Electroland turns an apartment-building facade into a billboard for pedestrian movement
Los Angeles, California
To the designers at the Los Angeles–based firm Electroland, modern life is a video game. Partner Damon Seeley, who founded the firm with Cameron McNall, expands on the metaphor: “There’s a vast network of electronic information surrounding us, and we’re navigating and participating in it all the time.”
That viewpoint has informed the work of Electroland since its founding in 2001, when McNall and Seeley collaborated on the installation RGB for the reopening of SCI-Arc. For that project, they mounted lights in 81 windows of the architecture school’s new home, a converted train depot, and anyone could illuminate them by calling a particular number on their cellphones and using their keypads to control the sequence of red, green, and blue.
The response to RGB was overwhelmingly positive, Seeley remembers, and the work grabbed the attention of local real-estate developers in particular. “For them it’s really about enhancing the excitement of the place they are trying to make,” Seeley says. Among Electroland’s suitors was Forest City, which invited the firm to compete for a Percent for Art project for Met Lofts, a seven-story apartment building designed by architecture firm Johnson Fain and planned for the South Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Electroland won the commission in October 2002, and its work, entitled EnterActive, was completed concurrently with the building in 2006.
The installation comprises two main elements. The first is an array of electronic tiles that sits just outside the entrance to the Met Lofts lobby, and serves as the interface with pedestrians. Electroland set a riser system into the surrounding concrete, then placed a grid of 176 16-inch-square tiles within it. Each tile is a sandwich of fritted glass and plastic that holds 96 red LEDs and has four compression sensors and a microcomputer on its underside. When someone steps on a tile, the sensors and microcomputer send data to a master computer located in the lobby. That computer in turn signals the tile to illuminate.
Besides feeding back to the tile array, the master computer links to EnterActive’s second major component: a grid of illuminated squares mounted on the building’s west elevation. While the facade display is more truncated than the sidewalk array, Electroland’s proprietary software translates the gameboard’s human movements and computerized patterns into supergraphics flashing on the side of the apartment building. Seeley says that players detect the correlation between themselves and the building face, and understand their influence on the urban landscape.