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ProCom professor looks to change the urban landscape

Dave Colangelo’s work challenges perceptions of screens and digital facades in the urban landscape and asks how they can better serve us
By: Drew Singer
March 23, 2021

Dave Colangelo, assistant professor in the School of Professional Communication, founding member of Public Visualization Studio, external link, and Director, North America, of the Media Architecture Institute, external link, recently won the SCMS 2021 Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award, external link for his book examining media architecture–the screens and media that are increasingly part of the urban experience. 

Presented by the Society for Media Studies (SCMS), external link, a leading scholarly organization in the U.S. dedicated to promoting a broad understanding of film, television, and related media, Colangelo’s first book The Building as Screen: A History, Theory, and Practice of Massive Media, external link was selected by the award’s committee for his adept examination of theory and practice in this burgeoning field.

Dave Colangelo, assistant professor in the School of Professional Communication

Why media architecture matters

While the term media architecture may be unfamiliar to most, it is experienced ubiquitously and on a daily basis by everyone: programmable architectural facades (ex. the lights on the CN tower), urban screens (ex. the screens at Yonge-Dundas square), and outdoor projections. In his book, Colangelo uses the term “massive media” to describe these situations: they are massive not simply in size and public visibility, but also in the vast scale of networks and audiences they are able to engage both on and offline.

Part of Colangelo’s work challenges the idea these screens must always act as marketing tools for brands. “It’s important to experiment with artistic and community-focused content and diversify the messaging in highly commercialized screen spaces and urban media environments,” he said. “We need to think about media architecture as public space media. We should be asking: how does it come into being, and can communities, in particular equity-deserving groups, be involved in the planning, production, and use of these spaces?”

Media architecture in Toronto

Many Torontonians have likely seen Colangelo’s work challenging our ideas about media façades and screens. In 2010, Colangelo and Public Visualization Studio, external link co-founder Patricio Dávila, who is also Associate Professor of Cinema & Media Arts at York University, created E-Tower, external link, which invited participants of Toronto's free all-night contemporary art event Nuit Blanche to increase the energy of Toronto’s CN Tower by sending it a text message. 

Each text added a bit of energy to the lights on the tower, making them pulse and glow brighter based on the number of people interacting with the tower in real time. E-Tower explored how a programmable LED façade can be used as a tool for cooperative participation to create dynamic and public visuals and encourage communal reflection.

“We need to think about media architecture as public space media. We should be asking: how does it come into being, and can communities, in particular equity-deserving groups, be involved in the planning, production, and use of these spaces?”

Dave Colangelo

'Receipts', by Public Visualization Studio members Dave Colangelo, Patricio Dávila, and Immony Mèn, in collaboration with Lillian Leung

The project was located at The Bentway, in Toronto

The project collected, anonymized, archived, and presented the testimony of people that have experienced or witnessed anti-Aisan aggression in public spaces

In 2020, Colangelo, with Patricio Dávila and Immony Mèn (Public Visualization Studio) and artist Lillian Leung, created “Receipts, external link,” a multimodal project located at The Bentway as part of their Safe in Public Space, external link initiative. The project collected, anonymized, archived, and presented the testimony of people that have witnessed or experienced anti-Asian aggression in public spaces in Canada. As with Colangelo’s other works, the project explores media architecture as a site for critical and creative engagement.

As screens increasingly pervade our public and urban landscapes, Colangelo’s work continues to explore alternative theories, methods, and practices for urban media environments. Colangelo’s work asks, “What is it we want these screens to do?” And works to raise our awareness of the presence of massive media and its effects on us.

“They can do more than just manufacture desire for goods and services. They can connect us to causes and concerns that are important to us and spark dialogue and reflection,” he said. “They can help us develop connections to our spaces and to people around us. Do communities see their values and beliefs reflected in their surroundings? Is this what we’re seeing right now? And if not, how can we work with cities and communities to change that, at least in part, through media architecture?”


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