“User-sensitive information architecture” – prototype of an interactive building as a networked media art project at the nexus of man, media and machine.
The Ars Electronica Center was commissioned to carry out the “unit M” project by the Austrian Institute for Economic Promotion (WIFI) in Linz. Its most striking features are the colored light columns that are an integral component of the structure’s architecture as well as several computer-controlled crawl-text displays arranged around the lobby area of the new WIFI training center.
“unit M” stands for an interactive, networked media art project at the nexus of man, media and machine, a communicative interplay of light and color, language and movement that takes full account of the building’s use as a place for the dissemination of knowledge and skills indispensable for the future. Its individualized, open, self-modifying character enables “unit M” to survey its surroundings, react to them and establish contact with them. A network of analog and digital sensors records events within the building and the activities of its users, and collects information about its immediate environment and the actions of Internet visitors. A central computer network categorizes and evaluates the incoming data. Its logical-abstract structure built up on rules and behavioral patterns enables “unit M” to interpret the data and to form an impression of its surroundings.
In creating this facility, the attempt was made to implement the idea of an “intelligent environment” in concrete architectural terms as a building that reflects the use to which it is being put and conveys that as information transmitted to its surroundings. The casual observer is hard pressed to figure out what is going on in “unit M,” but visitors who turn to one of the user terminals quickly learn to communicate with the system and to individually influence their surroundings. Thus, visitors come to perceive themselves as part of their environment, as part of “unit M.”