Putting a new face on old buildings

They are formally named "light-emitting diodes," but just about everybody calls them LEDs. They are environmentally friendly lights that are turning up everywhere these days. CBS News' David Begnaud reports on a company that has come up with a creative use of this technology in architecture.

Bright lights, good graphics and animation are redefining big buildings with what's known as "experience design."

From the Empire State Building in New York to landmarks around the world, LED lights have transformed big city skylines, bridges and even corporate lobbies.

Senior designer Ed Purver was tasked with turning 221 Main Street, a San Francisco office building built in the '70s, a building that some say is boring, into a conversation piece. Purver is a designer for the New York City-based ESI designs that specializes in experience design, driven by big ideas.

"We thought, we need to give this building a presence, and we need to connect the inside of it with the outside," Purver said. "We did a big simple idea, which was like, let's literally put up a ribbon of light on this thing. Let's show the big stream that starts on the front of the building and flows all the way down the ceiling, the exterior inside the building and then it folds down the lobby wall. It's 125 foot long."

Purver also worked on 330 Hudson St. in Manhattan, where nine multi-resolution LED screens essentially put a view on a windowless building.

"We created this time-lapse that's spatially oriented, so if you're here in this lobby, and you're looking, say for example, I'm looking in this direction right now, what I see on the screen is exactly the same view I would have if that wall wasn't there," Purver said.

This kind of work was first inspired by Edwin Schlossberg, who founded ESI in 1977.

"I think that my favorite thing is if [people] would elbow someone next to them and say, 'Look at that, that's so cool,' and then they would say, 'Well, why?'" Schlossberg said. "A lot of our designs are sort of thought about to being an invitation to move inside and get more."

Schlossberg, the husband of Caroline Kennedy, was once quoted as saying "My art is what we might see if we could witness the process of thinking itself."

One of the company's largest and more impressive design projects was a dream cube in Shanghai built in 2010 for the World Expo. Then, it was the largest 3-D LED screen ever built. This LED required the interaction of humans to activate the display, through clapping.

Lead designer Maria Rizzolo and her team came up with a map theme to highlight 300 Wacker's presence in downtown Chicago.

"It's at a very interesting location, which is right along the Chicago River, so you can see it on the boat tours, but it really didn't have a presence," Rizzolo said.

Prior to the map, the building wasn't much a conservation piece, but now it's on the architectural tour of the city.

"I think the map gives it personality. I think it brings out the personality that was hidden in the building before," Purver said.

The redesign has been good for business too. The transformation of this particular building has been a significant factor in bringing more tenants.

Just about a mile away at 180 North Lasalle St. in Chicago, ESI installed 13 projectors which beam content from data on social media.

"The wind date from the Internet informs how fast those clouds move and in what direction, so tomorrow it looks like we are going to have a strong westerly wind," Purver said. "So, you can see that all around the lobby the clouds are moving in the direction and at the speed that they will be tomorrow."

Beacon Capital Partners, which owns these buildings, has hired ESI exclusively to redesign a total of 25 big buildings across the U.S.

In Boston, 177 Huntington St. is another one of these buildings. Beacon Capital Partners' senior vice president, Rob Albro, says this building is truly interactive.

"It's basically a functional work of art in my mind," Albro said. "We feel that the money we spent on these lobbies is well-spent and our return is going to be phenomenal on these assets."

But it is not good enough for Schlossberg just to have a good-looking fancy light display.

"I want a real experience," Schlossberg said. "I want people to be thinking about it while they're doing it. I want them to be looking at other people's reaction to what's happening while they're doing it and to think about how it's a window into seeing and doing and being, you know, after the experience."

ESI is not the first company to use LED lights to change the look of a building, but they have been a pioneer in redefining both audience engagement and experience design.