NPR's Voice Incorporates LED Displays As Part of Its New Look

Louis M. Brill

NPR (Washington DC) is a news media organization that creates and distributes award-winning news, information, and music programming. As a radio network, NPR reaches 27 million listeners in collaboration with 975 stations throughout the United States. Recently in moving into its new headquarters, to increase its corporate visual presence, NPR acquired a series of LED displays to create a colorful street side presence for those passing its new building.

NPR's New LED Voice

NPR’s new LED voice NPR’s new LED voice
Photo credit: SNA

The LED video displays mounted onto the building's exterior curtain walls include a zipper (a horizontal message center), and within its lobby space, an interior Media Mosaic that featured yet another LED zipper combined with a series of LED displays in a portrait setting. And finally, directly outside facing the building, a corporate ID pylon known as the Icon Tower, completely illuminated with LED strips. The LED video displays embedded on and within the building lobby area have become a visual statement letting people know as they pass or enter the building, they are at the center of NPR's media outreach.

In the creation of NPR's new LED sign system, several companies partnered together in bringing the LED displays to life on NPR's new corporate headquarters. The initial concept and design of the LED components was provided by Poulin + Morris (NY, NY), with all LED displays manufactured and provided by Sansi North America (Ballston Lake, NY) and LED sign installation and some sign fabrication provided by Jack Stone Signs (Landover, Maryland).

SNA LED Displays

SNA LED displays of NPR headquarter SNA LED displays of NPR headquarter
Photo credit: SNA

The LED displays acquired for the NPR sign project were provided by SNA, one of the largest global suppliers specializing in the manufacture and service of LED lighting and visual displays for text, graphic, and video products. For the NPR sign project several of the SNA LED display brands were utilized to present a dramatic and dynamic visual composition of ongoing NPR media moments. “It's really about showcasing NPR's new headquarters,” as described by Mitch Leathers, SNA's Director of Marketing, “and using all our LED components to bring a creative, cutting-edge look and feel to the forefront of NPR's public presence.”

To illuminate a street side corporate pylon (the Icon Tower), the SNA's S/ThruMedia TM 25 mm modules which are a series of thin LED sticks were mounted to backlight the pylon's towering column. To create a visual presence of displaying everything from streaming text to graphics and video imagery SNA's S/Video TM LED displays were used, both interior (S/Video at 10 mm pitch) and for the exterior cladding (S/Video at a 16 mm pitch) on its building walls.

The integration of all SNA LED assets into the NPR headquarters was developed by Poulin + Morris (NY, NY), a graphic design consultancy offering a range of services from environmental graphics, exhibition design, digital and print media, branding and publication design. “We were the design and branding consultants for the entire NPR building,” stated Poulin, “and introduced varying LED displays to visually emphasize the NPR brand in their Icon Tower and news zipper. Within the building lobby, we also used LED video displays to create the Media Mosaic wall as a representation of the NPR digital media experience.”

NPR Icon Tower

NPR Icon Tower with LEDs NPR Icon Tower with LEDs
Photo credit: SNA

In approaching the NPR headquarters, the most visible part of its LED presence is its 55-foot tall Icon Tower sitting in front of its headquarters. The Icon Tower with its NPR logo at the crown of the tower, as described by Poulin, “was designed as a building identification place marker and a beacon to indicate the entrance to NPR's lobby featuring its multimedia / interactive media experience. The Icon Tower is reminiscent of a radio tower with the lower case NPR logo installed at the crown of the tower constantly illuminated by the S/ThruMedia TM LED sticks. The LED lighting pulsing through the tower column is an iconic representation of sound waves, metaphorically transforming the Tower into an antenna sending NPR programming around the world.”

Jack Stone Signs

The Icon Tower was as much a sculpture as a sign and was composed of vertical steel tubing, glass and the S/ThruMedia TM LED sticks and specifically fabricated as a unique corporate pylon ID as discussed by Todd Stone, Project Manager and principle, whose company, Jack Stone Signs handled all sign fabrication and installation for the project. “While most of the NPR sign project was an installation of already assembled LED signage, our company completely fabricated and installed the Icon Tower in front of the NPR building.”

“The Icon Tower structure was constructed with six-by-six-foot steel tubing, first fabricated in our Maryland sign shop and then installed on-site at the NPR headquarters in Washington DC. The pylon design incorporated a series of half-inch thick laminated DuPont SentryGlas with a digitally printed graphic in between each glass panel and placed to sit astride the steel frame,” stated Stone. “Directly behind the glass, we installed the SNA S/ThruMedia full color LED sticks used in a vertical fence format with a 25 mm pixel pitch. Mounted against the Icon Tower column, the LED sticks were installed as eleven vertical strips and located behind the glass and traveled up the entire length of the 55-foot tall column. As the Icon Tower was double faced, the LED sticks were located on both sides of the column. Evenly spaced at an almost three-inch separation, the LED sticks in this configuration presented a certain amount of transparency, but when illuminated, the eye blends the imagery together into a seemingly solid colorful display.”

