FEATURED MEMBER – Carlos Gomez de Llarena

Posted on January 31, 2011





Carlos Gomez de Llarena is a freelance media architect based in New York. His fantastically innovative projects have revolutionized the web, digital technology, broadcast media and most recently the urban environment, when his art installation ‘Urban Speaker’ turned the East Village’s Tompkins Square Park into a stage for mass communication.


Fulton Fence – A collaboration with Mateo Pintó and Carolina Cisneros


Urban Speaker

A Venezuelan native and architecture graduate, Carlos picked up a Gold Cyber Lion in the Cannes Lions International Advertising Awards in 2003 for his digital advertising work for nikelab.com. His bespoke media company Med44 creates installations and designs covering everything from iPhone apps to live VJ performances.


Nikelab – Interaction Design. Agency: R/GA. Client: Nike

Q.  Media architecture is quite a unique field. How did you decide to get into this?
A.  I come from a family of architects and graduated as an architect while living in Venezuela. During those years I had also been working with digital media, doing websites, animations, VJ sets and video installations. When I came to New York to study for a Masters in Interactive Telecommunications I discovered the concepts and tools of physical computing. At that time I began to envision the wildly creative possibilities of combining architectural designs with interactive technologies in the redefinition of spatial experience. I call this type of design media architecture, but I think this term has been interpreted somewhat differently over time.

The way I think of it, media architecture is the design of a hybrid spatial and digital experience which shapes both social interaction and our perception of space.

Q.  What was the idea behind ‘Urban Speaker’?
A.  This project first started as a tinkering exercise. I had found a mobile software that could automatically answer any incoming phone call, so I tried plugging the mobile phone into a loudspeaker and it worked. After creating the prototype, I thought it would make an unexpected and compelling interaction for a public space. However, I didn’t want to create a tool focused on activism or street protests. I am more interested in the daily politics of public space and how the urban experience is a constant negotiation of our social behaviors. I wanted to present the installation as an interface that could link our use of mobile communications with the experience of our streets in order to explore how we could participate in a public broadcast in a semi-anonymous way. Hence the design of the Urban Speaker as an interactive street sign that tries to camouflage itself into the fabric of an urban landscape.

Some of your projects, like Urban Speaker, tend to be more creative whereas others, like the Radio.com app, are more business-focused. Do you find it challenging to switch perspectives between jobs?

Q.  I enjoy doing commercial and artistic work equally even though I approach them differently. The commercial design is focused on problem solving for a client and it requires equal amounts or creativity and rigor. The artistic process is a bit fuzzier; there’s a lot of trial and error, which leads to a finished creation—or not. I can change modes quickly if I need to but I prefer to give these two very distinct ways of working their own space and time.
A.  I often find a clever idea or tool doing either type of work however, and that often leads me to a new art project or a creative solution to a job. This was the case with the Urban Speaker, since I was tinkering with the phone originally as a brainstorming exercise for my client at the time, Nokia.

Q.  Do you think artists are currently making the most out of the new technologies at their fingertips?
A.  It’s hard to say if they are indeed making the most or just making a lot of stuff. What is the most anyway? I don’t mean to get philosophical but this is a question open to so many different interpretations.  However, I will say that creative people who know technology are able to do incredible things now that were very complicated or not even possible a decade ago. For example, you had physical computing then, but no Arduino. You had mobile phones, but no iPhone or iPad. It’s much easier to create with these tools since they are more powerful and easier to program with than before.

I think the more important issue is: are artists are able to communicate their ideas better with these technologies? Simply because you can use technology in a cool way doesn’t mean that you’re expressing an idea. Sometimes creative work with technology just ends up looking like a high-tech gimmick. I prefer to see work that has a bit more thought and dimension to it, and that somehow communicates an idea to the public about who we are, what we do or anything like that.

Q.  Do you have a favorite project out of everything you’ve created over the years?
A.  The Urballoon is my favorite one because it is a temporary media architecture that has the effect of transforming the urban space where it is installed. Every time I have done it, there’s always been a nice crowd around the plaza hanging out at night and interacting with the video projections and with everyone else on the site. It recreates this primitive situation of humans gathering around the bonfire, but it’s a digital bonfire.



Q.  Do you have any expectations with your work? What do you actively try to express?
A.  I do have many expectations. I think that what I’m trying to express is this notion that we as humans are the makers of our own reality and give shape to our space in this world. This process is neither fate nor fixed in stone, but it is an interactive one that we collectively and individually carry out.

I like to do work that shapes our experience of spaces and how we act in them.

Q.  Who or what inspires you as an artist?
A.  I like to find inspiration in many places by remaining curious and associating different things I see or experience. Some of the things I’m curious about include the act of observation, art, architecture, cities, urban planning, video games, movies, comics, music, user interfaces of all sorts, industrial design or any type of design for that matter.

As for people, there are many but I’ll mention some key ones across those fields like Carlos Raúl Villanueva, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, El Lissitzky, Herzog & De Meuron, Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano, Otto Wagner, Shigeru Miyamoto, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Jesús Soto, Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, Gordon Matta-Clark, Dan Graham, Jenny Holzer, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Tim Hawkinson, Dieter Rams, Charles & Ray Eames, Jean Giraud (Moebius), Enki Bilal, Tanino Liberatore, Ben Rubin, Golan Levin, Antenna Design, Dunne & Raby, etc.
I could go on.

Q.  Are you working on any new projects currently?
A.  Yes. In commercial terms, I have a project in mind for a children’s game for the iPad. I also started a prototype for a city services mobile guide, which I would like to develop better.

As for art, I have an idea for a huge urban installation across New York City—but that one really needs serious funding, permit gathering and time.

Q.  What do you hope to achieve in the New Year and how do you think Pelime might help facilitate this?
A.  This year I want to continue freelancing, move to a bigger studio for my work and do more projects involving physical spaces and installations, either commercial or artistic.

I think Pelime will be a good place to network with peers in the field and across other disciplines.


Whisper Booth – Interaction Design. Agency: R/GA. Client: W Hotels & Nokia


Radio.com iPad App – Interaction Design. Client: CBS Radio

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