Syracuse University Donor Recognition and Environmental Graphics

Newhouse, New Media

At Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, a double marriage between media and content, tradition and innovation.

It’s hard to imagine a better venue for celebrating the medium and the message than Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. One of the premiere mass communications schools in the U.S., Newhouse is both a bastion of the principles of free press and a beta site for education in the digital era.

Poulin + Morris delivered both medium and message, with a bit of metaphor tossed in for good measure. Tasked with creating a comprehensive environmental graphics and donor recognition program for the school’s contemporary Newhouse III building, the firm deployed the latest LED technology along with traditionally printed media. Each element set out to connect the school’s identity, heritage, and revived spirit within the new architectural addition.

Donors gone digital

“New media was the obvious choice,” says Richard Poulin, principal. “We needed the medium to be non-traditional and kinetic in order to communicate something more intrinsic.”

Polshek Partnership’s 75,000-sq.-ft. addition serves as a gateway to the campus. The undulating exterior entry showcases a modern, typographic application of the First Amendment. The bold letters are the gatekeepers of the freedoms that lie within: the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. Inside the glass-wrapped building, spaces were designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, and facilities such as editing suites, media labs, and research centers employ the latest digital technologies.

Poulin + Morris’ task was to create an environmental graphics program that would live up to the historical promises inherent in the free press while also reflecting the digital nature of the profession’s present and future. Just inside the lobby, a kinetic donor wall feature manages to do both.

More closely resembling a work of modern art than a traditional donor wall, the installation consists of 100 1-1/2 in. high LED strips staggered horizontally, echoing the pattern on the architectural facade. Each “zipper” displays the names of donors as well as inspirational quotes of their choosing.

“We challenged Poulin + Morris to create something eye-catching and engaging. We didn’t want the typical cast bronze plaques that people would just walk past,” says Susan Nash, Newhouse’s director of administration. The result, she adds, is a dynamic introduction to the school. “It recognizes donors, gives students advice, and enlivens our public entrance.”

The messages scroll in synchronized motion and can be changed and added easily, rendering the design virtually timeless. “Donors can request changes to their messages as frequently as they choose. Each LED panel can be changed infinitely without requiring any more material or labor,” says Kalib Christenson, project manager for Sunrise Systems, which supplied the LEDs.

While LED technology is not new, the Newhouse donor wall takes advantage of Sunrise System’s newly designed MST series of LED digital panels. MSTs showcase a thinner, more lightweight group of LEDs averaging only one pound per foot.

With the donor wall’s 100+ digital panels and 137,000+ LEDs, uniformity of light and synchronicity of motion were paramount, says Christenson. “It’s important to have the correct LED density, so the viewer perceives a character instead of many points of light. We researched many LEDs before finding the correct mix of light size and matrix density, so the digital panels can be read individually up close or viewed as a whole from a distance.”

Poulin says one of his team’s primary goals with using new media was to ensure the Newhouse staff was part of the process early on.

Their buy-in was especially critical since the donor wall has the potential to be updated frequently. Sunrise Systems designed a custom software application that allows Newhouse staff to change each LED panel quickly and easily. The main program window looks like a scaled-down version of the donor wall itself and changes can be made from different computers via one IP address. It’s as simple as clicking on the panel location and typing in the new message. The software is programmed to send the new message to the donor wall as a broadcast. The interactive, streaming messages provide a constant flow of refreshable content to keep its audience engaged.

Homage to the printed word

Newhouse III’s dramatic three-story atrium is considered the heart of the new building. Eighteen-ft.-wide skylights and full-height glass curtain walls allow natural light to penetrate the surrounding classrooms, lounges, and pedestrian bridges.

Here, at the heart, is where Poulin + Morris integrated their second large-scale feature, a 23- by 75-ft. typographic wall mural that serves as a visual metaphor for the school’s goals and vision.

“We wanted to communicate a sense of our identity without overstating our name,” says Nash. “It was more important for us to remind people what we’re all about.”  Comprised of millions of tiny CMYK-color halftone dots reminiscent of a newspaper’s misaligned color registration, the mural subtly pays homage to the traditions of the printing industry while ingeniously forming a contemporary optical illusion.

“Every time you walk past it from a different angle you see something new. It embodies the Newhouse vitality,” says Tomas Rossant, a partner with Polshek Partnership Architects. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the dots form the word “Newhouse” while smaller text identifies the numerous programs of study within the school.

Poulin + Morris called on Applied Image to execute the large-scale printed graphic. The design required extreme precision in sizing and color consistency, recalls Allen Shanosky, president of Applied Image. Although the dots are innately small, they created a substantial digital file that required printing at a very high resolution. 3M™ Scotchprint® film was used with a protective overlaminate for durability and easy maintenance.

Capturing the spirit

Through two major architectural spaces and two differing modes and mediums, Poulin + Morris created a true relationship in spirit, says Rossant. “We’ve collaborated with them for over 20 years and we trust them to capture the spirit of the environment with their graphic applications. They succeed in creating a similar DNA for graphics that matches the architecture’s DNA.”

With its new spaces designed to accommodate the digital era and beyond, the Newhouse school presents new ways of teaching and learning. As students and staff advance toward the technologies of tomorrow, Poulin + Morris’ dynamic typography reminds them that it all started with the printed word and a good idea.

--By Nicole Roberts, segdDESIGN No. 25, 2009


Jury comments

"A simple and elegant solution that succeeds in integrating dynamic typography into the environment. It is a system that allows for great flexibility for expansion and expression. Finally a solution that both designer and development officer can agree on!"




Location:  Syracuse, N.Y.

Client:  Syracuse University

Design:  Poulin + Morris Inc.

Design Team:  Richard Poulin (principal in charge); Brian Brindisi, Alpkhan Kirayoglu (designers)

Architecture:  Polshek Partnership Architects

Fabrication:  Applied Image (atrium wall mural), Sunrise Systems (donor wall LEDs)

Photos:  Jeffrey Totaro

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