Are Cities Becoming Giant Billboards?

Jan 19 • MIX • 1318 Views • 3 Comments on Are Cities Becoming Giant Billboards?

By Phil Roberts


When it comes to billboards and digital urban screens, who has the right to visually communicate in a public space? Is it the people or is it the advertisers?


As places such as Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto show us, the advertisers control the medium. Out-of-Home advertising (OOH) continues to be a very popular form of advertising, because the message cannot be ad blocked nor skipped. Entities like the Branded Cities Network in the U.S., give advertisers an abundance of urban screens in various cities to broadcast their message. New York City’s Times Square is perhaps the most iconic location associated with an abundance of digital billboards, including an LED screen often promoted as one of the world’s largest digital displays.


To counterbalance our cities becoming giant billboards, artists and activists are using those same screens for non-commercial purposes. Led by organizations like the Media Architecture Institute and Connecting Cities, much research has been done to explore the possibilities of urban screens, media facades and digital communications relative to architecture. Entities like The Advertiser, and Videospread promote the non-commercial use of billboards and urban screens, with a focus on interactive public art. The idea is to encourage critical thinking through these viewings, something advertising may not have provoked.


For example, Videospread helped artist and composer Christine Coulange with the 2015 Australian screening of her 6-minute short film, People from the Indian Ocean, on the outdoor screens in Sydney and Melbourne.


Canada’s largest non-commercial outdoor screen, dedicated to presenting digital and interactive art, is in Surrey, BC.


Projection Mapping

Using the facade of a building to project images is another way that artists and activists are raising the awareness of critical issues. In 2015, both the Empire State Building and St. Peter’s Basilica were used this way.

If you really enjoy projection mapping, look at these images from the Moscow International Festival.

If you like interior projection mapping, look at Cocoon: a 360° by 220° spherical, immersive installation directed and produced by Factory Fifteen.


Read the full article of “The Struggle For Media Cities” here.

Phil Roberts is the creator of sixty7 Architecture Road.


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