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LEDs + Lighting

The House that FUSE Built

Light “mats” set in the sidewalk, LED video displays, fold-up curtains and channel letters create a cable-TV destination in Manhattan.



The FUSE music-television network, based in New York City, plays rock, alternative, punk, hardcore, emo and indie music. Owned by Rainbow Media Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp., the network claims a techsavvy audience ready to interact with the network via the Internet, cellphones and other wireless devices.

Fuse recognized its product’s popularity, said Fuse VP of Operations Dave Alworth, but needed an equally effective “public” profile to contend as a new, New York City icon. So, Fuse used extensive and unique LED signage to increase visibility at its television-production studio, at 11 Penn Plaza in Manhattan. (Its headquarters are on the 34th St. and Seventh Ave. corridor, a neighborhood that’s becoming a sign district in its own right [see ST, July 2005, page 84]).

“Fuse wanted to be more than just a linear, television channel on cable and satellite,” Alworth said. “We’ve already built a strong presence on the web, mobile and VOD, and, from that, we were ready to take our latest programming-strategy push to directly contact the public through another platform, interactive signage. Our audience is young and hip, and we were looking for a sign design that was the same. The guideline for our sign design was that it had to be an eye-popping destination and a ‘place to be.’”

The solution became a unique enhancement of LED signage, said Bob Sawler, MultimediaLED’s VP of engineering. Fuse, Fitch (formerly the Walker Group, New York City), and MultimediaLED (Rancho Cordova, CA) collaborated to create a design/build sign system that allows viewers to watch Fuse produce its live shows, which include a daily musical show and interviews, and chat with the stars.

Fitch, an established, global, retail-design agency, saw LED signage’s dynamic potential to give the cable television studio a phys¬ical street presence.

“Ultimately, the challenge we faced was how to use the signage to bring the Fuse television studio onto the sidewalk,” said Fitch’s studio director, George Kewin, AIA. “Vice versa, we also wanted to bring the viewing pedestrians ‘into’ the studio to have a more personal contact with the brand.”


Fitch proposed four types of LED displays that formed a series of overlapping sightlines to constantly draw viewers’ attention, first to the building, then to the building’s windows. From a distance, the Fuse channel letters, in which video¬screens are embedded, are visible at least six blocks south. As pedes¬trians approach the building, a second sign system, a “zipper” elec¬tronic message center, snakes in and out of the serpentine contours of four, two-story-tall window bays, continues down into the sidewalk in front of the building and ends underneath the channel letters.

For the third sign attraction, a series of overhead, high-definition videoscreen displays endlessly changing colors, video imagery and text messages across the building.

Finally, surprised viewers watch as LED-display curtains fold and disappear behind the windows in front of them. A sign that disap¬pears? Hmmm.

Video channels

The 8 x 9-ft. (depending on the character shape) channel letters perch 23 ft. from the ground. Their large size and bright, changing colors draw attention from several blocks away. The stainless-steel channel letters project roughly 15 ft. from the building to completely dominate the building front. Two, open-faced, channel-letter forms, which form a curve, are completely filled with MultimediaLED’s 12mm, high-definition eVidia RGB LED blocks.


Tony Calvano, president of Landmark Signs (New York City), said his company built the channel letters’ steel support structure, which he connected to the building, and also installed the signs. At the penetration points, Landmark connected the steel to the building foundation.

Calvano said, “We carefully cut out the limestone facades with a diamond saw, made the connec¬tions to the building’s outriggers, and then seamlessly replaced the limestone pieces back on the building.”

To maximize the channel letters’ long-distance sightlines, one segment faces south on 7th Ave., which renders it visible at least six blocks away. The other channel-letter segment curves out across 32nd St. to capture the pedestrian traffic coming from Penn Central Station and Madison Square Garden visitors.


Alworth described the second sign package, the blue, text-message zippers, as a speed bump. “As people stream by the Fuse building and read the zippers, they tend to slow down or even stop to check on the words zipping by. The funny part is, even when they stop, their heads still move as they try to keep track of the message they’re reading as it streams across the building.”

