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Cynthia Wisehart on the Oculus

There have been so many accomplishments in pandemic. Some of course have been heartbreakingly hard won and I try to never miss a chance to acknowledge the heroic and underappreciated healthcare workers. I hope for strength and healing for them from this unexpected war they are fighting. As they hold the line, so many others are fighting for accomplishments in their own ways. Every sector of human life has faced new challenges and seen old familiar challenges become exponentially, spectacularly, even sometimes comically harder.

To zero in on an AV industry microcosm for a moment, let’s talk about what’s been called the Oculus—the giant videoboard centerpiece of my local SoFi stadium. In 2019, this idea and installation would have been considered jaw-dropping–two million pounds of double sided LED wall and everything that goes with it. The mind would have reeled at doing it in normal times. Yet it was literally installed throughout the shank of pandemic, making all the challenges of Before COVID seem quaint by comparison. Remember when we used to groan over dust-free being late, or panic over…whatever we panicked over before? I’m trying to remember what used to be an emergency and I’m kind of drawing a blank.

For many who worked on making that spectacular project happen, it still isn’t possible to see it in person. It fell to a relatively few people to project manage and install this behemoth through the whole run of pandemic with all the twists and turns, brand-new and ever-changing regulations, shutdowns, and concerns for personal safety. Soon, we will be able to see the finished product for ourselves, but what went into it will be a life memory for just a few.

When I see the video of that steel going up and the video board creeping into place, and when I think about the people who ran all those miles of cable, it’s viscerally thrilling, as anyone who has been on site for something big and historic knows. I’m a little jealous. I know it must have been so hard. But what an achievement for those teams. It’s a vision come true for the architect HKS.

It’s also, potentially, the beginning of something that is only more important in the After Times. It’s a literal vision of a hybrid future, where the physical and the digital, the in-person and the virtual come together on more equal footing. As a theme park designer it seems, well, really important. We have become—in some cases to our detriment—digital creatures, half life, half screen. COVID has accelerated that—making our screen world a near-equal player in our real world. The balance is terrible to be honest and I just did a whole day of gardening to purge myself of screens and remember. But it will be artists, architects, and designers who help rebalance our hybrid selves. To me this is really just the beginning of digital, moving from the primitive to the sophisticated with all the potential (and sometimes losses) that entails. In the meantime, I am blown away by what everyone involved with the Oculus has made and birthed, and what content creators can do with the canvas that’s been handed to them.

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