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Barclays Bank Lights up Times Square Skyline

For all the bank buildings Barclays Bank has occupied since its founding in 1690, one of its latest building acquisitions, a new location in Manhattan, required some extra finesse in putting up its iconic insignia on the top of its new headquarters in Times Square.

By Louis M Brill

It's pretty hard to miss the beauty of this new landmark on the skyline of New York City at 745 Seventh Avenue

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  • Barclays Bank has been around awhile, having been founded in London in 1690. For all the bank buildings it has occupied over the last several centuries, one of its latest building acquisitions, a new location in Manhattan, required some extra finesse in putting up its iconic insignia on the top of its new headquarters in Times Square.

    To do so Barclays commissioned a blue-chip team including Landor Associates, Gensler Architects, JLS, Structure Tone, and Herring Media Group (Glastonbury, CT) to oversee the implementation of Barclays brand and iconic Manhattan presence, and basically to get Barclays "name in lights" in the middle of Times Square. "We were brought on to design and commission the lighting and signage for Barclays new Manhattan location," said CEO and Principal Designer Marc Herring. "This included a 4th floor podium facade above street level and the introduction of the Brand's skyline signage at the top of 745 Seventh Avenue in New York City."

    Designing the Barclay Bank brand as sign and logo
    Barclays signage requirements were summed up in a design brief initiated by Landor Associates (NY) taking Barclays original branding concepts and translating it into a functional sign package stipulating that its desired channel letter sign face and eagle logo would appear on all sides of its building and do so following its corporate color scheme. More interesting was the fact that the sign colors had to reverse where its white background and blue sign face would switch colors after dusk. The overall sign package consisted of a channel letter set placed against a frosted eight-story tall glass curtain wall. Following that, the entire glass curtain wall was to also transform into a giant illuminated skyline 'lantern.'

    With the design brief in place, the Herring Media Group tested the 'look' by simulating the channel letters and Barclays logo as a laser projection on the curtain wall where the actual channel letters were intended to be placed. "Using nearby neighboring buildings in Times Square," said Herring, "we projected back onto the Barclays curtain walls and depicted a schematic drawing at scale. We studied the placement and scale of the signage components (eagle icon and corporate name) to see how the signage would 'read,' how well it looked on the building and how it looked from various points of view at street level and as far away as New Jersey."

    Transforming curtain wall into world's tallest lantern
    Satisfied with the initial tests, the sign project moved forward with its first phase to transform the rooftop curtain wall, "to achieve the 'lantern' look with the curtain wall," as described by Herring. "We used a 3M white Diffuser film, which became a projection scrim for the color shifting lighting effect. The film covered edge to edge the eight-stories of each curtain wall. Used on all four curtain wall sides, the 3M material totaled out to approximately 60,000 square feet of diffusion film."

    The frosted scrim is in place behind the curtain wall, and the Bank's name is completely installed. The eagle icon now begins its decent towards its final position on the curtain wall.
    photo by Going Signs

    "To create Barclays uniform brand color on each curtain wall, Philips Color Kinetics ColorReach and ColorGraze LED RGB fixtures with custom lenses were fitted opposite each interior side of the curtain wall. On the center of the roof was the building's cooling tower (for HVAC) which was surrounded by Alucobond walls. To maximize the lighting efficiency of illuminating the lantern columns of the curtain wall, RGB LED Philips ColorReach lighting fixtures were placed on vertical I-beams against the cooling tower walls and the ColorGrazes were positioned in the catwalks and both were aimed back towards the now frosted curtain walls. Altogether about 80-LED fixtures were used on each side of the building to present a perfect beam spread and create the blue glowing lantern effect across the entire top of the building.

    During the day, the 'lantern' wall remained white, and starting at dusk began a very gradual chromatic cross fade transition of the curtain wall, slowly transforming it into Barclays corporate blue background. And while that was happening, the channel letter color were equally transforming in the opposite direction from daytime blue to brilliant white to fill the evening Times Square skyline.

    Once the lantern effect was in place, Herring noted, "we proceeded to the next step of initiating the fabrication of four sets of logos and channel letters." That project was issued to Going Sign (Plainview, NY). Once fabricated, the signage was to be installed on each side of the building which was located at Seventh Avenue, between 49th and 51st Street in Manhattan (the former Lehman Brothers building). In so doing this project, there were several big challenges as described by Kevin Going, Vice President of Going Sign.

    A translucent flexible vinyl completely covered each letter as a single facing element. To keep it taunt against the letter form, each vinyl face was over sized and their ends overlapped the edge of the channel letter. To fasten it, the vinyl edge was held tightly against the sides of the channel letter and clamped in place. In this photo, the eagle icon is being covered.
    photo by Herring Media Group

    "First of all, whatever signage we would fabricate had to eventually get to the building roof for instillation which meant using the building's freight elevator to get all the sign components to their final destinations. Thus we were constrained by the freight elevator's overall interior dimensions as to how big we make each sign part."

    "Typically when you build a sign, you fabricate it in a shop, when it's done, you transport the sign to the site for installation. In the Barclays bank project, we began by building each set of channel letters in our Plainville sign shop, as fabricated aluminum letters. Each aluminum letter was about 10-feet in height and each (depending on the letter) weighed between 600 pounds to 800 pounds. The eagle logo was approximately 15-feet in height"

    At that point, once completed, a new phase of fabrication - more like deconstruction began, where we took the finished channel letters, and separated each channel letter into more manageable and smaller letter section sub-components that were then trucked to the building and taken to the rooftop."