Simply put, the zipper has become an interactive people magnet. The zipper allows viewers to read e-mails, advertisements and program alerts. Loyal Fuse fans also send “shoutouts” that provide enlightening zipper content.


The zipper embellishes the entire sign package by passing under, over and around every other sign system. It runs under¬neath the channel letters, then up across and along the four window bays, and then down and across the sidewalks.

Sawler said the 325-ft.-long, 11-in.-wide, blue, monochromatic zipper features a 34mm-pitch (8-high x 3,160-wide pixel resolution) Nova LED module.

Having incorporated the ticker sign system into the building design, MultimediaLED designed the ticker cabinets to accommo¬date variations in the sidewalk’s height and angle. Landmark Signs installed these elements to mini¬mize visual disturbances to the flowing ticker text.

Sawler said the zippers’ biggest design/installation challenge was its “sidewalk” mode. “No one has ever run an LED message center across a sidewalk; this was a world’s first. Our biggest concern was how to both protect the LED display and show it off. Thousands of New Yorkers march across the sign face every day, either walking across it or stopping to read the messages moving past it. There were also weather issues, because we must keep the sign system waterproof, as well.”

To protect the sidewalk zipper screens from pedestrian traffic shuffling across the display face,

each sign section was covered with 1-in.-thick, 6-in.-wide, structural glass. Working with Landmark Signs and Israel Berger and Assoc., who are curtain-wall and glass-sealing experts, MultimediaLED developed a sealing scheme, easy to install and maintain, that’s based on time-tested glazing techniques and materials.

To install the zippers on the sidewalk, Calvano said Landmark removed the sidewalk section, set up watertight troughs for the zipper cabinets, then poured a new sidewalk up to the troughs to prevent any “high points” if the cabinet edges protruded.

The big payoff

The upper videoscreens incorpo¬rate MultimediaLED’s eVidia high-definition displays. Each of the four screens are 8 x 9 ft. with a 12mm pitch and a 192 x 244-pixel resolution.

Alworth calls these screens the sign system’s “television system,” where Fuse displays its program¬ming and the names of the bands performing inside. Imagery – video, graphics and text – can be pre-recorded or live, and mixed together to create an animated, textured look.

But the “big payoff,” according to Alworth, happens when the LED “curtains” fold up to periodically reveal the action inside the studio. The LED videoscreens, which are mechanically controlled, represent a collaboration between Multimedia-LED and LED Effects (Rancho Cordova, CA).

Each 8-ft.-long curtain comprises a series of translucent, polycarbonate tubes filled with RGB LEDs that can run synchronized video effects. The mechanically controlled curtains form a dual-presentation system. Closed, they display streaming video content. Folded up, they reveal the magic behind the curtains – the bands broadcasting their performances.

When signage is priceless

Overall, the Fuse sign system has succeeded beyond the client’s, sign designer’s and public’s wildest expectations. The sign system serves not only as a display but as a media experience, both to fans who send the messages and the pedestrians who react to the signs onsite.

Kewin said Fitch believes the brand environment extends from the client’s identity (the building) into the public realm (the street-level encounters). The videoscreens bring the television studio out onto the street by showing live studio activity, and the LED curtains bring the public into Fuse’s studio. The reader¬board adds personality as messages zip in and around the building.

Alworth said, “Since the MultimediaLED sign package has been applied to the Fuse building, the cable-television studio has become the destination we wanted it to become. From the moment the signage went live, people have been interacting with the building in different ways. Madison Square Garden fans tell their friends to meet by the Fuse building. Tourists love to get their picture taken in front of the LED screens. And, of course, people are always checking out the zipper text.”

Alworth remembered an unforget¬table moment when a boy, who was trailing a few feet behind his parents, jumped up and down and laughed as he walked over the zipper messages. The Fuse signage inspires people to respond to its messages, and that, to quote another sign message, is priceless.



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