MahaNakhon is a high-rise mixed-use complex located in the heart of Bangkok’s thriving Central Business District. Designed by architects Ole Scheeren and Eric Chang of BuroOS and developed by Pace Development, the 77-story building is the tallest tower in the city and has a distinctive pixelated profile that appears to dissolve in the skyline. Pentagram designed a program of environmental graphics for MahaNakhon, including a dynamic digital façade for CUBE, its retail component, that enhances the architecture and integrates the building into the dizzying cityscape.
“MahaNakhon” means “great metropolis” in Thai, and the massive, 1.6 million sq ft development was conceived as an urban oasis with a variety of elements and experiences. The skyscraper houses the 200 luxury condominiums of The Ritz-Carlton Residences and the Bangkok Edition boutique hotel. The adjacent seven-story CUBE Lifestyle and Retail Centre serves as a gateway to the complex and features shops and restaurants, topped by the world’s first VOGUE Lounge. The CUBE is also the backdrop to MahaNakhon Square, a public outdoor plaza that links the property to the Chongnonsi BTS Skytrain station.
The innovative architecture of the tower has been carved with a sculptural “pixel” that circles the building’s full height, as if excavating sections of the glass curtain wall to reveal the inner workings. Stacked terraces and balconies further shift and break up the surface, creating a vertical echo of the city’s topography.
This pixelated quality helped guide the design of the monumental digital façade of the CUBE. Like the architecture of MahaNakhon, the dynamic display responds to and engages with its surroundings. Bangkok is a city of lights, and the financial district in particular has a profusion of large-scale digital screens. The challenge was to create a sophisticated visual approach that would both set MahaNakhon apart and make it feel at home.
The 1,000 sq m LED display covers the entirety of CUBE’s square, seven-story façade. The tessellated screen is a grid of separate panels that seamlessly fit together, without mullions or gutters, to create one form with a flush facade, reinforcing the idea of a cube.
The designers developed a visual language for the framework of elongated panels. The façade is divided into monospaces, which systematically organize all content. A custom typeface was created for the monospaces, where letters can expand or contract in size, depending on scale. The rectilinear typeface is based on Akkurat Extended, the font of the MahaNakhon wordmark (designed by 2x4), and graphics and images are rendered with a diamond-based pixel system, or trixel, which gives them a shimmering, faceted, jewel-like quality. The program includes custom icons for the weather and dimensional numbers for factual information like financials and temperatures.
The vibrant installation helps the complex communicate with the city from the ground up, capturing the prosperity, cultural diversity and exuberance of Bangkok. The wall features news, advertising, cultural elements and images of and information about MahaNakhon. Within the grid, the designers devised a system that accommodates various types of content that corresponds with a color palette. The images play across groups of panels, dematerializing the façade into a pixelated, ever-changing array, echoing the architecture of the tower itself.
The content is thoughtfully integrated with advertising through simple, carefully considered transitions. The team developed a series of expressive themes that act as segues between content and advertisements and help give the display a global sensibility.
Time is also used as a design element to create context for the wall within its environment. Content is keyed to the schedules of the BTS (Bangkok Transportation System) for maximum visibility, and the rhythms vary depending on the hour––faster during rush; more relaxed at daybreak and sunset. Sequences of the sun and moon rising and setting are timed and computationally adjusted to parallel the actual celestial movement and angle, while tropical scenes bring a flash of green and blue into the urban setting. As the sunset has passed, night falls and the installation is transformed into a glittering, neonesque landscape.
Visitors are invited to directly interact with the installation as they pass through the CUBE façade into a corridor lined with displays. User-generated photos tagged with “#mahanakhon” on social media are added to an immersive digital pattern, and the passageway also features touchscreen directories that change color with contact.
Pentagram is currently designing a comprehensive program of signage, environmental graphics and wayfinding for the rest of the MahaNakhon development, set for completion in 2018.