How media architecture is reshaping the future of workplace design
[2019 Award-Winning Article] Advances in technology and workplace design are making it possible to create workplaces that promote learning, discovery, social interaction, and engagement.
Tags: architecture • digital media • engagement• media architecture• workplace design
The Work&Place Editorial Advisory Board applauds this article as one of the eight best articles we published in 2019. We recommend it highly for its clarity and its innovative description of how new media technologies can transform the workplace experience.
In today’s digital world people are treated to dynamic, interactive experiences in public spaces ranging from museums to parks to retail outlets. It is no wonder that office professionals have come to expect and prefer similarly engaging workspaces, especially those that weave together physical and digital elements to create innovative, immersive environments and transformational workplace design.
More and more companies are meeting this demand through the emerging field of media architecture, which involves seamlessly integrating digital media – including video, lighting, and audio – into the built environment. Sweeping advances in technology and spatial workplace design have made it possible – and affordable to do so.
Since media architecture is bespoke and site-specific as no two buildings or workplaces are exactly alike, the costs of projects can range from US$1.5 million to US$10 million. The impact and results, however, are significant and long-term. Workplaces are transformed into experiences, bringing a company’s mission to life while promoting learning, discovery, social interaction, and engagement. Commercial real estate projects also typically see higher leasing and resale prices.
This welcome development corresponds with an ever-growing body of research suggesting that being exposed to generic, monotone environments day after day can lead to boredom, unhappiness, and, in extreme cases, physical distress. [i]
Since media architecture incorporates workplace design elements that can be curated and customized to match the flow and tempo of a space and its inhabitants, it can play a critical role in helping employees feel refreshed and recharged by offering an ever-evolving workspace that reflects their daily rhythms.
To be clear, we are not talking about screens stuck on a wall simply displaying cable television and advertisements. Media architecture feels holistically integrated into the environment, creating a dynamic space that invites both employees and visitors to stay continually engaged.
Exemplary media architecture places people at the center of workplace design by focusing on three objectives:
- Tapping into the workplace’s potential to communicate the company’s brand and values;
- Showcasing dynamic, interactive art that invigorates employees and passersby; and
- Promoting learning and social interaction.
Transforming the workplace into a communications platform
Businesses often overlook the power of the workplace itself to communicate their brand. By combining dynamic digital components with architectural materials, well-designed media architecture can turn a staid, drab office lobby into a strong communications platform. This approach produces an asset and allows companies to connect and engage with their employees and visitors like never before, sharing their stories and conveying their values.
An excellent example can be found at eBay’s Silicon Valley campus, where the 20,000-square-foot Main Street headquarters immerses employees and visitors in the story of eBay’s community and the enormous volume of products sold on the platform every day.[ii]
Many businesses overlook the importance of making sure employees can get a sense of the corporate big picture through their work environment. But eBay’s Main Street uses media architecture to help employees see and experience exactly how their own work fits into the company’s broader mission and goals.
It also provides a view into how the work they do as individuals affects real people’s lives. The Main Street space offers a reminder of how their day-to-day work folds into the larger corporate picture. Doing so provides eBay’s employees with a sense of ownership and pride as they see themselves reflected in the environment around them. Their work becomes a showcase that communicates the success of the company on a global scale.
The effect of Main Street’s media architecture on eBay employees has been powerful. Wendy Jones, the company’s Senior Vice President of Global Operations, commented:
Main Street has infused so much more energy, so much more pride amongst our employee base, both here in Silicon Valley and our employees around the world — and I don’t think I would have said before that a building could do that, which is pretty incredible.
The airy, welcoming environment at eBay brings the magnitude of the platform to life through large-scale interactive displays, dynamic media installations, and more. Main Street’s centerpiece is a fifteen-foot data-driven touchscreen that visualizes what’s happening on eBay in real time, allowing employees and guests to explore the most recent transactions taking place on eBay’s platform.
Visitors can scroll through data relating to top sales, value of sales, volume of sales and other data points. In doing so, guests visiting Main Street are provided with a more holistic view into what using eBay can offer. Other digital installations around the welcome center distill the company’s immense wellspring of data into bite-sized nuggets, such as the ten most popular search terms on eBay at any given moment.
Wendy Jones again:
ESI has taken our data and turned it into stories about people, about the products on our site, about just the vastness that is eBay, about the global community, and really brought that to life in a special way.
Showcasing dynamic, interactive art
Thanks to major leaps in display and software technologies, the days of workspaces decorated with static oil paintings and motionless sculptures are fading into the past. Media architecture allows organizations to create dynamic, interactive art installations that imbue the daily journey from the street to the desk with moments of charm and unpredictability.
This workplace design does not mean that your office is overwrought with “screens;” it means instead that the workplace now has a digital layer woven into it that allows the environment to change as your company’s story or objectives change. From artworks that change as people walk by, to sculptures that show real-time data, to digital murals driven by advanced algorithms, the humble corporate lobby can become a place that actually offers something meaningful to guests and engaging employees and visitors while bringing a company’s culture to life in a meaningful and impactful way.
