For the city of St. Petersburg the Russian office Vitruvius & Sons - I am not joking - designed a building called ‘Shtrikh Kod’: Barcode. As the iconography suggests the building houses… shops, shops and shops.
“The center is located in a soviet residential area on the bank of the Neva River. Placed in a vast nameless square by the Volodarsky Bridge, formed by gray housing blocks. Vitruvius and Sons liven up this space by introducing a splash of color”, it reads on Mimoa.
The color surely brightens up the city. The rigorous application of the barcode iconography surprisingly works quite well too. It goes so far as that there are actual windows behind the numbers at the sixth floor. You could actually look out from, like, the number five.
Its superficiality and banality could be interpreted as a critique of shopping. I would though rather regard it as a way to connect to context. The ‘plattenbau’ slabs standing in the asphalt landscape are so abstract an all over the place, that a literal and colorful element like this is like an oasis in the desert. It brings a refreshing contrast.
When you think about it, the iconography of the barcode happens to pop up quite often, and not only in architecture. The iconography seems to begin with the painting of a big barcode on a façade. Then there was AMO that designed a new flag for the European Union that transformed all national flags into a multicolored ‘barcode’. A more abstract version of the image is the Barcode House that MVRDV finished last year in Germany.
To take it a step further: from a technological point all buildings could be regarded as barcodes. Last year Wired published an article about how Google Maps is changing the way we look at the world. In the future it could become possible that Google recognizes the location of every building you take a photograph of. If you would then take a photograph with your mobile phone of the building you’re standing next to, Google Maps could provide you with information about (what is happening in) that building, or about program or events in the neighborhood, or a way out of that place. Pattern recognition will make our cities into one big barcode.