Office Buildings Turn On A New Face

Large-scale digital and light-art installations draw tenants and delight visitors.

New building identification announces 515 North State as a modern property and gives it a clear front door. The LED wall is visible through the glass façade, mirroring the energy of the city and engaging passersby. Photo. Caleb Tkach

The entrances and lobbies of 515 North State and 1 North Dearborn—two iconic Chicago office buildings—have been re-imagined for the 21st century with large-scale digital art installations that have put each property on Chicago’s cultural map. Both makeovers were created for the buildings’ owner, Beacon Capital Partners, Chicago (, a real estate investment firm, by ESI Design, New York (

ESI Design, deploying the same design philosophy that it applies to its work for cultural institutions, corporate campuses, brands, and retailers, helped transform the once overshadowed properties into experiences by drawing on its diverse team of artists, architects, storytellers, technologists, and strategists.

“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, senior vice president 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.”

515 North State

ESI Design created a unique 14-ft.-wide x 23-ft.-tall digital art installation for 515 North State that constantly “paints” new compositions. Titled “Canvas,” the site-specific work deconstructs original video footage of life in Chicago’s River North neighborhood into a piece of art that is always evolving. Photo: Caleb Tkach

At 515 North State, the design firm 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, designers instead created a unique 14-ft.-wide x 23-ft.-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 neighborhood into a museum-worthy piece of art that is always evolving.

Using custom-designed software, the installation enables locally shot footage of scenes, such as boats on the Chicago River and amusement rides on Navy Pier, to dissolve into abstract patterns and then slowly sharpen back into clarity. “Canvas” has the ability to generate more than 5,000 unique compositions from nearly 5 hours of initial footage specially shot at 16 locations. The soaring installation is visible from the street through the building’s glass facade, breathing life into the surrounding streetscape and creating a new Chicago attraction by capturing the attention of passersby.

“The daily motion of Chicago ‘paints’ the pictures into place at 515 North State,” said Ed Purver, senior designer, creative technology at ESI Design. “Our custom software analyzes 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.”

Other highlights of the 515 North State renovation include a new building-identification sign, and revamped elevator bays, which feature transparent LCD screens that provide up-to-date local information such as weather forecasts, trending Twitter topics, and transit alerts. A palette of red and gray creates focal points throughout the long lobby, from the sculptural ‘pixel-like’ Do Lo Res sofas configured into sectionals, to shades of red on the staircase accent wall.

515 North State was designed in the 1990s by Pritzker Prize–winning Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, who topped the building with a four-story “sky-window” that became a defining element on the Chicago skyline.

1 North Dearborn

The street presence of 1 North Dearborn had been diminished in recent years by its neighbors. Beacon Capital Partners asked ESI Design to devise a design approach that would strengthen the building’s identity and curb appeal. Photo: Caleb Tkach

The centerpiece of the revived 1 North Dearborn facade is a large-scale, infinity-effect digital light-art installation that spans 72 ft. of street-level windows. Built in 1905, 1 North Dearborn was the home of The Boston Store in the 1940s, and most recently served as home to Sears’s flagship store from 2001 to 2014. 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 neighborhood, 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, red canopy featuring a new 1 North Dearborn logo designed by ESI Design, frames and draws attention to the eye-catching animated windows.

The lobby of 1 North Dearborn, formerly the home of The Boston Store in the 1940s and Sears from 2001 to 2014, was upgraded along with the façade. Photo: Josh Pabst

“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.”

The updates at 515 North State and 1 North Dearborn are the latest in a series of innovative designs that ESI Design has created in Chicago for Beacon Capital Partners. Previous Chicago property renovations have included 180 North LaSalle, which uses 13 synchronized HD projectors to project content on its walls, and 300 South Wacker, which features a 40-story map of Chicago on the exterior wall that is now a must-see landmark on city architectural boat tours.

Watch a video on each project:

— 515 North State

— 1 North Dearborn

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