World Tour of Electronic Digital Building Wraps
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World Tour of Electronic Digital Building Wraps

Media facades, which are one of the newest territories of electronic signage, have blossomed in a number of directions with great promise to LED sign manufacturers, sign integrators, architects, media planners and urban developers who all see this super-sized signage as an urban landscape enhancement.

By Louis M. Brill

The bottom line: signage has media facades covered.

Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

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  • "The integration of media facades in a building structure is transforming how architecture creates buildings," noted Tom Powley, president of GKDUSA, a company that works in collaboration with ag4 (Cologne, Germany). They are the manufacturer of Mediamesh, a metal woven fabric with an embedded LED video display within the mesh and used as a covering in front of the building.

    "The creation of a media facade on a building allows the building to come 'alive'," stated Powley, "with a changing look of imaging and lighting in relation to its surrounding cityscape. This is a development of corporate branding and corporate identity programs with its highest and most visible presence. This, in effect is a new era for corporate displays."

    The big issues in managing a media facade project are finding the right match between the building project and the type of LED media facade display that will cover the building. Content is very important as to what will be shown on the building, and as well, who will produce and manage the content. Public Service Announcements to the community is also an important consideration of content management, particularly the percentage split of how much time is donated to PSA content. Finally, the most important question, can the media facade have a revenue model? This is sometimes an iffy proposition.

    Let's examine a worldwide tour of some recent media facades including the Faberge Egg, (Macau, China), The Khalifar Sports Stadium (Doha, Qatar), The Miracle Mile Shops (Las Vegas) and host of other video covered installations of equal import.

    Faberge Egg - Grand Lisboa
    Macau, China has become the Asian Las Vegas and like Las Vegas is continuing to add layers of digital sign glitz to brighten up their building coverage. Recently, the Grand Lisboa hotel in Macau built the Faberge Egg, its companion casino that is shaped as an egg cut lengthwise. Like its gem-encrusted namesake, the Grand Lisboa's rendition glows with a distinct awe-inspiring LED video facade that promotes the good fortunes to be had by those visiting the casino.

    The Faberge Egg concrete shell was 184 feet high (56 m), and over the shell was placed a grid of interconnecting brackets which fitted 12,000 triangular colored glass panels. Within the grid was placed Daktronics ProPixel LED video elements that can present full-motion video for large-scale architectural applications.
    photo by: Daktronics

    The Faberge Egg LED facade was created by Daktronics (Brookings, SD) with the introduction of the ProPixel, a new LED video element that can present full-motion video for large-scale architectural applications. Formed in the shape of a hockey puck, it includes 20 RGB LED embedded within its surface (8 R, 6 G and 6 B), with a 140 degree horizontal viewing angle and a 60 degree vertical POV. The Egg itself is gargantuan at 184 feet high (56 m), 620 feet wide (189 m).

    The implementation of this unique media facade involved several separate design projects, first being the creation of the Daktronics ProPixel element, and second creating the steel structural frame that covered the concrete shell and became the interface connecting the ProPixel modules to the building structure. The ProPixel LED puck module was designed to act as an architectural LED unit that could conform to any building shape as a cladding element.

    Once the Faberge Egg concrete shell was completed, a grid of LED interconnecting brackets was mounted on the shell. Also fitted onto the grid were 12,000 triangular colored glass panels whose structure was designed by architects, Dennis Lau & Ng Chun and consultant Shen Milsom & Wilke. Inserted between each triangular glass panel was a ProPixel unit, in total 58,000 LED modules were used to fill out the egg-shaped facade. One of the big design challenges for Daktronics was that the resultant video screen was not your typical flat screen, but more an egg-shaped hemispherical screen that required special video "mapping" of content to properly fit a distortion-free image on the side of the Faberge Egg's media facade. To manage the video content, Daktronics provided two of its Venus-7000 video controllers with an off-the-shelf Scala video server linked to two V-link video processors. Complementing the hotel / casino complex, Daktronics also applied a series of ProPixel units as a decoration to the marquee's sign lighting and the hotel's big channel letters. Finally it capped the top o f the hotel with an LED placement on top of the hotel's dome.

