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An Island in the 25th time-zone.

Based in Palermo for the past 50 years, the French Cultural Center of Palermo and Sicily is being restructured and Thierry Roche, Director of the Center, has asked Electronic Shadow to be part of redesigning this new space. The context is a perfect opportunity for Naziha Mestaoui and Yacine Aït Kaci, founders of Electronic Shadow, to put the concepts of hybrid architecture to work and create a physical space that acts as an interface with its digital extension. Their contribution fuses the real and the virtual into one timespace of discovery and exchange.

New information and communication technologies, along with the Internet, have expanded on various flows known to the physical world to define an expanded electronic continuum. Internet thus constitutes a global layer, capable of extending almost all human activities into the electronic world in a new timespace. Geography is eliminated in favor of a constant flow, in which all information tends towards the ubiquitous and immediate, constituting a new timespace – the 25th time zone.

The 25th time zone is one of the overall project’s central concepts and carries with it great symbolism with regards to the goals of a cultural center. The 25th time zone is an imaginary strip brings together all other time zones into one timespace. It is the time zone of the Internet, simultaneously all hours of the day and every place in the world at once. It is a locus of encounters and exchange.

Within the context of the French Cultural Center project, this idea is a core concept that can consistently be traced in the Center’s architecture, visual identity and design, as well as on the future website.

The space will thus be clearly geared to the rest of the world: not only the Mediterranean basin but also the rest of the world via the Internet, not only the website but also other places with which the Center is currently and will be in contact. Upon entering the Center, beyond Palermo and of Sicily, visitors will enter the network.

Interfaces Between Two Worlds

Like other types of flow, information moves from point to point and travels between spaces, giving rhythm to our paths through the physical world: cities, villages and buildings have their own parallels in the virtual spaces of the electronic world. Such are the foundations of websites. A website is an interactive layout of data stored on a hard disk, which is in turn connected to the network and thus constantly accessible anytime, and anywhere.

We thus see the world and its image, its electronic reflection, cohabiting in different timespaces. The crossing points from one world to another are defined by interfaces – the systems which translate actions into data and, inversely, make it possible to make flows and information visible. The most familiar interfaces are computers, with their combination of screens for visualization and peripherals for collecting and replaying information.

Yet the interface that we control most naturally and thus best is our body. Its peripherals include language, emotion and gesture, which don’t have any direct digital translation, creating distance and a clear separation between the two worlds, despite their similarities and correspondences. The representation of the body in the electronic world – an avatar – would be a kind of remote-controlled puppet that would extend physical presence into an electronic world.

Hybrid Architecture

From these observations comes a proposal for a hybrid vision for creation in general, and architecture in particular, to establish a common space between the two worlds, to be shared by our physical body and by our electronic body, or avatar. The space is considered part of a more significant entity, with its extension in the physical world as well as in the digital world. Thus the actions in one world are reflected in another, creating a persistent, ubiquitous existence by allowing new types of spatial configurations, perceptions and exchanges. One can consequently imagine sharing a physical place, between a real audience using its body as an interface, and the avatars which created an extended audience presence, as “real” as the other only distant through a series of digital interfaces.

The field of hybrid architecture thus goes from the design of real spaces to that of virtual spaces. The design and creation of these spaces are made on common premises, with a common goal of integrating the communication interfaces of the two worlds. From a formal and structural point of view, the information architecture is also integrated to allow access via a website as well as the physical infrastructures displayed in a real installation space.

Tradition and Modernity

Within the context of the Palermo Cultural Center, these concepts are linked to local realities and the historical heritage of the site, which is located near the Arab-Norman palace of La Zisa.

The architecture thus mixes modern techniques and materials, such as Corian produced by the Dupont DeNemours, one of the project partners, with other materials specially made by local craftsmen using traditional techniques.

The Physical / Digital Relationship

The physical and digital spaces have a common structure, divided into 25 strips to reflect 25 time zones. In the physical space, this grid folds up to define spaces, furniture and design elements. In the digital world, the grid folds up to create different information architectures.

The physical space and its digital extension will house 2 types of audiences – visitors and avatars.

The avatar’s interaction in the digital space influences what is happening in the physical space, changing intensity of the light, color or audio ambiances. Inversely, the digital extension on the website will be modified by the activity taking place in the physical space of the installation.

The link between the real space and the website is thus encapsulated by their shared interactivity.


The new French Cultural Center of Palermo and Sicily will be one of the first places imagined and created with these ideas of hybrid architecture in mind. It is an opportunity to develop avant-garde concepts in the Mediterranean and, thus, to keep up with the cultural and economic challenges of the new millennium.

Electronic Shadow

Founded in 2000, Electronic Shadow’s work is based on various areas of creation, from architecture to new technologies, as well as design, graphic design and video. These fields come together to articulate the relationship between the physical world and new electronic territories. With several years of experience in these fields, Naziha MESTAOUI, Belgian architect (I-tube projects, lightscapes, liquid axis) and Yacine AIT KACI, French multi-media director (CD-Rom Yves the St. Laurent, DVD-Rom of the Louvre, television production) combine their expertise to create a new field – hybrid design. All of Electronic Shadow’s projects enrich this research by creating real applications: interactive installations, like I-skin or V-med; innovative objects like the “écharpe communicante” presented at the Moma in February, 2001; and architecture with the French Cultural Centre of Palermo and Sicily.

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