“In fabricating the sign tower, we built it in three sections which made it easy to construct, to transport and assemble on-site,” said Stone. “The top of the tower presented the NPR logo in its signatory NPR lower case, with each letter sitting on its own aluminum panel. We fabricated these three panels which were pan-faced painted aluminum with a route-out for each letter and a plush push through of a translucent white acrylic panel into each logo letter panel. Behind each letter was a continuation of the SNA S/ThruMedia TM LED sticks back lighting the entire logo sign face.”

Completing the Icon Tower's LED presence embedded within the curtain wall of the NPR headquarters is an exterior horizontal electronic message center, known as a zipper. The zipper is a series of LED cabinets wrapping around the front of the building and from the edge, around the corner to cover that sidewall as well. The zipper, as described by Poulin, “had two functions; it presents real-time news information, and also acts as a theatre marquee announcing community events and performances that are held within the NPR auditorium space.”

With the zipper cabinets pre-assembled by SNA, Jack Stone Signs was able to install the LED cabinets horizontally along the entire curtain wall of the NPR building. “We used S/Video TM exterior full color video tiles” noted Todd Stone, “which were specified at a 16 mm pitch. To place each zipper cabinet into its pre-established alcove, we built a scaffold around that part of the building, set up the LED cabinets, and used engine block lifts for the final placement of inserting and lining up each SNA ticker module.”

NPR Lobby News Dashboard

NPR lobby media mosaic NPR lobby media mosaic
Photo credit: SNA

Once visitors enter the NPR headquarters, moving through the lobby area, they encounter the Media Mosaic, where the worlds of NPR news and arts programming comes alive in one visual sweep. The Media Mosaic is comprised of two (2) two-story high walls configured with a series of 15 LED video tiles displayed in three rows across various points of the lobby entrance wall, and a full color zipper wrapping from its front entrance wall to its connecting side wall.

The Media Mosaic is similar to a crossword puzzle with its black boxes scattered about. Here the wall is a grid of rectangular spaces, some filled with LED displays (S/Video TM 10 mm interior LED tiles), others with static digital prints. Towards the middle of the wall is another LED zipper, also a full color LED display capable of video, graphic animation or rotating still images as the NPR content presents itself. “The Media Mosaic is a visual window into the NPR community,” says Poulin. “It displays up-to-the minute news, has an overhead zipper for video breaking news, and as a lobby display is an interactive entity in its own right.”

“The Media Mosaic walls can be likened to a giant iPad,” says Poulin. “But unlike an iPad or a smart phone display which is a one-on-one experience, the NPR Media Mosaic can be considered a large format media wall creating an inclusive group experience for multiple visitors to simultaneously connect with the NPR brand.”

In terms of the Media Mosaic's content, it was bricks and clicks writ large. “It's a perfect integration of the LED video displays and the architecture. Where one ends and the other begins - it's hard to tell,” stated Maury Schlesinger, NPR's Director of Real Estate and Administrative Services. “To grasp the Media Mosaic's functionality,” he said, “in terms of bricks, think of one big LED screen that's wrapped around the walls of the lobby area, with the individual LED screens displaying various NPR content.”

As for the clicks part, most if not all of the Media Mosaic's visuals come from NPR's RSS feeds direct from the Internet to the media wall. That digital content is then reformatted to fit across the Media Mosaic graphic space. Content ranges from headline news to highlighting the most e-mailed stories from the NPR website.

“Of special interest of the Media Mosaic was the way the images streamed across the media wall and are viewed by visitors,” as stated by Jason Helton, SNA Director of Operations. “The Mosaic has a screen resolution of 3840 x 1080 pixels and in processing the image content, treats each video scene as an entire picture even though the Mosaic's media wall is configured with its LED video displays scattered around, presenting only parts of the total video image. However despite its missing image segments, when viewed, the mind's eye sees the continuality of the entire image.”

NPR & Watching the World Go By

NPR's LED media presence has become a sight to behold and a site that invites a second look. Video imagery, text headlines and social media are all “fitted” into a singular presentation of the news of the day. As Schlesinger noted, “NPR's Media Mosaic has got such a WOW factor that passersby who encounter it take pause to either photograph it or peek through the lobby glass to get a sense of it.” For NPR, the LED displays have become a window of what NPR does best, bringing people and information together in an entertaining way of watching the world go by right in their corporate lobby.