When you’re standing just outside the doors to the Maryland-based biotech company United Therapeutics’s new headquarters, there’s nothing in particular that indicates that you’re about to enter one of the few “site net-zero” buildings on the East Cost–meaning that it uses only the energy it generates within its footprint.
But then you walk in the front doors. On the wall of the building’s large atrium is an installation that looks like a giant sundial, with 24 silver markers arranged in a giant circle and connected only by beams of light. When the lights point to the center, creating a beautiful geometric pattern on the wall, they’re indicating that the building is using energy. When they reverse direction, they’re visualizing that the building has started to generate solar energy.
The Energy Dial, as it’s called, was designed by the experience design firm Hush, with the goal of helping the people who work in Unither’s new building understand their own role in its sustainability. It’s a building-size interface that’s designed to do something many architects struggle with: communicate how individual behavior impacts the overall energy footprint of a building.
“We needed to create a bunch of experiences inside that basically create empathy from people to the technology that’s working in the background,” says David Schwarz, a partner at Hush. “That helps people to understand, it’s a hot summer day, so I’m not going to turn up the thermostat.”
The installation goes further than most data visualizations that attempt to explain the flow of energy in a building. By simplifying the hundreds of thousands of data points that the building generates every day as a simple binary–if it’s creating energy, or it’s using it–the designers aim to effectively communicate with the people who work there and ideally impact their behavior. “In order to participate in something, you need to be informed: Why am I doing this?” Schwarz says. “Not, let’s just show you the building’s data today.”
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