One thing all great communities have in common is a great gathering place: There's New York's Times Square, Boston Common, Chicago's Daley Plaza, and now Victory Plaza in Dallas.
Completed in 2007 by local developer Hillwood, Victory Plaza is a newcomer to the league of great gathering spots but not a stepchild. In fact, Victory Plaza represents a new era in urban place making that uses gigantic high-resolution LED video screens with a lively mix of digital art, film, news, and other information to attract visitors and keep them there. The high-tech $30 million Victory Park Screens has established the plaza as a unique amenity for Hillwood's new 75-acre Victory Park master planned development in the Uptown district of Dallas.
Victory Park Screens puts a fresh, contemporary face on Dallas and celebrates the culture of its people but more importantly represents a shift in scale and application of media as an effective place making element, notes David Gales, a consultant with Los Angeles-based Vantage Technology Consulting Group and project manager.
It also demonstrates how to successfully merge media and advertising to create a useful message, notes Richard Orne, a principal at Los Angeles-based TFO Architecture and project designer, stressing that design is critical to making commercial messages acceptable in a cultural context.
Creating the Hook
The idea to create the large-scale, outdoor digital art gallery at Victory Plaza grew out of the need for a hook to establish Victory Park as a top destination, notes Ken Reese, Hillwood executive vice president for Victory Park. The concept was envisioned as a way to add hip, sophisticated energy to the development's refined, contemporary atmosphere. Its location in front of American Airlines Center enhanced the opportunity to attract sports spectators and concert-goers.
"The concept was to essentially create an ‘urban living room' - our own version of Times Square for Dallas," suggests Richard Orne.
The project scope included a conceptual study to analyze the feasibility of combining media and architecture, estimate costs and resources, and identify operational implications such as staffing and content requirements.
Nuts and Bolts
The resulting project is arguably the world's largest configuration of outdoor video displays, with 11 gigantic LED screens, all manufactured by the Belgium firm Barco.
Two 20- by 20-foot screens atop the Icon Tower on the southern end of the plaza create a highly visible marker for the overall Victory Park community while a 19- by 32-foot digital portal welcomes visitors at the plaza's main Olive Street entrance.
Eight screens move horizontally along 200-foot-long tracks on façades of the two modern office buildings that flank the plaza. The video screens, four on each building, can move separately to provide infinite configuration possibilities for showcasing digital art and animation or combine to form two huge 31- by 53-foot screens for viewing films and other information.
Combined with LED displays, the computer-operated movement system, fabricated and programmed by Barco, consumed one-third of the total project budget. This innovative system allows video, sound, and lighting special effects to be choreographed with screen configurations.
B&K surround-sound processors immerse spectators in sound from clusters of custom JBL AM Series speakers, with Crown CTs Series amplifiers equipped with PIP-USP3 processing cards strategically mounted along building walls.
A Peavey Nion digital audio platform allows special sound effects to track with screen movements. In a Target commercial, for example, the sound of the company's familiar red ball follows the image as it bounces from screen to screen, explains Steve Whittle, project engineer with Dallas-based The Whitlock Group, the systems integrator.
A theatrical lighting system enhances the nighttime experience, expanding the range of video displays across building facades. High End Systems Hog PC programming and playback wings allow preprogrammed light shows choreographed for specific programs to be digitally stored. This system works hand-in-hand with a DMX repeater and Patch Bay digital processor that samples and analyzes image colors in real time, then duplicates them in colored light painted on building façades.
Concept to Reality
Bringing Victory Plaza to life in a purposeful and aesthetically enduring way required the heavy lifting involved in developing a prototype. Everything that went into the project had to be fabricated, configured or programmed, then tested and refined.
From the start, Hillwood wanted a design that integrates the technology with the architecture so it looks like part of the building. To accomplish this, Orne used decorative wire mesh scrims to create a backdrop on the exterior walls of the five-story buildings to blend tracks and other hardware with the façade. Surprisingly, the wire mesh enhanced sound acoustics while producing a layering effect that allows light to reach windows blocked by screens and shades unobstructed windows from the sun.
Mounting screens on gliders was an idea borrowed from the video network at Las Vegas Fashion Show mall—also designed by Orne—and ensures that none of the office windows are blocked permanently.
The client also wanted the technology to be infinitely flexible so content could be changed at a moment's notice. Victory Park Screens is inherently flexible but spontaneity was enhanced with integration of the audio and video playback and control systems with WFAA-TV Channel 8's live audio/video head-in from an on-site studio. Integration of the two systems provides the ability to react instantly to activities at American Airlines Center such as game outcomes but complicated the integration process, notes Scott Creevy, sales manager for The Whitlock Group.
Three HDSDI-over-fiber links integrated into the system support transmission of live feeds and broadcasts from WFAA studios to Victory Plaza. To avoid screens going black, the Whitlock team had to synchronize time clocks between the two systems to ensure that transitions between the screens' content switched smoothly to and from live WFAA broadcasts, notes Whittle. WFAA also had to implement operational procedures to strip commercial spots in Channel 8 broadcasts, he says, replacing them with corporate branding images.
Additionally, the system is linked via fiber-optic cable to Icon Tower, the W Hotel, and six 8-foot-tall kiosks with playback monitors placed over a two-block area to allow viewing from throughout the community, he says.
Other challenges unique to the Victory project included integrating the display movement system so the building does not sway when four video screens weighing in excess of 15,000 pounds each are moved, says Whittle.
The system also had to be coordinated with the independent AV system at American Airlines Center and configured to ensure sound does not migrate beyond the Victory Park community and disturb neighbors.
Heart of the Matter
"Once you have a kinetic delivery system like this, it begs the question: What is the message and how can it be made useful to the environment and culture? The answer is: ‘The medium is the message,'" says Orne, quoting Canadian philosopher and communications visionary Herbert Marshall McLuhan.
The heart and soul of the project is its content, which must be intelligent, compelling, and replenished with fresh material regularly, he notes, stressing the need for architects to get involved in shaping the message and establishing a sustainable source of new content.
Adds Gales, "When a building talks, it takes on a different dimension than just a building, becoming a communication tool that needs a purpose."
The resulting public space created by Victory Park Screens interacts with users in a meaningful, intelligent way, defining Victory Park's social fabric in a hip, urban context.
While users cannot possibly appreciate the effort that went into creating Victory Plaza, just visiting is enough to make the day for its creators. "The happy part: It's still fun to go down there and see it all work," says Creevy.
Patricia Kirk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in Austin, TX.
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