As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago’s epically-scaled Merchandise Mart will soon host a public art piece to match its size. Scheduled for a 2018 unveiling, the installation will be comprised of large-scale projections that will illuminate the two-block stretch of the Chicago River in front of the building. Leading the design of the installation is New York–based A+I architects and San Francisco-based Obscura Digital. Obscura specializes in immersive experience design and has done similarly scaled projection projects on such iconic buildings as the Empire State Building, the Sydney Opera House, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. An RFP released by the city in 2014 hints at a possible vision for the installation, with interactive videos playing on its facade. That RFP was a call for a design team for the Lighting Frame Work Plan (LFP) to imagine a comprehensive lighting plan for the public spaces of Chicago. A major portion of the RFP was dedicated to the stretch of the Chicago River which now is home to the Riverwalk. The language of the RFP specifically addressed lighting as a part of the city’s goal to integrate art, design, and technology into public spaces to attract tourist. The announcement comes as the city celebrates the Year of Public Art, which includes the installation of multiple new pieces in public spaces, a $1.5 million investment from the city, and a series of public events and programs. The Merchandise Mart project is planned to be completely privately funded. Completed 1931, the art deco Merchandise Mart was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. It was the largest building in the world by floor area until the Pentagon was built and is still in the top 50 for largest buildings in the world. Today the building is filled with a variety of tenants but is best known for its wholesale design showrooms on the lower floors. Upper floors are filled with office and exhibition spaces, including a large tech startup incubator, and Motorola Mobility. The Mart, as it is usually referred to, is also home to NeoCon, the international commercial design show.
Posts tagged with "Merchandise Mart":
Open offices have gone from unavoidable interior design trend to the target of some serious backlash. I moderated a panel last week for DisruptCRE's annual conference that tried to suss out what's driving office space design and culture today. I was joined by 1871 CEO Howard Tullman, Gensler global design leader and design principal Carlos M. Martínez, IdeaPaint president John Stephans and SpaceTrak CEO Kristine O’Hollearn. We met on the 99th floor of the Willis Tower. As the Chicago Tribune's Meg Graham put it:
Offices are no longer as simple as a couple of cubicles and a water cooler. But taking down walls and throwing in a ping pong table doesn’t automatically inspire innovation, panelists said Thursday at DisruptCRE. … The panelists discussed a growing hesitation toward the open-office trend. “We think that ‘open’ is over, that we’re going backward to more contained spaces, more identity, more sound control,” Tullman said. “We’re discovering that there’s a myth about multitasking — which is actually that you’re doing a lot of things poorly.”You can watch a video of the entire panel on Vimeo, and embedded here, in which we discussed how to encourage collaboration without embracing chaos.
Wolf-Gordon’s “Force of Nature” spirals through Chicago’s Merchandise Mart during NeoCon 2013.Based on the success of Wolf-Gordon’s inaugural NeoCon installation in 2012, chief creative officer Marybeth Shaw commissioned yet another show-stopping design piece for 2013. With the working title “Forces of Nature,” she turned once again to New York City–based design studio karlssonwilker and Brooklyn-based design-build collaborative The Guild to create a sculpture that would showcase the breadth of the company’s textiles and wall coverings. “The title ended up being quite appropriate to the final form, as the sculpture is a geometric construct with all of the resulting physical forces that might spin it out of the Mart’s ‘town square,’” Shaw recently told AN. Karlssonwilker initially conceived of a kinetic sculpture, but Shaw wanted a large installation—nearly 30 feet long and 14 feet wide. At that size, there was no room for movement within the given space, a double-height ceiling over an escalator that would carry 42,000 show attendees. “We wanted it to rotate like a rotisserie chicken, but we went for a larger form,” said Graham Kelman, creative manager for The Guild. Ultimately, the team decided on a static sculpture resembling a twisted spine that gives a sense of movement through color and form. “I lost sleep over whether it would fit because if there was flex in the spine, it wouldn’t work.” The designers worked in SketchUp and 3DS Max to develop layered parameters for 68 slats—the vertebrae along the spine—that would showcase 136 of Wolf-Gordon’s products, one on each side. As visitors ascend the escalator, the slats appear above them like a twisting array of fanned-out cards. The products were arranged by color, forming a gradient that goes from white to orange to red on the way up the escalator and purple to brown on the way down. The edge of each slat slopes one degree, adding to the sculpture’s twisting vortex appearance. Since the sculpture hangs above show goers, realizing the piece with light materials was paramount. The slats are made from foam sandwiched between two sheets of Masonite. An aluminum channel along the perimeter of each slat provides rigidity. A plywood box connects and spaces each slat. The team used the software’s parametric capabilities to calculate where to place screw holes in the boxes and slats to create the twisting geometry. The Guild fabricated the 68 slats and plywood boxes in Brooklyn with a CNC mill, flat-packed for transport to Chicago, and installed at the Mart over a period of three days. “In terms of installation, it went well but it was a strange structure with torsional forces acting on it,” Kelman said. “As we built, the twist revealed itself.” Aircraft cable was fastened strategically along the spine, which was ultimately affixed to a 32-foot-long box trough, securely attached to beams of the ceiling. The final result was another eye-catching surprise during NeoCon at the Merchandise Mart. “Lots of things can go wrong with these projects,” said Shaw. “But if you’re on the same page and trust your collaborator’s intentions, you’ll always find your way to a solution.”
