LED screens are becoming more and more popular in downtown areas of even rural communities. The sometimes garish colors and flashing images are certainly more attention-demanding than the surrounding brick or steel or glass. Take the ultimate example, Times Square in New York City: with all those competing screens, Hawthorne asserts that “we look at the cityscape not just with divided but with fully fractured attention.” LEDs have become the “super ornament,” adorning office buildings, churches, schools and shops. They’re often not included in the building plans, but added later by the owners of the building. But what if we take it one step further (and this is indeed the case), designing and building structures that are essentially one big screen?
The image on the left is of Dubai’s plans for a skyscraper that sports the largest LED screen in the world. What does that say about buildings’ histories, about their inherent qualities? Are there any? With constantly changing, ever-contemporary façades, what happens to “historical districts?” As the architectural past of a city grows dimmer, it will have to find other ways to connect to its history, and that loss may not be one we’re willing to sustain.