Rotating Bricks Act as Pixels in This Mesmerizing Kinetic Out-of-Home Display

Breakfast NY unveils 'Brixels'

Brooklyn agency Breakfast makes some pretty cool shit. 

Among its past creations: Points, a kinetic directional sign with an updating digital display whose arms rotate to point at different nearby attractions; Luster (originally Instaprint), a device that prints Instagram and Twitter photos instantly at events; and Thread Screen, a machine built for Forever 21 that can display Instagram images in thread using 6,400 mechanical spools in 36 colors. 

Today, the agency introduces its latest digital-meets-physical creation, and it's pretty captivating. It's called Brixels, and it's a new technology that features digitally controlled, infinitely rotating bricks that act as pixels in large-scale kinetic out-of-home displays. 

Breakfast built an art installation using Brixels to show people how it works. It's called Brixel Mirror. It's a 16-by-9-foot interactive installation using 540 Brixels, and it's super fun to watch. 

Brixels are digitally controlled by proprietary software. As such, they are a form of digital content. But they are not little screens. The idea is to move away from screen, says Andrew Zolty, co-founder and head of design at Breakfast. 

"We've explored a lot of different variations, including a version with screens on them," Zolty tells Muse. "That said, the big reason we develop these the way we do is there are a lot of businesses and architects that are trying to find ways to display digital content without putting in another display. Most new buildings are riddled with them, and often designers are trying to find ways to avoid more screens." 

The applications for Brixels are still to be determined, but they should find plenty of uses in architecture and public art. Brands, too, could surely find a way of employing the eye-catching technology. 

Brixels are customizable in size, shape, material and color. They can be designed and assembled into almost any configuration to create interactive art sculptures, dynamic walls, railings, facades and more, the agency says. They can also respond to the movements of passersby. 

Zolty says Breakfast has already been in talks with several high-profile brands, architecture groups and museums—including the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum—about upcoming projects and exhibitions.

We talked with Zolty more about the Brixels project, how it came about purely by chance, and why it's so important to design beautiful digital content for physical spaces. 

Muse: Where did this idea come from? Was it born conceptually first, or from physically playing around with ideas? 
Andrew Zolty: I was waiting for my train last winter and the sun was in such a position that it cast these amazing shadows of the people walking on the platform onto a metal fence that divided the tracks. The visual was so mesmerizing that I wanted to see if we could develop something that had a similar effect. 

It reminds me a bit of the Flip-Discs you made. What is it about large-scale displays that interests you? 
We love creating new mediums. Not many do that. We also love creating things that can be perceived as art, but also serve a function (displaying information, real-time content). Combine that with the fact that we've been getting calls for years from all types of entities looking for an alternative to putting another LED wall in the lobby, airport, etc, and you get the niche area we like to play in.

You say the Brixels are designed to be perceived first as art, and second as an info or experience delivery system. Is the artfulness meant to lower the bystander's defenses and thus be more engaging? 
The definition of "design" is "functional art." The art angle simply means that it isn't an ugly screen, but rather something beautiful that you want to gaze upon regardless of what it's doing. This results in a display that is more engaging and attracts more eyes to it.

How important is beautiful design in integrating digital content into physical spaces? 
It's incredibly important, and almost never done. There is a problem in the design of our spaces when trying to integrate digital content. It's always a screen. It's always glowing pixels. It doesn't need to be. Digital content can blend in with the space by crafting a "display" that matches the design and aesthetic of the space itself. 

Brixels and Flip-Discs are throwbacks in a sense, in that they use moving parts, much like the old split-flap displays. What does that physicality achieve that static digital boards don't? 
I think there is a place in all our hearts for tactile elements. It's the reason we like the look and feel of old record players, stereos, TVs, etc. Even little kids today like flipping switches and spinning dials. There's something ingrained in us as humans to respond to things like this. At Breakfast, we try to tap into that feeling and find ways for it to exist in our modern digital lives.

What was the hardest part of making Brixels? And what was the most fun part, or the part of it that you're proudest of? 
There are so many hurdles in inventing something like this, but the hardest part was getting it done in a timely manner while funding it ourselves. We're incentivized to not let it drag on, but if you move too quickly or cut any corners, you've flawed your result. We went from concept to finished installation in five months, which is blazing fast when developing everything from the circuit boards up.

What types of uses do you envision for Brixels? Do you have any clients on board with it yet? 
We designed Brixels so they can be customized in almost every way, and as such, we look forward to creating a variety of installations with them that each feels unique. Some will be in the architectural space, others in the public art space. We have been sharing renders with some potential clients for several months and hope to secure a few projects in the coming weeks. 

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of Clio Awards.