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PR Eberswalde Library (1994-8) by Herzog & DeMeuron and Thomas Ruff was considered pioneering, astonishing and marvelous architecture in its time. But as imaging it was hardly advanced, or even contemporary, in comparison with digital media such as videos or holograms.  Looking back, it is clear that the Eberswalde Library was already outdated in the field of imaging. What might the Eberswalde Library have become if it had engaged the potential of earlier theoretical speculations on the virtuality of images by Paul Virilio and Barbara Stafford? This project explores those possibilities. 

The Eberswalde library applies the digitized image as a material pattern of architecture. The newspaper photographs carefully selected by photographer Thomas Ruff function like religious paintings or stained glass in churches, but with a difference. The repeated materialized images on its facade not only tell stories and produce an ornamental pattern: they elaborate the building’s identity as a technology library at a time when digital imaging was entirely pervasive. Our project goes further by using digital media to explore what Eberswalde Library might become as an exploration of the virtuality of images.

AA Barbara Stafford’s “Seizing Attention: Devices and Desires” (2016) and Paul Virilio’s The Vision Machine (1988) provide the theoretical material to reconsider the imaging techniques of Herzog & de Meuron’s and Thomas Ruff’s Eberswalde Library (1994-8). Stafford explains a historical shift in the relationship between voluntary and involuntary attention: “Today, conscious attention –that narrow band of brain function enabling people to  be more than fleetingly aware of what they are holding in mind– is becoming scarce.”[1] With the movement of our eyes and bodies, changing of light and climate, the Eberswalde Library demands that kind of attention. The patterning of the building’s images implies movement. Bands of repeated images wrap its facades like flickering film reels. The montage effect makes each individual image unstable. In addition to movement across the building’s surface, the images are altered by distance. Close up, the images’ Benday dot texture blends with the texture of the concrete panels. At the mid-range they are legible pictures, and at a distance the images produce a camouflage pattern that changes according to light and weather. 

Virilio outlines a history of images as three forms of logic –formal, dialectical, and paradoxical– that helps to explain the intrigue of Eberswalde. “The age of the image’s formal logic was the age of painting, engraving and etching, architecture; it ended with the eighteenth century.”[2] Stained glass or Sgraffito exemplifies formal logic. Those static images tell stories and require our voluntary attention to unscramble. “The age of dialectic logic is the age of photography and film or, if you like, the frame of the nineteenth century.”[3] Eberswalde’s materialized photographs transfer “actualities” onto an architectural surface and their objectivity fades when materially reproduced and integrated with the texture of concrete or when image-shadows are cast by open windows. 

Our question is whether Eberswalde is, or could be, an instance of paradoxical logic and the virtuality of images. “The age of paradoxical logic begins with the invention of video recording, holography, and the computer graphics … at the close of the twentieth century … .”[4] The images constantly flashing in our eyes engage our involuntary attention and draw our attention without leaving us a choice. Can we devise an architecture that realize the Virilian claim that “now images perceive us”?[5] 

[1] Barbara Maria Stafford, “Seizing Attention: Devices and Desires,” Art History 39:2 (April 2016): 423.   [2] Paul Virilio, “The Vision Machine”, in The Vision Machine, 59-77, Indiana University Press, 1994 [1988], 63.   [3] Ibid.  [4] Ibid., 63.  [5] Virilio actually writes about a poster on a public wall: “its image perceives me.” Ibid., 62. Virilio also quotes Paul Klee from his Notebooks (c. 1923), “now objects perceive me," but gives no specific reference.