I.D. Magazine

Interactive Designers Embed L.A. Loft Building with Digital "Carpet"

March / April 2005  (n/a online)


By Hugh Hart


Freeways rule Los Angeles, which means, red carpets aside, sidewalks in this city rarely crackle with excitement. But two west coast artists are counting on local foot traffic to spark some street-level intrigue via their "interactive carpet" that translates pedestrian movement into a 24/7 light show. 


Electroland partners Cameron McNall and Damon Seeley designed the entrance to Metro Lofts, Johnson Fain's downtown residential complex scheduled for completion in April.  "Part of what we're doing is programming a personality into this building," says McNall, who studied architecture at Harvard and now teaches New Media at UCLA. 


He and Seeley embedded the entry's LED-framed slate tiles with weight-sensitive pads utilizing the same sensor technology normally used in test crash dummies. Those sensors trigger light patterns that track the progress of each visitor on a giant grid of LED lights mounted six stories high across the loft's faŤade. A video camera across the street transmits images of the building exterior to a plasma screen near the lobby, allowing visitors to ponder the public display of their private behavior.


Seeley, a recent UCLA graduate specializing in artificial intelligence and design, says "The whole thing is like a big nervous system that's able to sense where people are. That drives the experience for people on the carpet and in the surrounding urban environment."


Citing video artist Nam June Paik and pop art trickster Claus Oldenburg as influences, McNall says he approached the $330,000 project as an opportunity to explore the "post-9/11 culture of surveillance.  There's all this electronic stuff floating around, and that's very important to the way we view things," he explains. "We want to visually manifest this invisible network of connectivity and play with it in a way that raises issues of public and private spaces. A bum could come up to the building, dance around this carpet and transmit to the entire city."