First opened to employees in August 2011, Facebook's East Campus office complex in Menlo Park, California, USA is designed to be an ideal reflection of the company's casual, creative culture. Rather than walk, employees of the social media giant ride skateboards and bicycles from one building to another. Garage doors installed in the complex's nine office buildings open to reveal open-air conference rooms, an architectural metaphor for the "garage startup" origins of famed Silicon Valley corporations Google, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard. While Facebook was first developed in a college dorm room, not a garage, the company embraces the scrappy, collaborative mindset shown by these tech entrepreneurs, both in its business practices and office space.
So when plans arose to create a technological "feature wall" in Café 18, one of the East Campus's two employee cafeterias, John Tenanes, director of global real estate facilities at Facebook, knew the installation had to reflect the same innovative culture demonstrated by the rest of the Campus's design. Tenanes, who oversaw the feature wall project, called on Douglas Burnham and Patrick Flynn of Envelope A + D, an architecture and design firm based in Berkeley, California, USA, to coordinate the installation of the project. Burnham and Flynn then collaborated with lighting designer Mark Slee, managing member of Heron Arts and software engineer and product manager at Facebook, to create a dynamic, engaging LED wall display that perfectly suited Facebook's corporate culture.
Slee selected iColor Flex MX nodes with clear dome lenses for the Café 18 installation. These high-intensity, full-color LED nodes offered the flexible form factor, individual addressability, versatile control, and superior light output required by the display's design.
The project's installation team mounted more than 4,000 nodes in a grid arrangement spaced approximately 4 in (102 mm) on center. The grid incorporates a slight taper to match the trapezoidal shape of the wall. A diffuse glass surface positioned roughly 1.5 in (38 mm) in front of the nodes ensures even light distribution. To enclose a set of double doors, the installation is split into two pieces, each measuring approximately 30 ft (9 m) long by 8 ft (2 m) tall.
For its control system, the project uses a custom software package titled caf8teen. Programmed by Slee, the software consists of algorithms that generate complex, organic display patterns across the installation, and worked seamlessly with the Philips Color Kinetics system. Logic timers allow for recurring timed programs, such as morning sunrise or evening stars displays.
To match Facebook's collaborative culture, caf8teen is open-source and available for all Facebook engineers to experiment with, creating opportunities for the feature wall to evolve and grow over time.
Slee reflected on the project's success. "I am super grateful to have had the chance to work on the caf8teen installation," said Slee. "It was an amazing opportunity to help shape the Facebook campus, creating something that is bold and experimental, but at the same time playful. In many ways the project reflects the experience of being a Facebook engineer, creating technical tools that can transform creative ideas into real experiences."