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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

All of the Lights



By Reed Thornburg     10/18/12 7:00pm

The Spectacle had three official showings on Saturday and an encore performance on Sunday for a total run time of one hour, and for most of us that was our first experience with the growing new art form known as "projection mapping." However, the Spectacle was not the only chance to see this fusion of architecture and light design on Saturday night - immediately after the final showing, undergraduate students filed into Anderson Hall for the Architectronica public party, where once again, images flooded the architectural space in tune to music. And while their impressive projects coincided last Saturday, their connection fruns deeper.

The Spectacle was produced by URBANSCREEN, a large-scale projection design team based in Germany, and the  Architectronica light show was the product of Martel College senior and architecture student Joshuah Howard. Dean of the School of Architecture Sarah Whiting referred Howard to URBANSCREEN after noting his particular interest in media architecture;

Howard himself was already in the process of apply for a travel grant to study the global progression of innovative media-based architecture.

"[The URBANSCREEN employees] were like 'We usually take people on for three months at a time, but you can show up,'" Howard said. "But I wanted to be aggressive about the whole thing, so I ended up just flying to Bremen, [Germany]."

While working in Bremen, Howard initially found himself working as a mover while URBANSCREEN transitioned studios. After the move had settled, however, he found time to interview the members of the group and gain insight into their artistic process.

"I interviewed them about their process," Howard said. "In [the Spectacle Unplugged Lecture], they mentioned how they like to have everything derivative of the architecture."

Thorsten Bauer of URBANSCREEN made that point clear in his lecture. He continuously highlighted how his art is not entirely about the technology, but that these techniques are effective in telling the story of the architecture.

"We call it 'Lumentecture,'" Bauer said. "It's our art."

Still, Howard feels certain aspects of the Spectacle did not strictly follow that principle and cites the collage effects as weak points in the show.

"They were not always generative of the architecture," Howard said. "It's the difference between looking at a TV and the parts of the Spectacle where it seemed real."

Howard said he thinks the medium is most impressive when the story is told figuratively, using abstraction as the primary descriptive mechanism. However, he said he acknowledges collaging was likely due to Rice's desire for more literal representations of its history.

Bauer himself explained this as a main challenge in developing the Spectacle. Not only did he have to present his ideas to a diverse board with a wide range of interests, but he also had to engage with and channel Rice's history into his work.

Similarly, in his own work at Architectronica, Howard felt that although the crowd left satisfied, it did not always meet his high personal standards.

"We had several songs that were fully sequenced with corresponding visuals to every sound," Howard said. "But unfortunately, [my software] crashed during the show."

Howard continued the show without one of his main controllers and did the rest of the visuals entirely live, working with his DJ, Will Rice College senior Vivas Kumar. For both URBANSCREEN and Howard, the music plays an important

role in the development of the art.

Bauer explained that for URBANSCREEN projects, sometimes the music directs the projections and other times the projections dictate the music that surrounds them. For the Spectacle, URBANSCREEN alternated between the two, depending on the segment. The introduction and future segments were all guided by the music, while the

100-year history in the middle was created first and then paired with complementary music.

In contrast, Howard mainly works with popular electronic music, and as such, works from the music to create the visuals.

"We're working with pop music," Howard said. "It's music that people know. With a party like [Architectronica], it's for the people. Everything is meant to please the people."

In order to ensure they were selecting crowdpleasing music, Howard and Kumar even created an online playlist through the site Spotify, where students could submit their requests before the party.

"We combined [these requested songs] with some of our favorites - the ones that we know very well," Howard said. "I like the logic of artists like Wolfgang Gartner and deadmau5. It's all very structured and architectural."

That ability to hear and see architecture outside of buildings themselves is another thing that unites Howard and URBANSCREEN. When they speak about their work, they describe it in terms of structural components even though nothing is produced in a physical sense.

Bauer explained that one of the most interesting challenges in designing the Spectacle was determining how to represent the future. Ultimately, he decided to use the students' voices to drive his approach. So he posed as a relative of Whiting

and candidly interviewed students around campus. Without any previous knowledge of Bauer or URBANSCREEN, these students heard those recordings for the first time as they echoed throughout the academic quadrangle Saturday night.

Visually, the URBANSCREEN team decided that the future should be soft and transition in layers between the visual and the auditory. As such, it decided a fluid was the perfect symbol.

As is the case with most Rice students, future also plays an important role in Howard's life. While it is obvious he enjoys working with media architecture, he does not see it as the entire focus of his architectural career.

"[Media architecture] is something that I'm interested in," Howard said. "But I don't want to end up doing something like the Spectacle. While it is something that I want to inform my architectural career, I'm basically doing it because it adds a breadth and character to what I'm doing at Rice."

After viewing the Spectacle, it is obvious why a young architect would find this new medium appealing; it transforms the ways in which we look at buildings and space in general. The experience of looking at Lovett Hall is now forever altered by the haunting image of an owl taking flight.

Such a temporary art is often hard to accept. One of the sad inevitabilities of this art form is that it is not permanent. On Monday, the deconstruction began, and both shows are now gone. But like installations in the Rice Gallery, or as Bauer cites, Buddhist sand mandalas, there is beauty in its transience.

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