the HOEs are

let into the walls and the floor and are illuminated by monitors which show

graphic patterns and very simple computer animations. The installation is

constructed so that it conveys the impression of a shelter, an ark. The

visitor via a short staircase the visitor enters a corridor and comes into

the main room where two wall openings and one opening in the floor can be

seen. These openings contain HOEs that are illuminated by five monitors. On

the other side of the room there is another aperture with a ramp behind it

over which the visitor leaves the installation.


A warm, cozy room has been created by the use of untreated wood. This

coziness is supported by the design of the light. It is significant for the

impact of media works, that because of their artificial origin, they

confront the recipient without any references. In order to connect them with

recognizable structures that allow for a judgement, forms are often taken

from the pre-medial contexts and implanted into the media works. The

paradoxe caused by this are aptly described by the film title 'Back to the

Future' and resemble in their perspective Walter Benjamin's Angel of

History, whose face is turned towards history, while being impelled into the

future. Not only today's media art, but the current communication technology

as a whole is located in this apparently paradox situation between future

and past.


The installation Diffracted Wall from 1992 which was first shown at the

exhibition 'Light and Architecture' in Ingolstadt, Germany is a study about

the light wall as an architectural design instrument.[12] Here, too, HOEs

are illuminated by the simplest computer animation. The light of the TV is

manipulated, distorted and multiplied as it passes through the hologram. The

video 'light', the images on the screen are animated and then further

manipulated as they are 'bent' through the holographic surface. (Fig.4) In

the installation Diffracted Wall the rough mechanical structure of an

ordinary wall was neglected and became an immaterial element with new

properties and qualities, for example calmness.




The architecture of the present time is the field where technological and

aesthetic qualities of holography can be expressed in a most significant

way. Maybe with these developments, we shall finally reach the

multi-perspective space feeling, which was the subject of several

theoretical papers on holography in already the eighties.


There are three important categories which should be considered when

holography is incorporated the intelligent buildings and media architecture.

These are the energy saving properties in the building construction, the

role of holography as information guide in public spaces and the creation of

a new light architecture. Be functional and aesthetical could be a new motto

for the developing of an informational light design with the help of

holographic technology.


[1] Several projects on this theme were shown at the exhibiton Lichtformen -

Holografie für Design und Architektur mit Hologrammen aus der Sammlung

Fielmann, which was curated by Peter Zec and shown in Design Zentrum

Nordrhein Westfalen, Essen in the fall 1993. The exhibition was completely

documentated in INTERFERENZEN, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Gesellschaft für

Holografie. vol. 4, no. 2/3, 1993.

[2]Ken Sakamura, "Computer City," in Ars Electronica 94, Intelligent

Environment. by Karl Gerbel and Peter Weibel (ed.), PVS Verleger, Wien, vol.

1, p.131ff, 1994.

[3] Rudolf Schönwandt, "Highlights in Honkong," in ERCO Lichtfabrik. Ernst &

Sohn, Berlin, p. 1 24ff., 1990.

[4] Vito Orazem, "Alcune osservazioni sulla olografia nell' architettura

mediale - il feedback della tecnologia sul processo creativo," in

Oloqrafia-Holografie-Holographv. Avanguardia dell'Arte Olografica, by Vito

Orazem and Jörg Schepers (ed.), Benucci Editore, Perugia, p. 8ff., 1 992.

[5]Niklaus Kohler, "Statische Gebäude - Dynamische Fassaden?" in 2.

Svmposium Intelligent Building. University of Karlsruhe, p. 3ff., 1991.

[6] Manfred-Andreas Beeck, Thorsten Frost, Wilbert Windeln, "Holographic

mirrors laminated into windshields for automotive Head-Up Display and solar

protective glazing applications," in Holographic Optics 111: Principles and

Applications. SPIE Proceedings 1507, Bellingham, p. 394ff., 1991.

[7] see INTERFERENZEN. vol. 4, no. 2/3, p. 28f., 1993

[8]see, for example, Peter Zec, Informationsdesign, Interfrom, Zürich, 1988.

[9] Florian Rötzer, Urbanität in den Netzen oder Vom Take-over der Städte.

Public lecture at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, 25. Jan. 1994.

[10] Bruno Urh, "Solarpavilion - Projektvorstellung," in INTERFERENZEN. vol.

2, no. 4, p. 8ff., 1991.

[11] "Feuer Erde Wasser Luft - Die vier Elemente," in MEDIALE Hamburg, p.

76, 1993 (exhibition catalogue).

[12] Inge Maisch (ed.), Lightand Architecture, LGS, Ingolstadt, p. 153ff.,

1992 (exhibition catalogue).