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Audiovisual installations: When “Urban Art” Just Doesn’t Work


Why is it that people and companies pour their time, energy and copious amount of money into projects without thinking about how the test of time and gritty environment will affect the peter edinstallation?

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Writes Peter Ed

A sorry installation like this is the solar powered art installation, near Old Street roundabout in London. What a wonderful idea – made of recycled glass, it has in interesting story to tell, on well written panels, with a fun logic to how the solar panels interact with the LED panels.

I once saw it completely frozen in one fixed state, other times just utterly dark. What a waste of space, effort and, no doubt, a lot of money (who’s money?).

In fact, ‘Urban Art’ is only the most visible example of an astonishingly near-sighted approach to many high tech fixed installations. It happens everywhere. I have seen corporate lobbies with partially functioning ‘signature’ video and lighting, museums with moving images frozen,   video screens showing Microsoft’s ‘blue screen of death’ in shops and in (London) underground stations.

audiovisual installation london avEven one of the themed casinos in Las Vegas, the Hilton Spacequest,  that just months after opening had significant parts of the lighting and video display obviously not working. Nobody was rushing to repair it – maintenance comes out of the operational budget, and nobody budgeted for repairing these expensive bits of high tech stuff.

Some of the fault must be attributed to the designers and consultants involved with the specification of the project. Some fault lies with owners or operators that do not take an interest further than “it must work when it opens”. Some fault lies with manufacturers that sell equipment into unsuitable applications. There is a conspiracy of ‘non-interest’ in the long term functioning of these fun and sexy displays.

What to do? Give up on the wonderful new toys that designers now have to play with? Hardly – they are here to stay. No, there is one main thing that must be asked at the onset of any fixed installation project:- “how will it work, and how should it be serviced over the life span of the installation”.

It means demanding answers to questions about suitability of all the system components, about choosing the correct cables with connectors that can do the job. It is about ensuring everything works in the temperature extremes it is subjected to, and thought has been given to condensation, thermal expansion, etc.

Sounds complicated? Well, no – it just normal fair for any professional designer cum project manager. The difficulty is not the technology – difficulty is the limited concern that designers, consultants, owners, operators and project managers have in thinking beyond the opening phase of the project.

It should be a primary design objective to ensure that an installation lasts its set working life and can be maintained at an affordable budget.

ImagesSpacequest Casino, Hilton, Las Vegas. Note the ‘window’ showing a moving Earth below, Solar panel art installation, Old Street, London. Both kind courtesy the author.

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