The biggest stir caused by the Kennedy's newest proposal for developing Wolf Point was not obscuring the Merchandise Mart views or initial reactions to the renderings or the stuffing of three very tall towers on one impossibly small piece of land. It was more like, “There’s a living Kennedy with a stake in Chicago real estate?” We all know the family sold the Mart years ago. Fewer of us knew they held on to that little sandbar that sits in front of the the Sun-Times building. Ready to boost the family fortune, the Kennedys with Hines, Cesar Pelli, and bKL plan to stuff three towers onto the site. Is this the architectural equivalent of a 10 lb. bag of sugar in a 5 lb. sack? Maybe, but development of that scale is also kind of exciting. And that leads to the biggest question. Can this economy support a residential and commercial project of this size? Well, Jean—that’s the last sibling standing, right, so the land must be hers—get out your good-faith checkbook: Google is coming. They’ve leased the top floors of the Mart, which will serve as the new headquarters of Motorola, which Google has acquired. That means thousands of high paying fancy Google jobs just across the street. With that news, Wolf Point is a done deal, no?
How a boutique Brooklyn design-build collective strung up NeoCon's first major installation.Attendees of NeoCon in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart rode the escalators and ascended towards Wolf-Gordon's large crystalline canopy hanging overhead. Though NeoCon has come and gone, Wolf-Gordon has just begun using the tessellated, prismatic structure for an ad campaign that, for the company's new Chief Creative Officer, Marybeth Shaw, signifies a renewed approach to design and a willingness to take risks. To announce Wolf-Gordon's new face to the world, Shaw enlisted the help of advertising agency Karlssonwilker, who has created campaigns for Adobe, the New York Times Magazine, BMW, Vitra and MTV, among others, and The Guild, a Brooklyn-based design and build collective whose clients include Dior, Louis Vuitton, Nike, Hurley and Diane von Furstenberg. It's a bit of an unexpected mix of talents, to be sure, but Shaw wanted to shake things up. After developing a concept with Karlssonwilker that was inspired by Bruno Taut's 1914 Glass Pavilion, Shaw turned to The Guild, where Creative Manager Graham Kelman translated her idea into a spiky, crystalline form onto which Wolf-Gordon's fabrics, textiles and wall coverings could be displayed. Kelman's first design had between 650-700 prismatic faces with an area far too small to show off the fabric, so Kelman decreased the amount of faces to around 250 while also increasing their individual size. "I increased the largest spike from three to six feet by using a sheet of material per spike side," Kelman said. He was able to decrease "the total number of faces by two-thirds and still retain the aesthetic impact, volume and material" he wanted. To decide on how to position a combined total of 500 yards of fabric as well as the pieces of mirror used throughout the installation, Kelman "assigned the most dynamic components and mirror panels to the most prominent views within the space." He and Shaw collaborated on the placement of the fabric swatches and then passed their design onto The Guild's Lead Fabricator, Jorge Parriera, who made a prototype he then used to refine CNC cut-files and tool path depths, finessing it "to maximize the bending of the aluminum panels and shear strength that would accumulate as the piece became assembled," Parriera said. "With every component that was added to the structure, new stress points would arise and others would subside. The structure only gained full strength when it was completed." One of the original goals was for the structure to be self-supporting, so The Guild developed a technique of CNC routing and folding aluminum panels like origami to form rigid components. Once fabrication was completed, the entire installation was rigged from a truss in the shop to test its weight, balance and stress points. It was then broken down into eight separate pieces for transportation to Chicago. "We attempted to develop an 'open crate' system, we spoke about the crutches in Salvador Dali's paintings and about suspending the structure in the truck," said Parriera. "Ultimately, we obsessively protected each point on each spike and turned each segment until it sat naturally. Then we extensively padded the floor of the truck and ratcheted the structures to the wall. When we got onsite there was no damage." Everything went according to plan during the two-day installation process. Parriera and his small crew simply repeated the trial run they made in their shop back in Brooklyn. All in all, Marybeth Shaw estimated that the canopy cost under $100,000. That's money well spent from her perspective. Not only is she, The Guild and everyone at Wolf-Gordon exceptionally pleased with the outcome, the 40,000-person crowd at NeoCon got the message that Wolf-Gordon is up to something new these days.
