24,000 square feet of luxury retail space opened at the Prada Epicenter Store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills on July 16th, and Pathway Connectivity was on hand to help deliver the unique design for this high-concept environment. Prada is renowned for avant garde architectural design; the Epicenter stores blend commercial functions with “experiential and spatial typologies,” a working laboratory for application of new material, technologies and service strategies.

It begins on the exterior; there isn’t one! The entire 50 feet along Rodeo Drive is open to the street, without a storefront or glass enclosure, inviting the public into the space. At night, an aluminum panel seals the store by rising from the ground. When open, an air curtain controls the interior temperature and repels environmental elements such as rain.

Plasma screens, both hanging and imbedded in store fixtures, connect customers to the outside world, feeding news and stock market data through a stylized graphical filter. The dressing rooms are equipped with “magic mirrors” - plasma screens built into larger mirrors allow customers to see front and back views of themselves simultaneously, along with a time delay and replay facility.

Key to the design concept is electric privacy glass. A large wooden staircase to the second floor is framed with this glass, surrounding the inner circumference on the second level. Based on LCD technology, the glass can fade to any degree of transparency or opaqueness, changing the apparent volume of the space electronically.

Conventional privacy glass technology, developed initially for boardroom applications, permitted only on or off states with the application of AC current. The team at Scharff Weisberg had an idea to push the design even further than the glass manufacturer had envisioned, providing full fading capability and the integration of electronically generated patterns.

Each 3’x8’ pane of glass is individually controlled, with a custom control system designed by Scharff Weisberg. Tied together via show control, the glass can be manipulated based on input from a number of sources.

Josh Weisberg explained, “We can change the glass pattern based on music from the store’s sound system. Additionally, we create different patterns and ‘reveal transitions’ by tracking movement of people within the store via video cameras. Imagine someone walking along the wall - as he moves, he is revealed to viewers on the other side, with the areas in front of and behind him becoming opaque dynamically as he moves. We can track the distance from the glass as well, so as someone walks toward a glass pane, the pattern can change transparency.” Privacy glass is even used in the dressing rooms; when “privacy” is activated, the dressing room door changes from transparent to completely opaque, for obvious reasons.

Pathway developed special DMX512-controlled ‘Glass-Faders’ to drive the glass, providing a variable sine-wave voltage to create the desired transition. One of the challenges encountered by the Pathway design team was the extremely fast response of the glass. Standard DMX 8-bit resolution was clearly inadequate for the job, so Pathway’s Glass-Faders utilize a sophisticated smoothing algorithm that eliminates coarseness in the DMX fading effects. Eighty of Pathway’s Glass-Faders were used in the Prada installation.

Weisberg commented, “I went to Pathway with this very off-the-wall concept, having no idea if this would be a one-off project or a marketable product. Intrigued with the idea, they came on board and together we developed a system that I believe has a tremendous future.”

Pathway’s David Higgins added, “Just when we thought we’d seen every possible DMX interface application, Scharff Weisberg came up with a fascinating new one. Prada certainly wasn’t the easiest project we’ve been involved with lately, but we always enjoy new challenges and exposure to new ideas. All of us at Pathway are very pleased to have been invited to help Scharff Weisberg create this innovative control system.”