A group of Information Technology students (IT) in the northern German university city of Kiel have created exciting LED works of art on the surface of tall buildings. The four students, who attend Christian-Albrechts University, rigged the facade of an office building so it appears like a giant flat screen, displaying playable versions of classic video games Tetris and Breakout.
Whether knowingly or not, the German students are taking inspiration from a wide variety of sources, such as the pop art movement of the 1960s, classic video game design aesthetic of the 1980s, modern architecture design and the “land art” movement (coined by Robert Smithson).
The students call their game display “Project Lighthouse.” The students are Jonas Lutz , Andreas Boysen, Merlin Kötzing and Chris Kulessa. They installed an astounding 56,448 LEDs to light up the 392 windows on the front of the building, which encompasses every window available on the surface. This creates the incredible video surface, which resembles a 1,700 inch wide flat television screen.
The students programmed each LED with a custom-made chip the size of a thimble. They also reprogrammed Tetris, to allow it to move the virtual building blocks on the wall by using a laptop or tablet. Tetris is a title matching puzzle video game that was designed by Alexei Pajitnov in 1980. The name is derived from the Greek numerical prefix (tetra, which means four) and tennis, which was Pajitnov’s favorite sport.
The amazing results are the result of punishing hours of work and artistry. Lutz estimates they put over 5,000 hours of work into the project. This is not the first time that building-scale LED art has been attempted. However, the original concept comes from Germany, which pioneered the idea back in 2001. The Berlin Blinkenlights was projected onto the famous “Haus des Lehrers” (house of the teacher) building at Berlin Alexanderplatz on September 11, 2001. Designed to be the world’s biggest computer display, different animations were rotated on the building. However, the tacticians also created an interactive version of the video game Pong.
Lutz originally planned to orchestrate the project over a year ago, but did not have enough money to jumpstart the project. However, once the university heard about the project, they helped Lutz find sponsors, even giving €30,000 marks to students so they could fulfill their dream.
In 2015 there was a referenda on Hamburg and Kiel’s applications for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The students were invited to show off their project as part of the application. The event was huge, as it showcased a countdown set to music.
The lights are so popular now that every night attracts tourists, visitors and students who come to witness the spectacle. Recognizing the excitement the project attracts, the students’ next goal is to provide extra game pads so that those who come to watch can begin to experience the games themselves.
The school and students believe that the project is about more than just gaming and art. They plan on doing scientific research. “At the moment, we’re planning on a project concerning Li Fi [a system to use rapidly flashing lights rather than radio signals to transmit data],” said a university spokesperson. All involved say the project is unique because the students initiated it and are leading the teachers.
And for those who wonder, the electric bill is not sky high as one might assume, since LED lights use very little energy. Lutz says an hour of Tetris only costs a few pennies.