Known to architects for the dozens of design showrooms it houses and the annual NeoCon tradeshow it hosts, Chicago's Merchandise Mart may also become a major center for the city's tech industry. Crain's is reporting that Google is planning to lease half a million square feet in the mammoth building, and will add a large roof deck offering city, river, and lake views. The deck will, no doubt, help compensate for the massive floorplates that will leave most employees far from natural light. Google will also bring 3000 jobs--from a Motorola division they acquired--from the suburbs to downtown.
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Molded gypsum shapes a Chicago Merchandise Mart space.The Steelcase Worklife Center is one of the Chicago Merchandise Mart’s largest showrooms, spanning 45,000 square feet and encompassing four areas displaying the furniture manufacturers’ various brands. The company hired Los Angeles-based architect Joey Shimoda, who also designed the Steelcase center in Santa Monica, to create interiors that would unify the showroom with the common corridor bisecting it. After reading about a project by molded gypsum, concrete, and fiberglass fabricator Formglas in a magazine, he called the company and was on a plane to its Toronto headquarters the next day to discuss a series of geometric architectural elements he envisioned for the space. “We knew that cast gypsum would be a good way to do this,” said Shimoda. Glass fiber reinforced gypsum (GRG) is a white, thin-cast alpha gypsum that is preferable to traditional plaster castings because of its light weight, high strength, and easy installation. The team began to work on three main architectural elements for the showroom. Because an undulating glass wall would separate the Center from the corridor, Shimoda wanted to draw visitors to the storefront with a row of totems—elliptical column covers in a pattern of stretched and compressed facets. The second element, called The Body, would be a veiled enclosure to shelter the showroom’s cafe, bar, and presentation room from the rest of the space. The third feature, born of necessity, was a screen over the return air louver for the Mart’s exhaust system, which necessitated a pattern with 70 percent perforation. The team collaborated with Steelcase's vice president of global design James Ludwig to create each element’s pattern. The goal was to create a large number of design possibilities by using one shape as a starting point and manipulating it to achieve multiple forms. Shimoda and the Formglas team produced computer files in Rhino and CATIA. Using a laser scan of the existing structural elements along with site measurements, they accounted for space constraints. The finished forms were divided into segments that would allow for them to be transported to the showroom and installed there. Using the computer models, Formglas used a 5-axis CNC mill to manufacture molds for each shape. Each of the twelve column designs is approximately ten feet high and is constructed from eight pieces with a range of elliptical geometries supported by wood reinforcing ribs. Saw-tooth overlap joints allow the column cap and base to fit together smoothly; joints were caulked, sanded, and painted on site. The Body feature wall went through several iterations. The first, a series of horizontal ribs with integrated LEDs, was not in Formglas’ scope of work, but they agreed to take on a modified design later in the project. The double-sided grille is created by a varied vertical diamond pattern, creating a semi-opaque enclosure around banquette seating. The grille design is made up of horizontally intersecting curved ribs that create diamond-shaped openings. Formglas experimented with fusing individual components in the mold, allowing for a faster construction process and easier assembly. While the mechanical portion is open, additional sections are backed with drywall. The wall is painted grey, creating a functional design element that connects all of the Steelcase space, visible through its glass walls, along the corridor. In total Formglas fabricated approximately 1,000 parts for the space over the course of three months.
Chicago may be better known for NeoCon--that’s the design show, not right-wing political philosophy--but the contemporary and modern art equivalent, Artropolis, appears to be holding ground with another solid run at the Merchandise Mart over the last weekend. Artropolis, the Midwest‘s answer to Art Basel, is comprised of three fairs: Art Chicago; NEXT, an invitational exhibition of emerging art; and the International Antiques Fair. AN’s Midwest Eavesdrop took a spin around the preview party to peep who turned out for the free booze and what was showing at the fairs. Kavi Gupta and his namesake gallery were positioned front and center with work by a sampling of his artists, including Susan Giles’ contorted-architecture-as-sculptures and Tony Tasset. Both artists were included in the large-scale works displayed inside and out of the Mart’s first floor. Liz Nielsen, director of the Swimming Pool Project Space curated the Goffo section of NEXT, including an interesting architectural model of the International Space Station. Daniel Baird’s model depicts the Station rebuilt to scale on Earth and left to decay. Back at the bar, Eavesdrop spotted Justin Cooper, who is included in the current show Production Site at the Museum of Contemporary Art and David Csicsko the artist and designer who created the mosaics installed at the recently renovated Belmont L station. Was it performance art or hipster desperation? But the unexpected highlight of the evening was the distribution of leftover Dominoes pizza outside of the Mart at the end of the party. Free booze, drunken art students, and garbage bag pizza nicely juxtaposed with the well-heeled climbing into their limos.