    Upon completion, the Faberge Egg media facade really shined as its video imagery effortlessly glided across the screen. In one instance, a video display presented the egg as a vast aquarium with Koi fish swimming around the front of the building as if the Egg was a fish tank. Another visual transformed the Egg into an eyeball which looked around. And of course, the exploding Egg which unveiled gold coins wishing people good luck and fortune during their casino visit.

    Khalifa Stadium (50,000 seat soccer stadium) in Doha created a media facade reaching a height of 129 feet (39m) at its peak that would allow the entire audience facing the screen to easily view the ceremonies as they paraded and performed within the stadium center field. To create this visual wonder, Element Labs utilized over 20,000 units of its Versa RAY LED video display module.
    photo credit: Element Labs

    Khalifa Stadium, Doha Qatar
    Across the world in the Middle East, Doha Qatar was the international host to the 15th Annual Asian games. The Games, which have the same importance in Asia as the Olympics have in the Western hemisphere, also had a very elaborate and extensive pair of opening and closing ceremonies of parades, speeches and acrobatic displays. These massive celebrations were expected to be viewed by hundreds of thousands of Asian Games attendees and a television viewing audience of at least three billion game enthusiasts.

    In an effort to showcase those ceremonies in the grand style they deserved, Asian Game planners decided that the Khalifa Stadium (50,000-seat soccer stadium) in Doha would inherit a media facade within the sports stadium that would allow the entire audience facing the screen to easily view the ceremonies within the stadium center field. To acquire such a massive viewing arrangement, the Doha Asian Games Organizing Committee commissioned Element Labs (Santa Clara, CA), a manufacturer of LED video display screens for audio-visual and architectural design, to create a sports stadium viewing display equal to the task.

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    To solve the wind loading problem, the Element Labs LED video screen was designed as a series of vertical ribs from which the Versa RAY LED modules were mounted upon. Given the 'gaps' between each rib component (77mm pitch), the LED screen became wind transparent allowing the wind to pass right through the screen.
    photo credit: Element Labs

    The final LED viewing screen shaped like a half-moon was 541 feet (165m) long, reaching a height of 129 feet (39m) at its peak. Altogether the video screen covered an area of 48,400 square feet (4,500m square). To create this visual wonder, Element Labs utilized one of its core products, Versa RAY, of which 20,000 units of varying lengths were used and fitted against the screens support structure. Versa RAYs come in the form of RGB linear tubes and for the Khalifa Stadium project were set at a pixel pitch of 77mm. Each Versa RAY was typically three meters long and formed as a 3/4" diameter tube. All Versa RAY units were weather-proofed and set vertically on a pre-existing modular truss infrastructure.

    To present the project, Chris Varrin, co-founder and VP at Element Labs discussed the logistics and challenges of building one of the world's biggest free-standing LED video displays in the wide open desert environs of Doha. "To establish the sheer size of the video screen, we began by building a proof-of-concept prototype that was a one hundred meter square LED video mock up of the stadiums media facade. Once built, it was tweaked and tested until the customer was happy in how the screened looked in terms of pixel brightness and pitch separation. With that acceptance, we further developed the mock up, met the criteria of wind loading and ambient daytime temperatures, and other weather proofing concerns".

    Construction and desert environmental concerns became big challenges in building the Khalifa Stadium display, which included:

    • Screen size defines video signal distribution
      How would a video signal be distributed in real time to provide a complete image that would simultaneously fill a 48,000 square foot display? "Our solution was to divide the video screen into many smaller viewing segments (think tile sections) and reduce the bandwidth to allow the fastest possible pathway to establish simultaneous image distribution. As the Versa RAY modules were put in place, we followed with immediately installing power and data hook-ups to the screen as well.

    • Wind loads
      To solve the wind loading problem, the LED video screen was designed as a series of vertical ribs from which the Versa RAY LED modules were mounted upon. Given the 'gaps' between each rib component (77mm pitch), the LED screen became wind transparent allowing the wind to pass right through the screen. While the gaps were visible close up, at night when the LED screen was operational, it became visually opaque presenting a solid video image to audiences.

    • Dealing with daytime heat
      The Khalifa Stadium was located as an outdoor sports stadium in an extremely harsh environment with daytime temperatures of at least 115 degrees. To complete the erection of the screen, most of its assembly was done at night when the area was significantly cooler than during the day.

