ETC gets perfect reception at AT&T’s Discovery District

Date Posted: 3/16/2022

AT&T’s Discovery District transforms the city blocks around AT&T’s Dallas world headquarters into a world-class plaza. All aspects of lighting on more than four city blocks are linked together to create a welcoming environment, adhere to energy and safety codes, and create a high-energy lighting show in an immersive environment. To meet all these varying demands, one company’s control solutions underpin it all: ETC

The main portion of the Discovery District is a plaza created by closing two cross-streets. The plaza has a fountain as well as a green area and is lined with trees covered in strands of lighting with 0-10 V control. RGB lighting cubes are embedded in the sidewalk throughout. There are also lighting shows in the fountain, and specialized lighting on the “Golden Boy” statue (a 100-year-old icon of AT&T). Large, architectural trellises next to office buildings are outfitted with RGB LED tubes for basic illuminations and special shows. 

“The scope for Discovery District is huge. The design and construction process lasted for more than three years,” says Paul Helms, principal and namesake at Paul Helms Design Consultants. “What they got out of it was one of the most dramatic urban rooms in America. And the most obvious part of that is its lighted identity.”

ETC’s Unison Paradigm architectural control system forms the backbone for that identity. Redundant, networked control platforms in each of the buildings surrounding the plaza provide control of day-to-day lighting requirements — like 0-10 V dimming for the trees in the plaza or illumination schedules for streetlights. 

ETC is also present in their Unison Mosaic controllers that offer powerful show control for RGB pixel arrays embedded in the ground and in tube fixtures on decorative trellises. Paradigm provides a flawless sequence of operations to integrate Mosaic shows and other inputs into the lighting system. Operators have access to simple, unified controls so building managers can know what’s happening with the system at any given moment. 

“ETC can control all the various load types effortlessly, plus interface with external systems that need to override local control for special settings, and then seamlessly return to presets — all in a system networked so the end user can control everything from one location,” says Jason Foster, outside sales at Horton Controls Group and programmer for the District. “That was attractive to everyone.”

“I like Paradigm because I can put it in any architectural scenario and I know it will work well,” says Foster. “The reliability and flexibility with Paradigm mean I can put it on anything we’re asked to. That kind of reassurance is what made it the right choice.” 

Perhaps the most visible aspect of the District is the video wall. It wraps around the building at the corner of Akard and Jackson Streets, covering 9,300 square feet. The video content for it was provided by Moment Factory and ETC makes sure the entire plaza reacts when a special show is occurring. 

“When special video content plays on the video wall, the in-ground RGB fixtures ‘play’ along with it. The whole plaza unites for a show — and then goes back to presets,” explains Foster. 

Foster knew that Paradigm would be perfect for this level of detailed integration. “Paradigm is designed around if-then statements,” says Foster. “Controlling lights gets very complicated when you have timeclock events happening during day, and then have to contend with override events. The trick is always dealing with what is supposed to happen when a show ends. Does someone have to hit a button to go back to normal operation? No one wants to do that. All that automation has to be programmed, and ETC is good about that because Paradigm is so flexible.” 

“When you start making images and you ask complex patterns of light to be spread out site-wide among large-scale systems and devices — that’s a very different thing than simply saying ‘Preset 1 do this, and then die down in three seconds,’” says Helms. “In system like this, the whole thing is dancing. And in this dance, there are essentially thousands of working parts at once. Which is what AT&T wanted, so we designed for that. And ETC let us do it. ETC is heroic to me.”