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Media Innovations

Studying building-sized billboards and mall video networks

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Recently, in Tokyo, Wade Swormstedt, ST’s publisher/editor; Greg Sharpless, The Big Picture editor, and I took a midnight taxi to the Ginza district, to see its spectacular signs. There, we studied a building-mounted, white-LED-based, steel-clad display. Interestingly, the LED lamps faced inward, which created a softer lighting effect. The grand-scale image was eye-catching, but, from street level, the full effect was lost because the building was boxed in by others. An unfortunate design/visualizing flaw.

In his page 98, May 2006 feature, “Clad with Dreams,” ST Contributing Editor Louis Brill wrote about an innovative, active-matrix, LED display system, in which addressable LEDs are placed within the interlocking links of steel-mesh screens, which are then rigged across a building’s façade, to create a lighted and animated billboard, so to speak. The screens, Louis explained, become a type of cladding — a see-through layer that improves a building exterior’s looks in the day and lights it up at night.

Although you’ll see several versions, including an indoor, plastic-based system, the primary, metal mesh-making — clad-making? — company is 75-year-old Gebr Kufferath Metallweberstraße (GKD), located in Durën, Germany and Cambridge, MD. GKD makes numerous steel-woven clads for architectural use. Its LED-based, Mediamesh cladding has interval-spaced LED strips woven into its Tigris cladding product. Tigris is a stainless-steel mesh that presents 64% open area with cable centers at 31?8 in. The mesh, which is ¼ in. thick with a 26 ft. maximum width, works like an LED-based, electronic billboard and displays the same types of digital-display information you’ll see on your town’s interstate LED billboard or that of a Las Vegas spectacular: graphics, logos, text, photos and video. A web-based user interface controls the LEDs and programming.

GKD labels its cladding materials as metal fabrics; it manufactures them in various weights, textures and degrees of flexibility and transparency. The company boasts that internationally renowned architects and designers specify its materials — “a blend of beauty and practicality, form and function, technology and craftsmanship” — for interior and exterior applications. Check out its website (www.gkdmetalfabrics.com) because it may generate some novel signmaking ideas.

Louis wrote that static signs have been installed on building walls and roofs for years, but, more recently, we’re seeing digitally printed vinyl wraps “scaling alpine heights” on various structures’ walls. Now, he said, LED videoscreens can completely cover building façades and present grand-scale, LED-lighted words, graphics, visuals or kaleidoscopic images.

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Element Labs’ Stealth

In September, LED-mesh imagery moved indoors when Saab Automotive used the technology to enhance its display at the Mondial de l’Automobile (World of the Automobile) international auto show. Held at Paris’ Porte de Versailles — the same setting as Viscom’s sign and print show — Mondial de l’Automobile features both new models and concept cars. It’s the most important car show of the year.

There, Saab’s display designers, Stuttgart-based Creative Technologies Germany (CT Germany), integrated Element Labs’ (Austin, TX) white LED Stealth screens — spectacular, animated, eye-level billboards — that successfully attracted show visitors to the Swedish auto company’s display.

The Stealth is a modular, high-resolution, 25mm pixel-pitch display that comprises individual, LED-laden panels that can be assembled to almost any size and shape. Its lightweight structure is near transparent, when the LED lamps are switched off. You can permanently install it, or fold and stack it as a portable system. It’s first-rate for such displays as Saab constructed in Paris, or for general use in tradeshows, stage sets, concerts or as an architectural enhancement.

The seven-screen Saab display comprised 1,200, 40 3 40-element, Stealth panels. CT Germany placed six screens in the display — four measuring 13.1 ft. across, two measuring 26.2 ft. and another, in a curved form, spanned 52.4 ft. CT planned the 13-ft.-high panels to hang from the ceiling, their bottom edge slightly off the floor. As promised, the displays delivered “spectacular image quality, resolution, flexibility, transparency and brightness.”

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The Stealth screen was also awarded an “International Product of the Year” award at this year’s Live Design International (LDI) Show in Las Vegas. The judging panel comprised lighting, projection, sound, staging, rigging and special-effects designers and technicians.

OnSpot mall media

Again, from Paris, Publicis Groupe, an advertising and media-services conglomerate, and Simon Property Group Inc. (Indianapolis), a real-estate trust, have partnered to launch a high-definition, digital network — OnSpot Digital — that will narrowcast lifestyle programming, news, shopping-center-related content and consumer advertising to Simon Mall shoppers in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and other major U.S. markets.

Publicis Groupe, by its count, ranks fourth in worldwide-communication groups; its 36,610 employees help distribute information to 104 countries. The company’s three primary activities are advertising, media buying and agency services. It owns three global networks (Publicis, Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi) and has part ownership in others; it also owns two, global-media and consultancy networks (Starcom MediaVest Group, ZenithOptimedia); and several specialized agencies and marketing-services groups that specialize in public relations, event and direct marketing, plus multicultural and healthcare communications.

Simon Property Group, a real-estate investment trust with a total market capitalization of approximately $46 billion, owns, develops and manages retail real estate. Its primary interest is regional malls — premium outlet centers and community lifestyle centers. It owns or has interest in 285 U.S. properties in 38 states that encompass 200 million sq. ft. of lease space. Simon also owns property in Puerto Rico, and has holdings in 53 European shopping centers located in France, Italy and Poland. Further, it has interests in five, Japan-based outlet centers and one in Mexico.

It’s the largest, publicly traded, retail real-estate company in North America.

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The Chicago-headquartered OnSpot network, a 50/50 venture between the two firms, will be jointly chaired by Publicis’ Simon Badinter, chairman and CEO of that company’s Medias and Regies, Europe and North America; and Stewart Stockdale, chief marketing officer of Simon Property Group and president of Simon Brand Ventures.

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