From afar, a brightly lit wall just erected on 69th street, Manhattan, is a giant, gorgeous screen, projecting messages about science to passers by. It's a nice sized screen, but it’s nothing on the same level as what you'd find after a short walk south in Times Square—until you get up close. Intimate inspection reveals that the screen is actually composed of thousands of smaller screens, sporting images of DNA, organs, molecules, and anything else it’s stewards can imagine.
This wall is the face of the Weill Cornell Medical College’s (WCMC) new research center on the Upper East Side. The WCMC commissioned design firms Squint/Opera and Hirsch & Mann to create the centerpiece for their new location, and thus the Discovery Wall was born. They made the 2800 screen sculpture completely from scratch, designing and creating everything from the circuits powering the hi-res screens to the lenses which enhance the near-to-far illusion described above.
“Across the street it’s a huge image that you see animating,” says Ben Townsend, a designer for Squint/Opera, describing the Discovery Wall. “But as you get closer and closer you reveal all of the detail and the text within that. Somebody passes the wall and looks into the window for a fleeting moment, and they see the wall disappear and reappear, which is the lenticular effect.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge was animating the screens in a manner which successfully displays the larger picture on the screen alongside the smaller, more detailed images. The design firms had to create a whole new, custom-built software that's Internet-connected to control the images, ensuring they work together perfectly. To achieve the visual effect, they reverse engineered the iPod Nano V6, as the device has a higher pixel density than other screens of its size. They then updated the machines with faster speed and power, and ended up with 2,800 LCDs illuminated with over 160 million pixels.
You can see how convincing the illusion is in the video below, or just head to the Upper East Side and see it yourself if you’re in the area. If you’re not around, you’re just going to have to settle for the awesome up-close-and-personal shots we have of the crazy lenses and crazier hardware the designers used to make the Discovery Wall something worth discovering.
Images courtesy of the artist