Media Facades: High-Tech Digital Building Wraps
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SGIA Expo 2014 - Las Vegas, NV - October 22-24, 2014


Media Facades: High-Tech Digital Building Wraps

Now with LED video screens comes the outdoor advertising impulse to create the ultimate building wrap, a media facade, which is an LED video screen that completely covers the front of a building and presents a kaleidoscope of imagery that dances across the building.

By Louis M. Brill

Advertising signs have appeared painted on building sidewalls, with billboards on building roofs and more recently, with building vinyl wraps. Now with LED video screens comes the outdoor advertising impulse to create the ultimate building wrap, a media facade, which is an LED video screen that completely covers the front of a building and presents a kaleidoscope of imagery that dances across the building.

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  • Media facade building skins has given architecture a new thematic development where the video cladding's has become the "voice" of the building's corporate identity. Such dynamic video coverage gives the building a dream-like presence as its pictorial content swirls around its exterior walls. Video-covered buildings were first foretold in Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's 1982 film polemic on androids (artifice humans) and their place in society. As the movie unfolded across its futuristic city-state, film viewers were able to glimpse examples of video screens attached to several buildings and integrated within the city's skyline.

    QFRONT, Tokyo's Taiseido Building, Shibuya District
    1998, Tokyo's Taiseido Building (Located in the Shibuya district) main tenant, QFRONT, sponsored a huge video screen 23.5 x 19 meters that covered much of the front and sides of that building. One awe-struck viewer described how the three gigantic video displays drew the attention of virtually every pedestrian and passerby who saw the building. You could expect to see any number of programming types on the walls, ranging from the top 10 music video countdown to the occasional weather report rundown.

    Today, outdoor video cladding is a practical, though an expensive possibility in how a modern building can digitally present itself. The use of video as a cladding is both a victory for architects and for advertisers. Because of the flexible nature of LEDs, it is inevitable that it would eventually become an architectural 'surface application' with great appeal to building designers. Esthetically, media facades have created a dynamic building effect that radiates programmable light and video graphics to represent its tenants and visually showcases their brands and products on the building's video screens. For building owners, it becomes an obvious additional revenue and a source of pride with their building's lit-up video walls easily dominating the surrounding skylines and becoming a tourist destination in its own right.

    Currently there are at least thirty or more skyscrapers worldwide that have embraced media facade video walls in some form in their building frontage. As you'd expect, this architectural phenomena began in Times Square and has now migrated overseas to major European and Asian urban centers as well. Image content on these super-sized buildings vary, some are billboards, but others are more subtle and combine branding and art to brighten up the surrounding cityscape.

    In 1998, the Taiseido Building (Tokyo) main tenant, QFRONT, sponsored a huge video screen 23.5 x 19 meters that covered much of the front of that building. Located in the Shibuya district, one awe-struck viewer described how the three gigantic video displays drew the attention of virtually every pedestrian and passerby who saw the building. You could expect to see any number of programming types on the walls, ranging from the top 10 music video countdown to the occasional weather report rundown. In Seoul, South Korea in 2004, the Galleria West was covered with thousands of LED frosted diachronic disks creating a building that radiated both a multi-color light show and a series of streaming text messages for passing vehicular traffic.

    Times Square: Birthplace of video cladded buildings
    The first instance of video cladding was introduced in Times Square in 1999 with the NASDAQ Marketsite building which was covered with a 10-story video wall. Gary Nalven, Co-CEO, Saco Smartvision the company that provided the LED screen for NASDAQ, noted, "The NASDAQ's building LED screen has become a fantastic symbol of the financial community, in some ways replacing the Wall Street image of its Roman column building. A day doesn't go by in Times Square where NASDAQ isn't being photographed or videoed by the international media as a backdrop for their reporters."

    Shortly thereafter, also in 1999, the ABC News (owned by the Walt Disney Company) building emerged with nine separate ribbons of full color, programmable LED displays. Each ribbon is approximately 133 feet of horizontal bends and curves all undulating around the front of the ABC News building. George Sugarman, former president of Multimedia, the company that designed the LED spectacular noted that the ABC News video display was so large that it becomes as much the front of the building as it is a sign.

    ABC News Building, 133 foot ribbon video display
    In 1999, the ABC News building emerged with nine separate ribbons of full color, programmable LED displays. Each ribbon is approximately 133 feet of horizontal bends and curves, all undulating around the front of the ABC News building. The ABC News video display was so large that it becomes as much the front of the building as it is a sign.
    photo credit: ABC

    “The building's LED video cladding,” stated Susan Bonds, Disney show producer for the sign, “has became a premiere benchmark of how the exterior LED sign melded architecture, media and entertainment into a single integrated design. We now have a sculptural LED display board that conforms to the building and is constantly changing its look from minute to minute." Since then, other local Times Square buildings have employed similar full building coverage including the Lehman Brothers Building and the Reuters Building.

