The Coolest Thing About 1 World Trade Center’s New Observatory Isn’t The View

Up on the 100th floor of New York’s tallest skyscraper, a ring of screens tells stories about the city in a new way.

No tourist heading to the 100th floor of 1 World Trade Center–the 1,776-foot-tall skyscraper that stands as the spiritual successor to the Twin Towers–is going there strictly for the view, but it’s nice to protect the skyline, anyway.

That’s the underlying philosophy behind City Pulse, a new installation by Local Projects–the same media studio behind the coolest features of the revamped Smithsonian Design Museum and the National September 11th Memorial & Museum–at the One World Observatory, which was itself designed by The Hettema Group. The original idea was to mount a series of infographic-laden screens that would block the 45-mile views from 1 WTC. Local Projects instead created into a pair of 14-foot rings each built from 10 overlapping LCD screens that can respond to the gestures of an accompanying tour guide to offer real-time snapshots of city information.


Why rings? Well, you can look through a ring. And they’ve been aligned with support beams specifically to interfere with 1WTC’s views as little as possible. Local Projects even went so far as to code a custom algorithm that could analyze various elements of the ring–like how many screens were used, how large the screens would be, the angle at which the ring would sit–to geometrically optimize the view.

There’s another benefit, too. The rings are what Local Projects principal Jake Barton calls “human-computer storytelling hybrids.” Because the experience is meant to be lighthearted, a comedian will stand inside each ring and interact with the audience. Thanks to a gesture-controlled arm band, the comedian can point to 10 positions around the circle to pull up topics that visitors might be interested in (like food and dining, arts and culture, or New York history). Once they point to a topic, 10 potential storylines under that topic appear. One might be a top-10 list of good restaurants; another might pull real-time Instagram images of Yankee Stadium. City Pulse becomes a literal frame around human storytelling, formalizing an improvised conversation through media.

“The capacity to make this deep, custom connection with each group of visitors is really powerful,” Barton says. Indeed, because once you strip away the striking Stargate ring, City Pulse is basically a very knowledgable, entertaining local Googling things for you.

“I often say to prospective clients, nothing will age faster than your hardware. Even the thinnest touch screen will look like a toaster oven in a number of years,” Barton says. “As long as your storytelling, and emotional depth are intact, that’s what people will focus on.”

A nice view doesn’t hurt, either.

City Pulse opens with the One World Observatory on May 29.

This article has been updated to acknowledge the contribution of The Hettema Group.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a writer who started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day. His work has also appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach.

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