In Boston, where progressive buildings can be polarizing, the Christian Science Center offers a rare example of Modernism that wins both critical and public acclaim. Designed by I.M. Pei Associates' Arnaldo Cossutta in the 1970s, the religious headquarters is praised by historians for its abstract cornices and colonnades and loved by Back Bay residents for the reflecting pool around which Sasaki Associates crafted the facility's 14-acre plaza.
As a major tenant prepared to vacate nine floors of 177 Huntington in late 2012, Beacon tapped ESI Design—a regular collaborator on its renovation projects—to make the lobby more competitive in the real-estate market. The New York–based experience-design studio subsequently partnered with NBBJ on the revamp, which was completed last summer.
The need for some enhancements was obvious. The original reception desk was too narrow to receive a multi-tenant office building's numerous visitors, and the interior lacked security turnstiles cordoning off the faceted elevator bay. The design team created these elements, while also replacing original waxed-brick floors with large-scale limestone-colored terrazzo that reflected more light throughout the ground floor. It then filled that brightened space with amenities like a café and lounges that, as Katy Flammia, lead interior architect of NBBJ's Boston office, explains, “relieve the pressure on meeting space upstairs.”
Seating areas line the interior of the tower's largely opaque Huntington Avenue elevation, which, according to Chris Niederer, who led physical design for ESI, Cossutta had intended for exhibiting art. In reinventing this zone as niches for meetings, ESI created a so-called Light Wall to draw attention to the new seating.
The Light Wall comprises eight horizontally mounted, 93-foot-long structural-steel rails. Because structural columns are disengaged from this elevation, the rails are embedded in the backs of the columns using strut channels and standard fasteners; the inward faces of the rails themselves are covered in LEDs that shine onto the concrete wall.
“Instead of putting a screen between the building and viewer, let's use the building as a screen,” ESI senior tech and media designer Ed Purver says of the Light Wall concept. “The lights blend to create a seamless display on the wall.” Niederer concurs, noting, “We're adding a layer of information to the concrete.”
Indeed, the LEDs illuminate the wall in three patterns—one mimics sunshine filtering through lobby windows, another ripples like the plaza's reflecting pool, and the third is a particle effect that evokes leaves or snowflakes—whose transitions from one to the other are almost imperceptible. The patterns also change in color, direction, speed, and angle to correspond with information gathered from data source Weather Underground. “We've tried to bring in an element of story and experience, to make a place where people want to learn and linger,” Purver says of synchronizing illumination to environmental cues.
Beyond the turnstiles, NBBJ and ESI packed a punch. Eleven 4½-inch-wide brushed stainless-steel housings, mounted to each corner of the elevator bay's 24-foot-tall walls, contain high-resolution LED panels that cascade with weather reports, financial updates, and other news also pulled from the Internet. As with the Light Wall, the medium is run by custom software applications created in the visual development platform TouchDesigner. Visualizations are generated in real time, and are occasionally interspersed with video and photography.
“As a counterpoint to the Light Wall, we created something in the elevator bay that is much more sharply defined and informational,” Purver says. Together, the two interventions engage in historical dialogue with 177 Huntington, and rebrand the tower as a premier destination for doing business.
|Courtesy ESI Design
|View the dynamic lighting by ESI Design for the lobby of 177 Huntington in Boston.
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