Terrell Place, a trophy office building and civil rights landmark in downtown Washington, DC, has received a stunning makeover from the Manhattan-based experiential design firm ESI Design. ESI Design transformed the building's common areas with 1,700-square-feet of motion-activated media that provides a cutting edge experience while honoring the site’s past.
Terrell Place was created when the former Hecht's department store site was combined with two neighboring buildings. It was named after civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell, a founding member of the NAACP, who, at the age of 86 led the protest against segregation at Hecht's lunch counter in the 1950s.
ESI Design’s designers unified the expansive first floor lobby space by treating it as a single media canvas. By installing large-scale, reactive media on lobby walls and corridor portals, they created a sense of connection across the building's common areas. At 80 feet wide x 13 feet high, the largest media wall is capturing the attention and curiosity of passersby, who can see it through the oversize windows that were once the display windows of Hecht’s department store.
The renovation recreates Terrell Place as a vibrant, modern space while respecting its elegant architecture and historic significance. Technology and media are seamlessly integrated into architectural surfaces, creating an ever-evolving artwork that captures the pulse of the building.
Diffused LED wall displays in the main lobbies and corridor are activated by passersby via an infrared camera system, creating beautiful scenes that ebb and flow with the morning rush and the afternoon lull. The displays include three content modes – ‘Seasons,’ ‘Color Play,’ and ‘Cityscape’ – offering a selection of scenes that can be programmed with varying durations and sequences, ensuring that tenants never see the same scene even if they arrive and leave at the same time every day.
The ‘Season’ mode shows the lifecycle of the iconic Washington, DC cherry trees. In the ‘Spring’ phase, as people pass by the screens, their movement causes the trees to blossom until eventually their petals fall off; when people pause in the lobby, they trigger butterflies to flutter. ‘Color Play’ shows algorithmically-generated patterns of multi-color threads which spread across the walls, weaving a tapestry that reflects the activity of Terrell Place. ‘City Scape’ pays homage to the city of Washington, DC with iconic architecture, statuary and transportation scenes that are brought to life by people passing by.
In the main corridor, the immersive environment is enhanced by ambient sounds emerging from invisible speakers in the walls and ceiling, including tones from nature, the surrounding city, and music that Terrell cited as having been impactful in her life, including Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn and Deep River - 24 Negro Melodies by Samuel Coleridge Taylor.
“The different media create distinct rhythms to give Terrell Place a unique identity and strong street presence,” says Michael Schneider, Senior Creative Technology Designer at ESI Design. “Each of the media scenes reflects the time of day and the movement of people through the lobby, acting almost as a large abstract data-visualization of the ebb and flow of Terrell Place.”
Showcasing Terrell Place's status as a dedicated stop on the city's Civil War to Civil Rights heritage trail, ESI Design also redesigned the Mary Church Terrell Memorial, paying tribute to the building's namesake with a prominent marker that includes historic context and photos of the famous boycott that took place at Hecht’s. Inside the main lobby, a graphic installation and a digital, interactive tablet allow visitors to learn more about Terrell’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement.
The Terrell Place project is the largest, most innovative in a series of designs that ESI Design has created across the country for real estate investment firm Beacon Capital Partners, the owner of Terrell Place. ESI’s designs have contributed to Beacon’s reinvigoration of properties in cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.