    One persistent challenge with media facade screens covering a building is how to effectively use the LED video screen in a way that it acts as both a video display and as a window. The challenge is to present graphic and video images but to do so without blocking ambient daylight from the building's windows and glass walls. All previous Times Square buildings using LED screens did so by covering dedicated windowless, wall spaces along the building. In the case of the NASDAQ building window slots were actually built into the screen face.

    SGIA Expo 2014 - Las Vegas, NV - October 22-24, 2014

    T-Mobile headquarters building in Bonn, Germany, LED-based Mediamesh covers 300 square meters including static and video display elements
    T-Mobile headquarters in Bonn, Germany installed 300 square meters of LED-based Mediamesh which was applied to the front of its building (30 meters wide x 10 meters tall) with 12 centimeter spacings between each row. Once in place on the building, the screen presented a complete low resolution, full color video image viewable in daylight or evening directly from the building wall. At some point the use of the screens becomes a collaboration between the building's tenants and the surrounding community to present a 'world view' of what they're about.

    ag4 and Mediamesh
    In searching for an optimal balance between architecture and media, a company known as ag4 (Cologne, Germany) which is an interdisciplinary group of architects, artists, and industrial designers conceived a breakthrough idea of integrating transparent LED video screens to both cover a building facade and, and do so without blocking ambient exterior light from entering the building. Christoph Kronhagel, ag4 co-founder and co-inventor of their LED video wall explained, "The big challenge in using LED screens architecturally is how the screens would esthetically be integrated into the building form. Our solution was to design a linear LED video component into a metal mesh and hang it off the side of the building, where it becomes a transparent media curtain wall that hangs in front of the building cladding." According to ag4's technical briefing, despite the linear separation of each LED video array, when seen from a distance of 60 feet or more, the human eye fills in the visual gaps between each LED strip and allows the viewer to see a completely discernable image.

    "The beauty of this idea is that using metal woven mesh is an already accepted architectural design look. To complete this process into an actual usable architectural/signage design element, we collaborated with GKD (Düren, Germany), a manufacturer of metal woven building mesh. Together we created Mediamesh®, a transparent covering that both radiates video imagery and is transparent to passing ambient daylight into the building." ag4 describes this expressive design form as 'mediatecture' where a client is able to visually present their brand or corporate identity on the building exterior facade.

    ag4's first Mediamesh installation was placed on the T-Mobile headquarters in Bonn, Germany. Here 300 square meters of Mediamesh were applied to the front of its building (30 meters wide x 10 meters tall) with 12 centimeter spacings between each row. Once in place on the building, the screen presented a complete low resolution, full color video image viewable in daylight or evening directly from the building wall. As a new medium, these screens become more than just signs says Kronhagel, "The use of video walls also brings a public service component to the mesh display with not only advertising and branding, but also art and culture. At some point the use of the screens becomes collaboration between the building's tenants and the surrounding community to present a 'world view' of what they're about to."

    Grand Indonesia Tower with 60,000 square feet of LED array screens
    The Grand Indonesia Tower is covered with at least 60,000 square feet of LED arrays. The building is designed with several LED screens, including an LED lighting effect on the crown of the building and its video screen on the entire front of the building.
    photo credit: StandardVision

    Grand Indonesia tower as beacon of light
    Perhaps the most spectacular video cladding applied to a building is on The Grand Indonesia Tower which is under construction in Jakarta, Indonesia. The 3.7 million square foot mixed-use center features retail, a hotel, and as its centerpiece: a 57-story office tower. The building was created by Darryl Yamamoto, AIA, of AVRP, Los Angeles (Austin Veurn Robbins Partners), who was formerly with RTKL, where he designed and now describes the project. "Essentially the LED grid followed the form of the building's curtain wall. Thus the LED video strips were mounted against the building in several types of formations. In some instances where there was glass, the LED video strips were placed inside the glass facing outwards towards the public. Where there were opaque, metal panels on the building skin, the LED strips were recessed into reveals."

    In total, the entire front facade of the Grand Indonesia Tower is covered with at least 60,000 square feet of LED arrays. The building is designed with several LED screens, including an LED lighting effect on the crown of the building and its video screen on the entire front of the building, The Grand Indonesia's sidewalls will also be emblazed with LED lighting that will act as visual attractors to draw people's attention to the front of building displays. While just lighting up buildings with LEDs has become very che-che with architects, it's a smaller number of visionary building developers who see the value of video walls as part of their building design. Ideally, a perfect building design would combine both of these elements (lighting and video) into a complete visual motif of how the building would shine.

