FOUND:RE Phoenix Offers Guests, Locals 49-Foot-High-by-22-Foot-Wide Exterior Digital Art Display

By  Vittal Calamur, General Manager, FOUND:RE Phoenix | July 14, 2017

Open since October 2016, the FOUND:RE Phoenix is a 105-room industrial-chic hotel that takes inspiration from local contemporary art, culture, fashion and music – but how we got here was quite a journey.  
 
The eight-story building originally opened in the early 1970s as a budget chain hotel. Developers Habitat Metro and BOND Partners purchased the building in 2011 and shut it down in April 2012. It sat empty for three years before we began a $25 million renovation in 2015 to create a high-end hotel better suited to its locale – the building is in the heart of Roosevelt Row, an arts community in Phoenix that was named one of USA Today’s 10 Best city art districts in the country. Because of this, we wanted a property with a focus on arts and culture, especially local art. We also wanted to highlight digital and interactive art.
 
Our design team found plenty of opportunities to highlight art in all forms. We partnered with more than 30 artists featured throughout the hotel and restaurant, with 80 percent of on-property art designed or fabricated by local artists – but we also wanted a definitive statement piece that could be seen from afar to draw the eye to the hotel and generate buzz.
 
We decided to create a large-scale outdoor projection that would turn several floors of the hotel’s exterior into a captivating public art display – but it took some careful planning and calculation to figure out how to make this work, as well as help from professionals.
 
Figuring out the Technology
 
We realized we needed a digital projector for this project, but we had some prerequisites. For starters, the hotel’s exterior surface is stucco, so we were not sure how the images would look on that surface. We also had to be aware of how much light the projector would give off, because we are in a semi-residential area. Also, we wanted to show the digital videos for long stretches of time each night, so we needed something that would be able to run for hours at a time without breaking down.
 
We were using one AV company for our general AV package for items like speakers and CCTVs, and a different company, Audio Visual Associates, for in-house rentals. For the exterior projection project, we put out a competitive bid between the two companies and Audio Visual Associates won.
 
The other AV company suggested two projectors, stacked on top of each other 14 feet off the ground, and placed directly in front of the exterior wall on the opposite roof. The problem was, we didn’t want the projector in that location, and we were concerned about using two projectors instead of one; we thought it would get too complex.
 
Audio Visual Associates suggested a single specific projector and alleviated some of our concerns by letting us put it through a trial run. The projector we tried out, the NEC NP-PH1202 HL1, created nice-looking images even on the stucco wall, and although it was bright, it wasn’t bright enough to disturb residents in the nearby condo complexes.
 
The projector also had some features, like built-in 3-D cornerstone correction, that let us put the projector anywhere on the roof we wanted and still create an aligned image, even though the exterior wall wasn’t straight across from where the projector was.
 
The Installation
 
Our team wanted to be well prepared for this installation, so discussions for the design began in May 2016, with the demonstration of the projector and a couple of rounds of testing occurring in September of that year. We’d recommend a similar timeline for technology projects of this magnitude for other hotels, and also recommend the ability to do testing before the official launch date.
 
The actual installation of the projector and its components – all of which had to be lifted by crane onto the hotel roof – took just a single day. Components included a custom-built booth, to house the projector and protect it from the elements – including the extreme heat of the desert landscape, where temperatures can get well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit – and a stand, which was custom fabricated to hold the several-hundred-pound projector in portrait mode instead of the standard landscape mode to accommodate the shape of the building.
 
Audio Visual Associates worked with the booth fabricator to coordinate where the stand should be and fine-tune everything, but we still had one slight hiccup during installation: Because two different fabricators made the stand and the booth, they didn’t quite line up with each other, and the image projection didn’t look right.
 
Some quick thinking saved the day with a surprisingly simple fix: We took the projector out of the stand, turned the stand around, and put it in backward, and then we had our image.
 
Our contact at the company, James Spiro (whose company JSAV LLC has since bought out Audio Visual Associates in Arizona) also helped us figure out how to run and manage the projector. We chose a program that let everything run remotely, with the projector programmed to turn on and off at specific times, so there is no need for anyone to climb up to the projection booth except for standard maintenance. The content plays on autopilot from a computer loaded with NEC’s NaViSet Administrator 2 software, which is connected via Cat 5 cabling to the projector.
 
The Results
 
The projector installation was ready for our grand opening in October 2016, and the video creations playing on our exterior wall have been dazzling our guests and even locals – condo residents and light-rail commuters can also see the building – with digital projections from a variety of local artists. We don’t have any restrictions on the kind of art we display, as long as it’s appropriate for general audiences, so we’ve had an exciting variety of artistic styles since we opened.
 
We’ve had great feedback from our guests – when someone is driving down the street toward the hotel and sees the 49-foot-high-by-22-foot-wide digital images playing on the side of the building, it’s pretty impressive.
 
The projector has been running for almost 1,500 hours since opening and has been seen by almost 11,000 (and counting) guests staying at the property. At our front drive, we have the words “FIND YOURSELF” in red neon letters that are lit up at night – this is because one of our goals is to create a sense of community for our guests as well as residents of the 11,000 residential units within a square mile of the property. The video projection wall lets us to be part of the community by displaying local artwork on the massive wall outside the hotel, hoping to attract guests and locals to our property to “FIND YOURSELF” through community and discovery.
 
We initially weren’t sure whether we could make such a large digital art installation work, but with some patience and outside help, we’re happy with the results – and this project’s success has definitely given us ideas for other ways we can incorporate technology into future projects.

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