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_Atopia | Simon Marxen



Right next to the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen, “Atopia”, a semi translucent cube is floating in the water. From afar it seems that the cube is solid, but as one moves closer, it becomes clear that people are moving around inside it. The floor of the cube is transparent and designed with a submerged matrix of clear acrylic cylinders with embedded RGB diodes. A hidden camera in the ceiling of the cube tracks movements in the cube and on the basis of these generates dynamic circles of light under each participant. These lights while being entities of lights themselves, also beam light onto the cube and the water beneath. Due to its relation to water it is easy to transport the installation to different urban environments.


Atopia is created as a conceptual interactive installation and is used as the main tool in my dissertation (Digital Design, Aarhus University, Denmark) for emphasizing the possibilities and limitations that arise from the interplay between media architecture and mobile architecture in an urban environment. At the time of writing Atopia is not physically built but is functioning as the central pivot point for a characteristic of mobile media architecture as phenomenon and challenge.

Try the online interactive 3D visualization: HERE

Download the dissertation: HERE (in danish)


In the dissertation Atopia is described through the basis of nine design objectives – image, function, flexibility, reliability, user friendly, identity, security, energy use, life-cycle costs. This section will provide an overview of the digital and architectural considerations that has been made in connection with the overall design objectives and will act as a stepping stone towards the subsequent analysis and discussion.


The analysis lays emphasis on the fact that by using both digital and physical materials, Atopia creates both a responsive and immersive environment inside the cube. Thus, it establish an emerging social event where the participants are considered the main actuators of the visual communication with the surrounding urban environment.




These observations lead an overall discussion of Atopia’s relation to three environmental zones of interpretation: (ZONE 1) the immediate context, (ZONE 2) the surrounding context and (ZONE 3) the overall context. This  division has the capacity to frame the different areas of contact which is important for Atopia’s movement through the different urban environments. This is a discussion that emphasises essential points in relation to the diversity of both the situations and people that exist in the urban environment; a mobile media architecture that possesses an ability to shed new light on traditional architectural understanding of the surrounding context and its integration with technology.


Drawing on both the analysis and the discussion the last section in the dissertation highlights five key challenges which appear to characterise the mobile media architecture as phenomenon. The five key challenges are:

The construction; 

which highlights the complications that arise when constructing a flexible design which needs to exist in environmental settings.

The interaction; 

where the relationship between the spectators, participants, installation and context seems to emphasise the importance of content and means of interaction.

The movement; 

which relates to the diversity of the social and contextual spaces in the urban environment. This is a mobile quality which is altering the common conception of static architecture.

The temporary;

where the brief interventions with urban environment challenges the overall visibility and presence of a moving architecture.

The performative; 

which deals with the emerging performative spaces and its influence on the changing behaviours, needs and demands in an urban situation.


These are challenges that may prove relevant to a media architect who seeks to investigate the mobile features as important in the future world of media architecture.



Simon Marxen © 2011