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    The letter Y, having been completely assembled is now readied for lifting to the exterior side of the curtain wall for final placement.
    photo by Going Sign

    "Although we were outdoors on the top of a 40-story building, it was fortunate that the rooftop was completely surrounded by a 90-foot glass curtain wall as it did act as a wind block (but no protection from the cold) which created an easier space for us to reassemble the channel letters. To initiate the next phase of preparing the letters for their final installation on the side of the building, we located a temporary sign shop onto the building's roof top. Once we were on the roof, we began reassembling the letter sections into their final letter forms, bolting them together, doing all the final LED electrical assembly to each letter and then placing a 3M Panaflex face with 3M Dual color vinyl on each letter face.

    The Y channel letter begins its descent in place on the side of the building.
    photo by Going Sign

    Panaflex cover-up
    "Covering the channel letters also had its own challenge. The letters were quite large and while Plexiglas came to mind quickly as a cover, it wasn't the best solution", said Going. "We couldn't get a single piece of Plexiglas that large and to have two or more plex pieces cover a letter wasn't good because there would have been seams. Not only was that not esthetically acceptable, but using Plexiglas would have incurred a significant weight penalty with that amount being added to each channel letter, so Plexiglas was out. There was also the concern that seamed Plexiglas or Lexan left open the possibility of a face blowing out."

    The solution was to use a translucent flexible vinyl as it offered large enough sheets to completely cover each letter as a single facing element. To keep it taunt against the letter form, each vinyl face was "over sized" and their ends overlapped the edge of the channel letter. To fasten it, the vinyl edge was held fast against the sides of the channel letter and clamped in place."

    Curtain wall as crown of building prior to its conversion into its "lantern" effect.
    photo by R. Scott Lewis

    "Our next big challenge was how we were going to move the channel letters from the rooftop, lift them over the top of a 90-foot glass curtain wall and then lower them for placement on the exterior side of the curtain wall. There was also the 'small matter' as to how each letter was to be attached to the curtain wall. The solution to the first problem was actually very simple. We used a temporary rooftop derrick that was acquired and (you guessed it) disassembled to fit into the building elevator, and section by section brought to the roof where it was reassembled."

    "At the top of the inside of the glass curtain wall, there was a rail system that went around all four sides of the building. The derrick and the accompanying scaffold were reassembled on the rails, and this allowed the derrick and the Going crew to move from one side of the building to the next side to place the Barclays logo and name on each curtain wall."

    A close up of the channel letter installation shows off the custom fin plate that the channel letter was attached to.
    photo by Scott Lewis

    Once a channel letter was made ready to go, it was positioned in the derrick's pick up zone for lifting and final placement. At that point a very delicate lifting choreography began, noted Going, "this involved lifting each channel letter from the rooftop to the top of the curtain wall, over the side, and then in a very slow descent, lowering the channel letter to the exact position for final placement on the curtain wall. In doing the final lifting of each channel letter, one of our concerns was the derrick's curtain wall clearance as we had about sixteen-foot clearance from the derrick arm to the edge of the curtain wall. With our 10-foot channel letters that was okay, but the bank eagle logo was about 15-feet tall so that was a very tight fit when that went over the curtain wall edge."

    Weather concerns vs. lifting process
    "The biggest concern in managing the Barclays Bank signage was the weather," stated Going. "At that height (about 550-feet) you'll get winds that'll kick in at 25 - 30 mph, and you have take that into consideration before you start lifting anything up and over the building. Rain is also an issue, and if that happens, you can't be on the scaffold. So our workday is determined pretty much by how the weather is that day."

    Attaching channel letters to glass curtain walls
    As for attaching each channel letter in place on the glass curtain wall, this was described by project engineer Scott Lewis who oversaw the final assembly of channel letters and placement of letters onto the Barclays building curtain wall. "A system of custom designed mounting clips, known as fin plates, was created by building structural engineers Thornton Tomasetti," states Lewis, "and used as channel letter anchoring points."

    "The biggest challenge in installing side aluminum signs on a glass curtain wall was that we did not have a solid wall to install the channel letters to, all we had were the mullions (vertical support) and transoms (horizontal members similar to mullions). Typically when you're installing a sign on a curtain wall, you set mounting rails on the mullions and install the letters on the rails. The problem is, the mounting rails are visible between each letter. The architect vetoed this potential solution during our first meeting."

    The Barclays Bank sign package now becomes a passing landmark for each year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
    photo by Herring Media Group

    "Before installing the fin plates, slots were carefully cut (drilled and sawed) through the aluminum vertical mullions and horizontal transoms. The stainless steel fin plates were bolted to the mullions and transoms, working from inside the curtain wall," noted Lewis. "Corresponding clip angles were then fitted to the backside of each channel letter. During the erecting of each channel letter, the fin plates from the mullions and transoms would nest against the channel letter's clip angles and would be bolted together."

    Heads turned when the building lit up
    Not only was Barclays a new addition to the Times Square skyline, but it was also as Herring noted "accomplished in record time as it strove for completion prior to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade held each year in New York City. As the Barclays building was on the parade route, the owners very much wanted their branding to be ready for the parade, and thanks to a dedicated team effort of designing, fabricating and installing the Barclays sign package, it was." Herring also observed that once the Barclays sign package was completed and illuminated, it had become an instant landmark on the North end of the Times Square skyline. "As soon as the Barclays lantern was lit, heads were turned, and a lot of camera phones were lifted high to photograph it." Thus the bank's brand was immortalized in the more modern tradition as a contemporary "Kodak" moment and being remembered like that is about the best compliment you could give any sign.

    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications. He can be reached at (415) 664-0694 or

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