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Human language has evolved endlessly over the history of our noosphere, from pictograms on cave walls, to Eastern and Western spoken languages, to sign language, braille, graphic forms of communication, and even mathematical language. Our newest forms of language arise from the field of computation. ASCII, which stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, is a computer industry standard that assigns letters, numbers, and other characters within the 256 slots available in 8-bit code. In other words, it helps translate between human and computational language.

Designed as a multi-purpose room in the Knowledge Pavilion, a science and economy museum in Lisbon, Portugal, “Skin” was themed around the ASCII standard. The architecture firm P-06 Atelier, in collaboration with architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça, intended for the thin surface lining the interior of the pavilion to reflect the museum’s vision of open public information exchange. Characters of various size and area provide apertures in the skin and produce differences in light porosity, visibility, and acoustic properties. By reconfiguring the walls, sound and light can be filtered dynamically and differently from day to day and program to program. Strategically located LED lighting between the outer walls of the building and its ASCII liner create a uniform field of light throughout the space, keeping attention focused on interior exhibitions.

“Skin” makes information spatial. Language, the often invisible embodiment of human thought, is rendered visible, even viscous and tangible. The characters of the language itself project a vision of the building’s users that is much more than “writing on the wall.” Rather, it is writing made phenomenal through its impact on the very materials that produce memorable architecture: light and sound.

The story continues in Hypernatural, which explores architecture’s new relationship with nature.


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