Novavax Gaithersburg HQ
A brand experience in the new company headquarters
Technology: TouchDesigner, BrightSign, strip LEDs, Planar LED displays, Digidot controller, Madrix Nebula controller, Acquia CMS
Role: Lead Developer
The biotechnology company Novavax (NVAX) built a new headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland in preparation for the introduction of their new, non-mRNA, global COVID vaccine. NVAX tasked Razorfish with designing their HQ’s brand experience, from wayfinding to digital signage to LED sculptures and interactive experiences. This project offered a new and interesting challenge in that we were building architecturally-embedded installations that would require modification of the existing architecture, and were tasked with designing them such that any modifications were as minimal as possible. This meant we needed a lengthy and extensive prototyping phase before any development could take place.
I was responsible for software and hardware spec (equipment used, power requirements, power and placement of experiences, hardware, and wiring within the space), physical prototyping to inform design iteration, and development across three digital+physical experiences and two purely-digital experiences.
The concepting and prototyping phase of this project lasted from January 2022 to February 2023. Unfortunately, at that point, right before development was to begin, the project was put on permanent hold due to NVAX’s budget cuts.
The Novalution Pulse, originally called Novalution Staircase, was, in its initial stages, scoped to be a three-story staircase illuminated by motion-activated, animating, addressable RGBW LED strips. Whenever someone ascended or descended the stairs, the stairs would be lit with the Novalution gradient–the ring of colored circles in the Novavax logo.
I created the hardware spec for this original concept, choosing and testing several different LED strips for brightness, color accuracy, and size. I also worked with our physical designer to decide the best placement for the LED strip on the stair tread in order to maximize illumination without blinding people. I created a wiring diagram for the architecture and fabrication teams, indicating how the LED strips should be cut and wired for power and data (taking into account voltage drop over distance and speed of data transmission required) as well as where the power supply for each staircase should be located and how wires should be run.
The architecture team ultimately pushed back on many required elements for this version of the experience, so we went back to the drawing board. The version that was finally approved was a floor-to-ceiling LED bar with a constantly-animating gradient (the Novalution Pulse). For this version, I researched & talked with several fabricators before landing on one who could best deliver on our concept. I worked closely with the fabricator team to test two physical prototypes of the Pulse, one using LED strips enclosed in an aluminum housing with an acrylic diffusion panel, and one using a Philips ColorCove LED bar with an additional acrylic diffusion panel. We landed on the former as it delivered the best color fidelity and physical look, and I worked with our creative team using an initial version of the Pulse animation, built in TouchDesigner, to decide on the finish of the diffusion panel and type of LED strip (RGBA or RGBW) to use.
GLOBAL ACCESS WALL
The Global Access Wall (GAW) was a data visualization LED sculpture that would have lived on a central wall in the NVAX HQ. The GAW in Phase I cycled through three different data visualizations: spread of COVID throughout the world between January 2020 and present time, distribution of NVAX’s global vaccine over time, and sunrise and sunset times at NVAX offices all over the globe. The wall itself was a Planar LED wall sandwiched between the existing wall, an acrylic diffusion layer, and a perforated Corian mask layer of about 1.5” thick, covering the entirety of the wall.
My first task during concepting of this installation was to source publicly available datasets for the three Phase I dataviz modes that could be downloaded in real-time. Next I worked closely with the creative lead on the project to test materials and hardware. Using Planar’s proprietary test software for the panels, we tested two Planar LED panel pixel pitches, 2.94mm and 10.4mm, in combination with four acrylic layers with different finishes as well as a set of varying thicknesses of small acrylic rods, and five opaque mask layers–three of 3/4" thick Sintra with holes of varying diameters (1", .5", .75") and two of Corian, ½” with holes either perforated or debossed. We tested a total of 36 combinations, also playing with spaces in between the acrylic layer, LED layer, and mask layer to achieve optimum diffusion and color accuracy.
After we landed on our chosen hardware and materials, I worked closely with our fabricator to create the hardware diagram and physical spec for the GAW. The original wall would have needed to be gutted and reinforced to make space for and support the weight of the Corian slab, LED panels and power supplies, and acrylic layer, as well as to leave space for ventilation for the LED panels. I also began preliminary work on the data visualization, built in TouchDesigner, before the project went on hold.
The Novalution Logo sculpture was a metal structure consisting of the word “Novavax” and a ring of circles of decreasing size, which were backlit by LEDs animated with the colors of the Novavax gradient. The sculpture was to be placed in the employee entrance area of the HQ building, welcoming NVAX employees to work.
My role was to work closely with the physical designer to spec and test RGBA and RGBW LED strips for brightness, consistency, & color accuracy, create a wiring diagram with LEDs cut and placed to maximize brightness while also ensuring a uniformity in amount of emitted light per circle, and inform the physical design of the sculpture.
The NVAX office was dotted with displays in high-traffic common areas, meeting rooms, and executive offices. These would be used to communicate updates such as work anniversaries, local events, daily and weekly weather, global highlights, and company values-related content, as well as screen takeovers for special events. Each display was paired with BrightSign Player to serve content. The player would switch between an IPTV signal via Vitec's IPTV product and NVAX update content from their proprietary Acquia CMS, displayed in BrightSign's web container.
I was responsible for CMS integration with Acquia, building content structures that followed Acquia's naming conventions while being compatible with BrightSign's web container, designing the system architecture to allow for switching between BrightSign and IPTV video output, and writing a web app to update and display live weather content on the BrightSign.