Light, evolving

A peek through Anderson Hall's windows reveal the look of Architectronica, a dance party featuring sophisticated projections put on by students of the Rice School of Architecture. Photo by Zachary Marx-Kuo

Rice School of Architecture’s Architectronica becomes an artful dance party 

Sound and light will spill from Anderson Hall Oct. 18 during this year’s Architectronica, a dance party like no other. (Watch a video about the event here.)

Joshuah Howard, a bachelor of architecture student in his final year at the Rice School of Architecture (RSA) and grand designer of the event for the past few years, will make sure of that with his mix of sophisticated projections that promise to bring the walls of Farish Gallery to life for one last time during his tenure.

Rice School of Architecture students Neha Sahai, left, and Joshuah Howard are organizing this year's Architectronica, a dance party with sophisticated light and sound. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The party, which is open to all, will be from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and offer a taste of the kind of sophisticated imagery seen on a larger scale at Rice in 2012. Then, the university celebrated its centennial with a light-and-sound Spectacle in the Academic Quad. It’s no accident Howard was part of that party, too.

Howard spent the summer before and after the Spectacle at UrbanScreen, its Germany-based designer, and brought back a wealth of knowledge about projection mapping, a technique that fits projected images to a specific space.

With its white walls and odd configuration, the gallery presents Howard with many transformation options. “This was already a media party in the years before I got here,” he said. “But some friends and I adopted it, reinvented it and rebranded it as Architectronica.

“Since then, we’ve been doing it as a projection mapping installation inside Farish Gallery, with three projectors turning the existing interior surfaces into a sculpture.”


Rice students interested in cutting-edge light shows attended a workshop by Neha Sahai and Joshuah Howard on projection mapping. The technique was used in the 2012 Rice centennial Spectacle.

The two-dimensional content wraps around the partiers and often lends a 3-D effect, no glasses required. “Once you put a projection on a building, it’s kind of hard after that to see the building without that information in mind. You see things differently,” Howard said. “Some in the Architecture School see that gallery differently now. They see it with giant things jutting out of it and big colorful things running around what is normally a blank space.”

Howard has developed a library with hours of video, some from his own renderings, some purchased and some manipulated versions of “found” files. All get thrown into the blender and mixed on the night of the party through the Resolume VJ software package. The program is linked via MIDI, a music interface protocol, to DJ Ramuthra – aka Rice junior Drew Sutherland – to keep everything in sync.

In preparation for the event and with an eye to the future of Architectronica, Howard and Neha Sahai, an RSA sophomore, hosted a projection-mapping workshop earlier this semester. “We drew 35 people, which, for any kind of workshop at Rice related to art and technology, is awesome,” said Sahai, event planner for the Architecture Society at Rice, RSA’s student government, who organized the workshop with Art Lab and Ethernest.

She noted that not all were architecture students, and most stayed well beyond the end of the two-hour class to work with Howard, his projections and models. “We organize events like Architectronica and Archi-Arts, but one of our main roles is to increase ties between the School of Architecture and the rest of the student body, because we archis can get a little too into our own building sometimes,” she said.

An abstract projection by electrical engineering student Christopher Buck produced during the recent projection mapping workshop. Photo by Evan Yoon

Howard hopes to bequeath both the knowledge and perhaps the tools to keep Architectronica humming at a high level for years to come and to “prevent generational amnesia.”

“I’m very interested in a leave-behind, whether that’s integrating projectors into Farish permanently or creating a space that has this set up beforehand,” he said. “There’s a lot of remodeling going on in the Architecture School right now, so this might be the time to create something that lasts.”

In the meantime, Howard, Sahai and their collaborators will spend this week retooling the gallery for this year’s bash. “It’s kind of like magic,” Howard said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes so the moment of public display seems effortless.”




About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.