Washington, D.C.’s Terrell Place, owned by an affiliate of Beacon Capital Partners, an industry-leading investor and owner-operator of office properties, makes use of motion-activated media architecture to bring the building to life in striking and unexpected ways.[iii]
As visitors pass by a 1,700-square-foot mural in the lobby, they realize that the surfaces of the wall are a dynamic canvas that changes as the activity in the lobby changes. Various scenes unfold on the lobby walls; for example, iconic cherry trees bud, bloom, and blossom. If guests linger long enough, a butterfly might land on a branch near them, or the flower petals might fall to the ground.
Depending on the time of year, the landscapes that people see will vary from full spring bloom to a blustery winter day. In the spring, butterflies emerge, and in the winter icicles grow on tree branches. A hurried walk past the digital wallpaper may even cause a snow-covered branch to shake and snow to fall. The result is an ongoing opportunity to discover new layers of detail in the space, with many employees enjoying how the installation responds to their movement through the lobby and allows the walls to evolve over time.
The lobby of 515 North State Street, an iconic Chicago office building owned by Beacon Capital Partners and Ivanhoé Cambridge, was recently reimagined for the 21st century with a large-scale digital art installation that has put the property on Chicago’s cultural map.[iv]
Playing on the typical approach of installing an abstract painting in the lobby, the unique 14-foot-wide-by-23-foot-tall digital art installation – titled “Canvas” – uses custom-designed software to constantly “paint” new compositions, dissolving locally-shot footage of scenes such as boats on the Chicago River and amusement rides on Navy Pier into abstract patterns that slowly sharpen back into clarity.
The site-specific work is capable of generating more than 5,000 unique compositions from nearly five hours of footage shot at sixteen locations. Moments that show a person walking or a car driving become brushstrokes that slowly create each abstraction, and as one video collides with the next, new compositions unfold. The soaring installation can be seen from the street through the building’s glass facade, breathing life into the surrounding streetscape and creating a new Chicago attraction by capturing the attention of passersby.
Workplaces that make the most of dynamic art are not only more interesting for employees – they are more effective at attracting and retaining talent. In fact, a 2017 Capital One survey found that a majority of millennial professionals highly desire artwork and creative imagery in their workplace.[v]
Even better, a 2017 study at South Korea’s Honkgik University revealed that seeing works of art, and briefly reflecting upon them, enhances employees’ creative capabilities.[vi] If the art is digital, then the inspirational effects could be endless.
Leveraging data and content to spur learning, discovery, and interaction
Integrating data and content into media architecture makes it possible to turn abstract information – from company transactions to local weather to the daily ebb and flow of a building’s climate-control systems – into captivating and edifying visual stories.
The Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, one of the greenest high-rises ever built, features a twenty-four-foot-tall lobby installation called The Beacon.[vii] Comprised of 1,584 liquid crystal panels backed with a custom grid of LED lights, the chandelier-like sculpture creates a striking and unique media canvas that draws on data from the building’s systems to express, in real-time, how the building uses fresh air and sunlight to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and create a comfortable and healthy work environment. It also shows how the building is recycling water and how much of The Tower’s waste is being diverted from landfills.
Setting a new standard for how green buildings can engage and educate the public about sustainable design and green technologies, the installation offers a website that can be accessed from any digital device, including tablets located in The Tower lobby. Using these devices, tenants and visitors can discover the meaning behind The Beacon’s light and sound displays to learn more about the building’s state-of-the-art technology and workplace design and to understand their own role in water and energy conservation, recycling, composting, and more.
Workplaces that use the latest advances in media architecture to communicate their brand more effectively, provide a stimulating environment, and educate visitors and employees, can do much more than increase employee satisfaction. They also turn each new visitor into a potential recruit or brand advocate who, before speaking a word to anyone in the building, gains a clear impression of an energetic, innovative organization that goes out of its way to create an inviting environment for its employees.
Creating large-scale, iconic, and site-specific media architecture experiences is not only possible but expected for the modern workspace. Making the most of this exciting new discipline requires a holistic and interdisciplinary workplace design approach tailored to the place and the people who will interact with it. Employers and designers should learn to think of technology as an agile and dynamic architectural material that can tell complex stories in an unexpected and engaging way.
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About the Author
At the helm of ESI Design’s media architecture practice, Emily Webster leads and innovates how ESI integrates technology into architecture. Bringing a strategic approach to the creative implementation of interactive audio-visual technologies, she helps clients create engaging, meaningful experiences that elevate a brand or property within the marketplace. She views buildings as platforms that can adapt over time as the needs of the space or business change. Emily’s notable projects include eBay Main Street, The Statue of Liberty Museum, and The Beacon at PNC Tower. She has presented at conferences including the Digital Signage Expo and the Fast Company Innovation Festival.