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515 North State Street, 2016-2018

515 North State Street, 2016-2018
515 North State Street, 2016-2018

Designers: ESI Design, New York, New York, USA
Client: Beacon Capital Partners, Boston, Massachusetts, USA 

515 North State Street, 2016-2018
515 North State Street, 2016-2018

Project Description

A river boat pierces through dreamy greenery. The Chicago Navy Pier’s carousel and iconic Ferris wheel swirl into abstraction against the blue sky. A birds-eye view of Chicago Marathon runners dissolves into streaks of color. As each video collides with the next, new compositions unfold in real time, creating over 5,000 possibilities in this one of-a-kind evolving digital artwork.

Located in Chicago, this new digital art installation puts a paintbrush in the hand of the city. 515 North State Street, built in the 1990s by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kenzo Tange, is a modern architectural icon in Chicago’s vibrant River North neighborhood. It features bold, angular architecture and a striking lobby, that until now lacked warmth intimacy and wow-factor at street level.

The new design reimagines the lobby as a lively contemporary art space. Playing on the typical old-school approach of hanging an abstract painting in a lobby, ESI Design created a unique 14-foot-wide-by-23-foot-tall digital permanent public art installation that algorithmically ‘paints’ new compositions 24/7/365 in an Impressionist style, inspired by artists from Vincent van Gogh to Gerhart Richter.

Titled Canvas, the site-specific installation deconstructs original video footage of life in the River North neighborhood; as the colors of one scene merge into another, new compositions are made. The piece is intentionally slow and meditative, and is constantly on a journey of transition into abstraction and then back into figurative, legible video imagery. The custom-software’s unique algorithm paints by:

• Creating “brushes” and “brushstrokes” by analyzing the source videos for areas of highly saturated color and motion. Over time, more and more brushes and strokes are introduced, and the is abstracted from its original video frames to a completely new composition of pure color. 

• Taking the “paint” color from the pixel values of the video itself. This paint is applied by a fluid simulation which pushes, disperses, and blends the different colors according to the scale and motion of the brushes.

• Randomly pairing source videos into “collisions.” Once a video is fully abstracted, it “collides” with another video, and is re-patterned by the motion vectors found in the new, incoming video. And then, after a period of total abstraction, the new video is slowly revealed.

The display itself is made of LED modules floating behind a vinyl diffusion layer, which removes the harsh digital glare of the bare diodes and gives the imagery a soft, material quality instead. The entire display is framed with a painted metal molding, referencing traditional canvas paintings. The soaring digital artwork is visible from the street through the building’s glass façade, breathing life into the surrounding streetscape.

The resulting experience goes beyond both typical large media installations and traditional paintings to create a museum-worthy work of art that visually evokes the energy and motion of the neighborhood.

Canvas has been covered internationally on television, in print and online, garnering millions of views in outlets including Discovery Channel, designboom and Engadget.