Background to the development of MEDIALOUNGE.
Background to the development of MEDIALOUNGE.
Arts Council of England commissioned research into why new spaces specifically created for new media are needed. This research looked at media centres, galleries and cinematic spaces like Watershed , HOST and the Showroom. This research might have been about exploring spaces for 'new media' but was also applicable to film/video environments.Through this research, The Arts Council wanted to establish how they might best support these spaces.
Many new media spaces had started as photography galleries which had then equipped for digital imaging and then as practice migrated into broader digital media had become exhibition/production spaces for digital work, but were not designed specifically for these new art forms. This was a problem which was further exacerbated by no understanding of the unique needs of digital art from the funding bodies.
Many galleries were going through an identity crises, shifting practice base but with many problems in the way in which the physical spaces themselves were being developed and being used. The physical/structural ways in which these organisations/buildings were made were limiting not only the community of practice but the community of audience which was developing for new digital work.
Organisations like HTBA were already starting to look at the practice/audience link and physical build projects were being thought about which were specifically designed with the digital media content in mind - like C-Plex.
The 'media centres' were another kind of space with a different set of values, pulls and aims. Media Centres were designed as workspaces for commercial production and SME seedbeds. There were a number of cinematic spaces - hybrid spaces which were audience led. Facilities were being created which were driven by urban regeneration agenda's. Spaces which built 'hubs' of practitioners and were also exhibition spaces.
In developing the MEDIALOUNGE for the Media Centre in Kirklees, the first job was to look at what the space intended to do for the rest of the building. What do we need? Rapid changes in technology make it difficult to design a space which is going to work now and will continue to work into the future. The Media Centre in Kirklees was the first to have a LAN connection in each of the office spaces as part of the infra-structure of the building.
The Media Centre had a number of functions;
* To be part of the society of cities
* To create a society within the building
* To create a society of practitioners associated with the building
The building had 40 tenant companies all working across a broad spectrum of the creative industries. There are 200 people working in the building. There are daily visits from a number of clients to those businesses. Huddersfield Technical College also has space within the building which gives another dynamic to consider. The cafe is also a 'window' on the wider community of Huddersfield and is used by the public.
The space which the Media Centre wanted to create was a space to disseminate and exhibit research project outputs. A space which would become the physical 'home page' of the building. It would also be a very 'public' space which would be entered by destination visitors (those with a specific purpose for being in the building) and the more casual visitor.
Because of the diversity of the potential audience, the plans were to create a space which worked with different 'time zones'. Time zones which related to the optimum amount of time different visitors were likely to spend in the space. This key identification that different types of visitors would invest different amounts of time informed the development of different areas in the space:
* Zone 1 - the first 10 - 15ft of the space is the 'passive zone' - Text panels in this zone introduce projects in outline, engage initial interest and may encourage people further into the space on this or a subsequent visit. The amalgamation of the very obviously public space of the reception area and the start of the media lounge means that many visitors can use reading the text panels as a way of passing time as they wait for in the reception area. There is no interactivity, for this you need to go further into the space but this is what you need to engage in the space for the first time.
* Zone 2 - 10 minute zone - there are stand up interactive installation pieces. These installations use the hollow-pro screens. These are specifically useful in this kind of space as they can be used in daylight and it is known through research that darkened spaces often make people feel alienated and uncomfortable.
* Zone 3 - At the back of the MEDIALOUNGE is the 'sit-down' zone which is designed for people who want to spend around 30 minutes.
Basically the premise is that the further into the space you go the further you are engaged.
The space and the equipment has been designed to maintain maximum 'flexibility' so equipment is on wheels and the space can be changed. The MEDIALOUNGE is not a gallery and it's not a visitor attraction. Work which is shown in the space will be programmed to change on a quarterly basis. There is still thinking to be done about what kind of work the particular aesthetic of the screens will be suitable for.
The MEDIALOUNGE is not just an arts space. It's important that the tenants in the Media Centre are able to show their commercial products, research and development outputs. So the MEDIALOUNGE has a number of remits; academic, economic and artistic.
One of the potential problems of the space, which is a problem shared with a number of new media capital developments is that it is being programmed on a very tight budget as money was available for the initial capital development but not for a on-going programming budget. Work needs to be sourced which will work in the space. This might be film/video pieces but works which are not linear in narrative because of the way in which the space works and the time constraints of the users. Works which are linear would need to 'micro-shorts'.
The MEDIALOUNGE is not a destination in itself. It is, to a certain extent, an extension of the foyer area. The use of the word 'lounge' in this case describes a 'transient' space, where visitors have other reasons for their visit but have been attracted into the space because they have a specific amount of additional time to spend. It is anticipated that the vast majority of visitors will be using the space in addition to other spaces in the building.
The Holopro screens work in daylight and cost about £2000 each and as such are very good value for money. The quality of the images would still be better if the space was darker and used different presentation technologies, but it is more important to the way in which this space will be used and by whom that they work like in daylight.
The idea is based on a number of other projects and draws elements of it's ethos and design from projects like the E-Lounge in New York and the Watershed in Bristol which has a similar space built into their cafe. It also borrows elements from project such as Technics at SITE Gallery in Sheffield and RTI's Access Space, which is a very non-presentational space with URL's written on chalkboards.
The architecture of presentational space sometimes doesn't support interactivity. Workstations are in danger of being seen as 'art-works' themselves rather than tools with which to access art.
Staff at the Media Centre will be trained to build their confidence to effectively support the space and it's visitors. It is recognised that the reception staff will be in the best position to see how, when and by whom the space is being used so may be able to give some programming input. They will be the 'eyes' and 'ears' of the space.
The web terminals in the space will be intended for 'play' as there are already workstations in the cafe which are pay terminals for work. The terminals in the media lounge are in a very public space so this will discourage work being done in this space.