HUSH on conveying a building’s net zero ethos in installations
How HUSH designed a series of experiential installations that communicate the net zero energy status of United Therapeutics’ sustainable new HQ
BRIEF AND INITIAL CONCEPTS David Schwarz, HUSH
I would love to say that this project came about through some grand connection between United Therapeutics’ leadership and ours, but we were engaged after a reasonably traditional presentation process. However, the project itself was anything but orthodox. United Therapeutics wanted us to create empathy and knowledge between a building and its inhabitants. The building in question was Unisphere, the company’s new HQ in Silver Springs, Maryland, which is a net zero facility. This means it creates and consumes its own energy, and its yearly net carbon consumption is zero.
We immediately saw the paradox of doing something creative, technology-driven and experiential with the subject matter being about sustainability and efficient energy use. After all, whatever we created would need to use some of the building’s energy. It was a wonderful creative constraint, and it inspired us to look at natural systems around sunlight, solography, the ebb and flow of Earth forces and so on.
Joining the project long before the building’s completion, we had an open brief to integrate experiential elements wherever they’d be most effective. Consulting with Unisphere’s architectural designers at EwingCole, we researched architectural sustainability, net zero engineering, building systems, modes and energy systems. At the same time we considered how space would be used throughout the structure and what the requirements of the employees who work there would be.
Our approach was to create a system of interconnected experiences to communicate the building’s sustainability at various levels — from large, emotional, sensorial, binary expressions of its net zero status all the way to very detailed interactive visualisations of energy performance, predictive modeling and engineering systems. Guests and employees can tap into this information at the scale that is appropriate for them at any given time.
The feedback we received was very positive and Martine Rothblatt, chairperson of United
Therapeutics, loved our idea that Unisphere would express itself like a living organism. This pushed us further towards relating the natural ebb and flow of energy in our visualisations.
DESIGN AND BUILD Graham Hill, HUSH
Early on, we explored various materials, forms and concepts. We knew that what we created had to be connected closely to nature, to health and to breathing — heart and lungs-related biotech is a major part of United Therapeutics’ offering. As such, we wanted to subtly hint towards those themes with each decision we made, from the materials we used to the pace of the animations to the choice of typography.
From the beginning, we approached this project from a content-first perspective. Once we understood how the building’s systems worked, we needed to translate that into a language that would be accessible to our target audience. Each installation would serve a particular purpose.
For the building’s main atrium, we developed the Energy Dial. It was designed to be an everpresent, simple reminder of the building. Then you have the Energy Dashboard, an interactive console that uses architectural glass running through the building’s main hallway, allows occupants to explore each system’s performance at any given time. And finally, illustrations and animations are strategically located throughout Unisphere to deliver simple, bite-sized messages around specific functions.
01 The Energy Dial has 24 mirrored points reflecting light at varying intensities. The light is animated to expand or contract depending on whether the building has a net energy surplus or not.
03 The Energy Dial is fully responsive to the building’s energy status and on display in the main atrium. 03
02 Early on in the project, HUSH were engaged with the building’s architects in order to understand how it generates energy and its self-adjusting systems. 02