Executive Briefing Center

As a team of media developers and architects, Centerbrook was asked to design a space that would engage and educate technically sophisticated visitors about Nortel's cutting edge digital network products. This needed to welcome a variety of group sizes and respond to a wide range of customer special interests. Most importantly, it needed to dramatize the client's extraordinary technology, which was digital, and thus hard to see.

With a fast-track schedule, Centerbrook worked interactively with Nortel (now defunct) and VisionFactory (the media designer and project developer) in regular meetings and went on site tours to similar facilities together, eventually producing full-scale and virtual mock-ups to test ideas.

The result was an interactive "Smart Environment" that presented Nortel’s extensive internet technologies to customers. The site included flexible demonstration spaces, full motion video, remote database access, screen sharing, videoconferencing, entertainment outlets, interactive distance learning, a round film theater with a disappearing screen, conference rooms, dining, and kitchen facilities.

Organized as a three-dimensional "walk-through" interactive theater, lights and sound effects went up and down in response to the presence of visitors. Space flowed, and yet separated into distinct settings with dramatic changes in ambient lighting and acoustics.

Most visitors began in a reception hall where they received an electronic swipe card upon registering that allowed them personal recognition at each station of the visit and recorded their interests for future visits to a web site after they left. They entered a round film theater with a floor-to-ceiling mobile screen. At the end of the introduction film, the film screen slid open to invite visitors to walk into the space they just saw as a video image. Here they entered the "Hub," with five floating interactive touch-screen modules. Audio was focused with sound domes to surprise listeners as they move through the space. Flat screen images became three-dimensional.

The Hub led into an oval room with seven interactive computers that allowed remote web searches. Next were five interactive video booths with full motion video that simulated internet communications of the future. Last, another oval room offered educational entertainment in a Barco Board with 3-D imaging and a group video game to recall solutions experienced.

Spaces and forms throughout the site were novel. Ebonized bent plywood was used consistently to hold monitors, keyboards, and telephones. Acoustic baffles were applied to walls and hung from ceilings in order to limit sound transmission, localizing the distinct experiences offered and adding a technical spirit to the futuristic environment. Theatrical lighting and sound changed as visitors travel through spaces. The combination provided a "sensate" environment that responded to the user at every turn and illustrated the digital present and future.


Nortel Networks

Location Raleigh, NC
Size 10,000 Sq. Ft.
Program theater, demonstration spaces, conference rooms, dining hall, kitchen
Year Completed 1999
Photo Credit Peter Aaron/Esto



  • Silver Award, Industrial Designers Society of America