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Iconic Chicago offices undergo light art installations

The entrances and lobbies of two Chicago office buildings have been reimagined for the 21st century with large-scale light and digital art installations.

ESI Design completed the installations at 515 North State and 1 North Dearborn for owners Beacon Capital Partners.

“Our goal is to create distinctive workplaces and both of these renovations reveal how digital and light art can transform buildings into experiences that engage tenants and draw visitors,” said Greg O’Neal, SVP and asset manager, Beacon Capital Partners. “The work ESI Design led at 515 North State and 1 North Dearborn reveals that new, engaging and artistic experiences can be found in the most unexpected places, including our modern Class-A office buildings.”

At 515 North State, ESI Design transformed the building’s lobby into an eye-catching contemporary art space. Playing on the typical approach of installing an abstract painting in the lobby, ESI Design instead created a unique 14ft-wide-by-23ft-tall digital art installation that constantly ‘paints’ new compositions. Titled “Canvas,” the site-specific work deconstructs original video footage of life in Chicago’s vibrant River North neighbourhood into a museum-worthy piece of art that is always evolving.

Using custom-designed software, the installation enables locally shot footage of scenes and has the ability to generate more than 5,000 unique compositions from nearly five hours of initial footage specially shot at 16 locations.

“Our custom software analyses each video for moving objects, so moments like a person walking, or a car driving become the ‘brushstrokes’ that slowly create each abstraction. As each video collides with the next, new compositions unfold in real time, literally creating thousands of possibilities in this one-of-a-kind evolving digital artwork,” said Ed Purver, senior designer creative technology at ESI Design.

The centrepiece of the revived 1 North Dearborn facade is a large-scale infinity effect digital light-art installation that spans across 72ft of street-level windows. The huge department store windows now glow with 52 different light animations, creating a striking impression and welcoming entrance.

To create a dynamic entry experience that makes the building stand out in the busy neighbourhood, the nearly 30,000 LED lights are programmed in different modes to reflect the ebb and flow of activity in the building. In one of six animation modes, silhouettes in the shape of people pulse toward the entry, while in the evening the silhouettes appear to move away, following people as they depart. The window installation also acts as a clock, marking time on the hour with special lighting effects. A bold new red canopy featuring a new 1 North Dearborn logo designed by ESI Design, frames and draws attention to the eye-catching animated windows.

“Playing off the building’s past as a bustling department store, we wanted to create a bright and illuminating entrance for 1 North Dearborn turning the building into a focal point and creating an entry experience that wows,” explained Emily Webster, senior designer and AV technologist at ESI Design. “The interesting elements of this design are the lines of light and the infinite mirror effect. We created this endless look using LEDs and mirrored film with a gold tint. We then layered playful patterns and animations in a range of styles from subtle and ambient to more lively. They all work together to activate the façade of 1 North Dearborn and create visual interest.”

Picture: Caleb Tkach