    Yamamoto observed that a building's identity is normally defined by its exterior shape and in some instances, the use of exterior lighting that emphasizes that shape. "Up to now architecture has been about fitting buildings into three-dimensional space. The inclusion of video screens completely covering a building's surface changes that equation of how a building occupies that space. In a sense, video screen coverage on a building surface places it in a fourth dimension where pictorial and iconic imagery now become a representational feature of how the building presents itself."

    Adrian Velicescu, CEO of StandardVision, LLC (LA, CA), whose company develops architecturally integrated multimedia and media facade installations in creative ways of bringing audiences and brands together. Under this charter StandardVision both designed the video screen and developed the content strategy and media business model for The Grand Indonesia Tower. "This building is not only the largest skyscraper in Jakarta," he noted, "but upon completion, its video screen (96-feet wide by 450 feet tall) will be the largest media display in the world." The TransMedia (TM) integrated display was designed by StandardVision as an internal sunshade system and is featuring LED technology by Imago (Barcelona, Spain) formerly known as Odeco.

    Velicescu stated that, "Very large video screens are not just billboards. These screens also have a social responsibility to offer a 'civil function' beyond just advertising and branding messages. There is also kinetic art and socially relevant iconic graphics that are a part of what will be shown on the building face. We believe that content should have some direct relationship to its surrounding community. We perceive about 50% of the building's sign content will be revenue based and the other half will be public service announcements and art. All of this content will be designed with a natural visual pacing to make it compelling and more universally accepted by its viewing audiences.

    Mediamesh as a Digital Tapestry
    Mediamesh is an LED video display wire mesh that is hung off a building facade, transforming its front wall into a gigantic video screen. The mesh was created by ag4 (Cologne, Germany), an architectural and media communications company in collaboration with GKD (Düren, Germany), a manufacturer of woven fabric stainless steel mesh structures used for decorative coverage on the front of a building.

    The creation of such a media mesh wall begins with the weaving together of the mesh covering. In the creation of the covering, steel sleeves are inserted at specific points within certain rows of the mesh. The sleeves are holders for a series of 'transparent aluminum profiles filled with RGB LEDs and covered to with a waterproof resin. Each aluminum module is a linear array segment of an RGB LED video display. Upon completion, the mesh structure holds a complete LED video matrix that is inserted in rows of the Mediamesh set at specific distances (depends on the height of the windows in the building), which depend on the total height of the screen that will be fitted on the build facade. Depending on the project the LED pitch can be between 4 to 40 centimeter spacing. The mesh can be designed to any length and can be set anywhere up to 26-foot wide width. The video control center can be independent of the building's location thus the building screen can be managed via the Internet.

    Close-up of Mediamesh
    Mediamesh is an LED video display wire mesh that is hung off a building facade, transforming its front wall into a gigantic video screen. The creation of such a media mesh wall begins with the weaving together of the mesh covering. In the creation of the covering, steel sleeves are inserted at specific points within certain rows of the mesh. The sleeves are holders for a series of 'transparent aluminum profiles filled with RGB LEDs and covered to with a waterproof resin. Upon completion, the mesh structure holds a complete LED video matrix that is inserted in rows of the Mediamesh set at specific distances (depends on the height of the windows in the building), which depend on the total height of the screen that will be fitted on the build facade.
    photo credit: ag4

    Mediamesh has two functions, to be transparent during the day to allow sunlight to illuminate the interior office space and equally so, to transmit day or evening a video image across the front of the building. Viewed close up, these image segments may not visually seem like much of anything, but when viewed from a distance, the segments blend together into a completely discernable video image. As a rule, the viewing distance is self selective, if the viewer gets to close to the screen, they'll back up until the image is at a viewable resolution. Mediamesh video screens are versatile and can accept varied content between text, graphics and video imagery. With the right software, it is also possible to present live video on the screen. A secondary effect, when the Mediamesh is not in use, it appears as an unobtrusive and decorative light-reflecting screen as part of the building facade. Mediamesh can also present live video which requires specialized hardware and a more integrated high resolution video display.

    Producing a Mediamesh wall in some ways is no different than planning for a static sign or print billboard; location is everything. This applies to how the building faces oncoming pedestrian and vehicular traffic, also in determining the screens proper sightline for ease of viewing from the street. If the screen is high enough, not only can the street see it, so can surround buildings. Aside from buildings, Mediamesh is also appropriate for sport stadiums and arenas, casinos and convention centers, just about any public gathering space where large video screens are needed to transmit pictures, graphics and text.

    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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