Allen Institute for Brain Science

Merit Award 2018

The theme of “connection” is the foundation of the graphics program at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Neural connections, research teams and staff collaborating, and scientists having the resources and technology to connect with the global community are all important aspects of the Institute’s culture and approach and each is thoughtfully expressed throughout the space.

The Allen Institute is a nonprofit medical research organization dedicated to answering big questions in life science and accelerating research worldwide. Their new building at 619 Westlake Avenue marks the first time that all research teams are working together in one facility and the graphics program really works to bring a sense of collaboration and open sharing of information out in the physical space.

Studio SC designed a public installation called “Pathways,” which is installed on the exterior of the new building. “Pathways” incorporates actual neural imagery the institute uses to interpret human brain activity and offers the public a visual interpretation of the research happening within the building in a way that is approachable for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The Studio SC project also has to cover a significant portion of the building exterior and wrap around a corner to meet the City of Seattle's initiative to activate a particular corner. The goal was something engaging for the public that isn’t static and is visible and appealing to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic as it’s situated on a busy intersection in the heart of a growing neighborhood.

Interior signage organizes the laboratory spaces and is flexible to accommodate the needs of a constantly evolving workspace. The architecture and the graphics work together to encourage and celebrate moments of connection and spontaneous collaboration between all departments.

The large exterior signs designed by Studio SC were integrated into the architectural skin with carved-in lettering. The effect is informed by the science of peering into the inner-workings of the brain.

The lighting is programmed to shift in color every 90 seconds. It takes 30 seconds for the blue and red colors to shift and then it holds each color for a full minute. When it changes to white, the color fades in unison rather than changing from left to right as it does with the blue and red. 

Cyan and magenta graphics (binary code and arrows) in the back of the enclosure are digitally printed on wall covering and applied to aluminum panels. The white graphics (letters) are digitally printed to optically clear vinyl with UV lamination and mounted to the second surface of the glazing.

An exterior information panel serves as shorthand to describe the complex research developments happening inside: “Within these walls, we ask questions. What makes us human? How do our cells work? How can we better understand disease? What hidden breakthroughs can we discover if we take risks and investigate in new ways?” The installation was created with the intent to engage the public and help find a connection with the groundbreaking work of the Allen Institute.

Jury Comments: 

"The street-level vitrine is impactful from multiple distances and draws pedestrians in to investigate the vastness of neuro-networks. It is an effective demonstration of being interactive without being digital."

"A wonderful interplay between long distance and close view. The use of typo to express the relation of science and our brain structure is surprising."

Design Firms: 

Studio SC

Client: 

Allen Institute for Brain Science

Project Area: 

245,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

November 2015

Photo Credits: 

Lara Swimmer Photography (photography), Gudmundur Ibsen Photography (photography, videography)

Design Team: 

Billy Chen (design director), Mark Sanders (project director), Faith Berry-Parent (senior designer and creative lead), Cory Binau (senior designer), Christian Cabrera (senior designer), Haley Anderson (designer)

Consultants: 

Perkins+Will, Perkins + Will (architect), Pacific Lighting Systems (lighting consultant), GLY Construction (general contractor)

Fabricators: 

Image Mill (pathways), Rainier Industries Ltd (interior and exterior signage)

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