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Corporate Lobbies

The new landscape of digital signage

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As skyscrapers have emerged over the decades, their corporate lobbies have served as canvasses on which architects and anchor tenants can create lasting first impressions of a company’s presence and brand. They have evolved from small reception desks and unadorned waiting areas to public-art galleries with sculptures, paintings and, now, digital signage.

Having been recently added to the corporate-lobby gallery, digital signage uses both culture and corporate branding to connect an anchor tenant with its visitors. Instead of merely funneling visitors into the building, a lobby that includes a large, digital screen dramatically impacts visitors both visually and audibly through various display and audiovisual technologies, such as LED and LCD screens and video projectors.

Integrating these dynamic requirements into a singular, expressive entity that extends the anchor tenant’s corporate identity is the architect’s challenge. Gone are the days of just hanging tapestries on the wall as a temporary art space, as the following corporate-lobby tour demonstrates. The tour includes the NYC-based InterActiveCorp. (IAC) Building, 7 World Trade Center, the Reuters Building and the Philadelphia-based Comcast headquarters.

David Niles, president of the NYC-based Niles Creative Group, noted the lobby “offers itself as a stage to a vast, transient audience passing by, some of whom have less than five minutes to appreciate your corporate messages.”

Architects, sign integrators and anchor tenants who have the vision and budget are redefining their lobby space into a media event of their own making.

Reuters

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The Reuters Building, at 3 Times Square, is covered with an 11-story media façade, which comprises an LED screen manufactured by Mitsubishi Diamond Vision (Warrendale, PA). The screen represents an antenna, which symbolizes the company’s core function of gathering information and re-circulating it as print, radio, television and Internet news. The huge LED screen takes a horizontal turn at the base of the building and ends in its lobby.

IAC

IAC, a prominent Internet company, has more than 35, fast-growing, highly related Internet brands that serve roughly 173 million unique, monthly users. The varied Internet brands provide their “interactive” consumers access to a vast commercial and social Internet community.

The Frank Gehry-designed headquarters is itself an architectural destination in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. To represent the company’s activities in the lobby areas, IAC commissioned a set of visual displays that became the “voice” of its corporate endeavors. The company selected video rear projection as the display tech-nology because the viewing situation required a 10-point font to be seen a foot away, which LED screens can’t yet accomplish.

Located behind the IAC reception desk, an 11 x 20-ft. videoscreen displays a complete, 360° image of the Earth. Visitors near the reception desk (the East Wall) can interactively activate the globe to rotate to any part of the planet. In doing so, they can view various company locations and observe, in real time, its worldwide web traffic, as related to IAC business activities.

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Around the corner that faces the West Side Highway, the 11 x 118-ft.-long video wall is one of the longest, seamless video displays in a public space. The display system, which employs 18 video projectors, seamlessly blends individual-frame edges to provide a continuous image that covers the entire videoscreen. Building-design consultant Bruce Mau Design (Toronto) created the media wall, and Trollbäck + Co. (NYC) developed the IAC content.

To accommodate the many visitors who watch the displays, IAC placed a beautiful, sculpted, wooden bench parallel to the larger screen. The display area also serves as an accessible space for organized events within the lobby. The media wall is also visible from the West Side Highway.

The multi-purpose venue serves the corporation, community and student artists from nearby universities, who are challenged to provide content for it.

The media wall’s content is divided into a series of modules that represent various IAC corporate brands. For example, the Ticketmaster module generates a real-time representation of its major, international concert venues. The Ask.com module delivers real-time news feeds to its lobby viewers.

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7 World Trade Center

Sunrise Systems (Pembroke, MA), an LED-manufacturing company that specializes in outdoor and interior message-center systems, has transformed 20 or more corporate lobbies with electronic message centers, according to Henry Appleton, Sunrise’s president. Many of these LED message centers are architectural — their installations conform to interior-building curves or wall placements, or, in some instances, they’re built into lobby desk furniture.

Appleton said, “It’s always the text content that defines these displays.”

One of his most visible installations, at 7 World Trade Center (WTC), in Lower Manhattan, transforms lobby space into an inspirational, public-art display that features the word messages of artist Jenny Holzer. Holzer’s work for the 7 WTC incorporates text messages that comment on the poetry and prose of such NYC-related authors as Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. The entire text scrolls for approximately 36 hours. Because the text is fully visible from the park outside the building, it also extends the message from the lobby to the front sidewalk.

The 65 x 5-ft., white, LED message center comprises a single screen, located behind the lobby reception desk, that runs the entire length of the lobby area. Set at eye level, the screen was covered with a sheet of frosted glass that protects the display and creates an interesting effect whereby each pixel blooms a bit (becomes slightly larger) when the light passes through the diffused glass. Without the frosted glass, the sign would be 91% transparent, and the pixels would be bright points of light.

Comcast

Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters, a recently completed, 57-story skyscraper, houses a spectacular corporate-lobby display. A high-definition LED screen, manufactured by Barco (Einhoven, the Netherlands), completely covers the building’s 83-ft.-long x 25-ft.-tall elevator bank wall. The high-resolution LED videoscreen has transformed the lobby space into a public destination and an entertainment area with a growing audience.

The videoscreen’s compelling video content draws the attention of building visitors and commuters who pass through the Comcast lobby. Niles Creative Group developed screen content and show-control engineering to showcase Comcast’s mission as a media company. Rather than directly promote the company, the content pays homage to the surrounding world (nature, outer-space vistas and sports activities) and to downtown Philadelphia. Whimsical vaudeville vignettes are dedicated to the visitors and viewers who stop to watch the display.

“We view the lobby media wall as the front face of the corporation,” Niles said. “The Comcast lobby space was conceived as a spectacular place to be, where people would gather to energize the Philadelphia downtown area. We were challenged to create compelling entertainment that takes our audiences to someplace else momentarily and then brings them back to the lobby. The reward for both our company and for Comcast is to see the hundreds of people in each day’s audience pointing, smiling and taking pictures of the lobby wall.”

Local schools send their students to see the Comcast lobby display. Philadelphia tours include it in their must-see destinations.

The perfect starting point

Corporations hope to maintain direct and continuing contact with the public through their lobby spaces. This valuable real estate spells potential signage opportunities to create that first and lasting public connection. The anchor tenant determines how that signage is deployed – as an informational, wayfinding or even whimsical entertainment provider.

A corporate lobby, which has evolved from a functional, pass-through space to an integral part of an urban center, has become a perfect starting point for passersby and sign companies. The perfect example is the Comcast lobby, where local residents bring lawn chairs to watch the display’s weekend show. Now that’s a sign of distinction that could set the bar for attracting attention to corporate-lobby displays.

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

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