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A Year After Its Debut, a Prominent Digital Facade is on the Blink

December 9, 2008

By Ted Smalley Bowen

In recent months, motorists passing by the Polshek Partnership-designed WGBH headquarters, located about five miles west of downtown Boston, might have noticed that the building’s signature feature—a 30-by-45-foot digital facade—has gone dark.

The “digital mural” on the WGBH building, in Boston
Photo © Jeff Goldberg/ESTO
The “digital mural” on the WGBH building, in Boston, has gone dark due to technical problems.
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The giant LED screen, which cantilevers toward the Massachusetts Turnpike, was switched off this summer, less than a year after the building opened (Polshek Fuses Media and Architecture). The screen is intended to display still images from the public broadcaster’s programs, such as Frontline and Nova.

Ventilation problems caused sections of the screen to overheat and shut down, according to WGBH. In November, the station sued the manufacturer and installer for breach of contract. “The installation was flawed,” says Lucy Sholley, the station’s marketing director. “They failed to account for building specifications provided by WGBH and for the need to keep the power supplies cool.” 

The manufacturer, Mark IV Industries, based in Amherst, New York, was not available for comment. The installer, the New York-based Broadway National, denies responsibility, since it designed neither the sign nor the building, according to president William Paparella. “The issues are with the product as it relates to the building,” he says. According to Paparella, who was not directly involved in the negotiations, WGBH and Mark IV were close to settling out of court as of early December.

In the meantime, WGBH hopes to complete remedial work on the screen later this winter. According to Sholley, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which must approve building modifications, has signed off on the addition of a low-profile rooftop ventilation system to address the overheating.

Polshek Partnership was not named in the suit and is not working on the remediation. While its Newseum (2008) in Washington, D.C., features a large video screen in the atrium, the firm has not incorporated digital facades into other projects, says Polshek spokeswoman Sara Ambalu.   

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