Believed to be the first installation of its kind, the Beacon is a data-driven media installation that pulses with shifting light, colour and sound patterns to communicate to the public the environmental performance of the building that houses it.
Created by experience design firm ESI Design for the PNC Financial Services Group, The Beacon is located in The Tower at Pittsburgh’s PNC Plaza. It has been designed to express information about the building’s energy and water consumption, water recycling, sun exposure, natural ventilation, waste, composting, use of artificial light, and other building indicators.
The Beacon, a 7.3m-high installation, is a media canvas comprised of 1,584 transparent liquid crystal polycarbonate panels, each backed with a grid of eight LEDs. It contains 32 horizontal rows of panels – corresponding to the building’s 32 storeys – and 48 vertical rows. Its circumference varies from 11.5m at its widest to 8.6m at its narrowest, and it weighs around 680kg.
Drawing on real-time sensor data from the building, The Beacon expresses, in real time, how the building creates a comfortable and healthy work environment using fresh air and sunlight to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. It also shows how the building is recycling water and how much of The Tower’s waste is being diverted from landfill. Using custom data visualisation software, the various data sets are combined to create the Beacon’s five key operating modes, each of which generates a distinctive interpretive expression using patterns and pulses of light, and custom-designed audio.
The audio content has been designed to relate to the building as a living body – with organic sounds, such as running water or breathing, as well as ‘informatics’ sounds that draw a parallel with the nervous system.
Believed to be the world’s greenest skyscraper, the building features green technology and design strategies that led to it gaining LEED Platinum certification, the US Green Building Council’s highest rating. PNC expects The Tower to consume 50% less energy and 77% less water than a typical office building.
To increase public engagement with The Beacon, ESI Design created a website (http://pncbeacon.com) accessible on any digital device, including tablets located in The Tower lobby. Site visitors can explore the meaning behind The Beacon’s light and sound displays, as well as more about the building’s technology and design.
“Our goal in designing The Beacon for The Tower at PNC Plaza was to transform the way people experience the building – and communicate the many invisible things the building is doing, behind the scenes, to maximise resources,” said Gideon D’Arcangelo, VP of creative strategy for ESI Design. “The Beacon is a dynamic, data-driven media installation that is intriguing and beautiful to look at and hear. It also rewards the curious, by explaining itself and encouraging people to dig deeper to learn how the building works and how it is performing at any given moment.”
For The Beacon at The Tower at PNC Plaza project, the ESI Design team drew upon their expertise in a variety of specialised disciplines, including interactive, visual, and website design.
Key members of the project team for The Tower at PNC Plaza include Pittsburgh-based PJ Dick; global design firm Gensler; UK-based engineering firm Buro Happold; and Seattle-based environmental consultant Paladino & Company.