    LED Olympic Competition
    Sharif Hashisho, director of ceremonies and cultural events at the Asian Games noted, "At every Olympic ceremony there is always a number of new technologies that are introduced. In our opening/closing ceremonies, it was our new LED stadium display. The presentation of the screen has made both Beijing and London Olympic organizing committees worried about if and how they could top our screen."

    Miracle Miles Shops (a 170-store shopping and entertainment center) that is anchored by the Planet Hollywood (formerly the Aladdin) hotel/ casino commissioned YESCO, Inc. (Las Vegas) to design and install a series of LED video screens (PRISM Display System with a 25mm pitch) that formed a media facade that fit across the upper third of the building. The media facade displays both faced The Strip and also vehicular traffic approaching it from the sides of the building.
    photo by: Miracle Mile Shops

    Las Vegas Building Wrap
    Across the hemisphere in Las Vegas where fantastic spectaculars crowd around each other for competing sightlines, a recent LED sign addition proved to be the city's first media facade. Placed as a promotion for the Miracle Miles Shops (opened 2007), it was a 170-store shopping and entertainment (live theater, night clubs, and dining) center that is anchored by the Planet Hollywood (formerly the Aladdin) hotel/casino. More than just being on The Strip, it is equally important that it has a prominent visibility that allows Las Vegas visitors to easily notice the shopping center as a distinct place to visit.

    To create that visual "specialness," MMS commissioned YESCO, Inc. (Las Vegas) to design and install a series of LED video screens (PRISM Display System with a 25mm pitch) that formed a media facade that fit across the upper third of the building, following its contours completely covering the front of the building (facing The Strip) and both sides of the building which faced vehicular traffic approaching it from either direction towards the building.

    The building's media facade operation was discussed by Russell Joyner, Miracle Miles Shops Senior Vice President and General Manager who noted, "Currently, most of the content on the MMS media facade is divided between promoting MMS as its own brand, and as well, presenting the sales and service offerings of its on-site tenants. Eventually, we also see third-party advertising as another component to our content mix."

    The MMS building is also unique in that its fabulous location places it directly opposite the Belligio hotel/casino, which offers several times a day, each day, an outdoor festive water show which captures the attention of passing visitors. The Balligio water show has also become a prime time for the MMS media facade to highlight itself and encourage spectators to cross the street to check out the MMS. As a people magnet, the media facade works like a charm as Joyner stated, "With our media facade in operation in creating more attraction and awareness to our shopping center, we're probably now in access of more than a 25% increase in sales traffic (than we anticipated) to our property."

    "More than just being a series of LED signs, we see our media facade," stated Joyner, "as a window to looking inside of Miracle Miles Shops, allowing viewers to quickly learn about our tenant and sales opportunities and just come on in.

    WGBH (Boston), a non-profit public television station in building their new corporate headquarters commissioned a unique media facade made in segments. The final installation incorporated a series of 13 continuing vertical LED video strips each at successive narrower widths all the way across the building. Passing viewers see part of the image on the various LED video screens and their mind's eye fill in the gaps giving them a complete sense of a complete image.
    photo by: Mark IV

    Mark IV
    In yet another corporate media facade application, WGBH (Boston), a non-profit public television station is building their new corporate headquarters commissioned from the former Mark IV (Plano, Texas), as explained by National Sales Manager, Dennis Hickey, "A media facade designed to display a 'lifestyle' presence rather than an advertising or a typical branding piece." Essentially, WGBH's approach was to develop their media facade as a window into a visual representation showcasing the perceived lifestyle of its viewers.

    Boston being one of the few American cities outside of Manhattan's Times Square has approved its first media facade, which is seen every day by drivers passing it by the nearby highway. An interesting aspect of the media facade is that one and only one image a day is chosen to be displayed. It has become a big hit with the drivers who pass it, says Hickey, "wondering in anticipation what visual theme they'll see that day as they pass the WGBH headquarters."

    Media facades are a new relationship of signage to architecture and one that has no limits to how it integrates itself on the front of a building. Neither height nor building shape is a restriction to fitting an LED video screen in place. Of greater importance is the context of the content to the surrounding public space where the building display now becomes a visual brochure of the company's corporate identity. With the groundswell of interest in building media facades it's only a matter of time before some potential client is asking for a digital building wrap to cover their new building.
    ----------------------------------------------------
    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications. He can be reached at (415) 664-0694 or louisbrill@sbcglobal.net

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