Willis Tower Celebrates Opening Of New Lobby With Specially Commissioned Art

August 22, 2019

Work Design Magazine

New Lobby With Specially Commissioned Art

By: Elise Shapiro

“Office lobbies have historically been simply transitional spaces, and as tenant desires for workspaces have evolved, the purpose of the lobby has evolved as well,” said David Moore, Senior Vice President, Portfolio Director at EQ Office. “We are transforming the Willis Tower lobbies to be interactive, energized spaces that inspire curiosity for tenants and set the tone for the rest of the workplace experience. The dramatic work of art from Jacob Hashimoto will be a treasure for our building, a celebration of the City, and an embrace of the new neighborhood we’ve built at the Tower.”

WDM has been following the ongoing transformation of the Willis Tower over the past few years. While much has been written about the changes and improvements that have already been completed, last month a new and exciting design element was unveiled. While the formal announcement emphasized the thought and philosophy behind the placement of the sculpture in the context of the overall transformation of the building from the landlord/real estate perspective, we had the opportunity to interview the artist and find out more about the project from his point of view.

When EQ  selected Jacob Hashimoto to create a statement installation for the revitalized Wacker Drive lobby in Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, the assignment brought him back to Chicago where he studied and received his BFA degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Reflecting on his time as a student and his relationship with the city, Jacob told us about his inspiration for the piece and the way it reflects his observations and experiences with Chicago. Our conversation was wide ranging yet focused on the details of how “In the Heart of this Infinite Particle of Galactic Dust, 2019” came to be and the artistic and logistical challenges of preparing and installing this exciting new public art.

WDM: The name of the piece is quite intriguing – how did you come up with that? Is there any relationship between the name and relationship to the location of the installation?

JH: My thoughts were around how to create a tribute to the sky and the galaxy. My thinking was informed somewhat by conversations I had with a former professor about how to get ideas for artwork, and the various Sutras (writings) in Buddhism discussing the world comprised of infinite particles of dust. The nature of art and architecture is a quest for pure form and rational systems. Willis Tower as a building is simple and complicated at the same time. Mulling over all these things influenced the vision that the piece would express a world view that I was already thinking about.

In looking through some of your other site-specific installations – there are several unifying design elements. Is this because you are constantly exploring new ways of looking at the same elements and how to utilize them in your art? (i.e. the circles, the method of fabrication and connection between the geometric elements, color progression)?

Thinking back to some of my earliest work in the 90s – the pieces were monochromatic. While the language of the Willis Tower installation harkens back to early pieces, it is a product of my current  mind space, coming back to Chicago 20 years later and an urge to revisit the materials and language to something working with my current practice.

The circles and method of fabrication of “In the Heart of this Infinite Particle of Galactic Dust, 2019” came to be by utilizing artistic and logistical challenges using the circles, mark making tools,  and other design elements in order to “paint with these objects in space”. Knowing how materials behave, and their unique characteristics, helps me work fluidly and with familiarity. There is infinite possibility using these tools to explore.

Do you have any places to find inspiration for the shapes/forms/colors you use in the individual design elements?

This piece, a huge installation, came from my nostalgia about openness of the West where I grew up. Thinking back to my early experiences in Chicago, and how I saw the city, seeing windows and clouds between the open spaces between the buildings. I was intrigued by the fields of clouds in those “in between spaces,” which gave way to making sculptural elements based on kite shapes.

I envisioned white spaces against a dark background. To me, this all relates to how I see the structure of the city. It is a language of dark and light. I was also thinking about the artist I was back when I started this whole body of work, starting in my student days, longing for nature and open spaces. That language has changed over the years. How landscape relates to the city, technology, is ever changing and unpredictable.

When you are commissioned for a new project where do you start? Do you use drawings as the primary place to put your thoughts together?

The process started with establishing the elements, then drawing – it was a complicated and massive effort! We needed to document with several drawings, so we used Rhino 3D to develop a buildable model we could see on big monitors. This is the closest thing we can do to building the actual installation. For projects of this scale, it is critical to use computer-generated drawings and models, though old school schematic drawings can work for smaller projects.

After we built a 3D model of the space, we collaborated on where the placement of the proposed installation needed to be located. Working with a model, turning and spinning it, we revised it as we discovered how the actual pieces behaved. The model was cut into 3×3 foot panels and each panel was hung in the studio. It was a very organic process to develop the overall design, though we would have built it on-site if that was practical.

As we worked through the design, we added and subtracted pieces and there was an approximately (10 percent) change  as we adjusted the installation on-site.

What was your biggest challenge in preparing for this installation?

The size and scale. If there was a mistake, it would have been a major issue and required a huge reconfiguration. That would then push the schedule and we would have run out of time. We had to meet the deadline of reopening the building lobby, which is why we revisited the model over and over. We fabricated the piece in components which were then shipped to the job site. There is as much engineering as artistic endeavor in a project of this size and scope! A team of professional art installers was also engaged to work on the installation. 

Do you have any metrics on the amount of materials, number of individual elements, any cool technology you used in having the piece fabricated and installed?

The individual pieces are fabricated with resin, paper and bamboo. From concept to reality spans a couple of years. I worked with a team of assistants and fabricators, lots of machinery and we executed the piece in about 7 months. The pieces were worked in modular components, then packed and readied for shipment to the installation site.

“In the Heart of this Infinite Particle of Galactic Dust, 2019” is a nearly 16-foot tall and 42-foot wide cloud built from nearly 7,000, nine-inch individual kite-like disks. The disks are strategically positioned to create the effect of a cloud-like, faceted mass. The kites appear to be undulating throughout the space by using varying lengths of string, and the graphics are printed on paper that is embedded into resin to create a stained glass-like disc that allows light to permeate.

If you were a fly on the wall when people first experience the installation, what do you hope they will be saying?

The rationale behind making a piece public to me, is that if you can make people stop and take a moment and take some time with enjoying the sensation of the installation, that would be poetic. Bustling around downtown Chicago, it’s so easy to blow through things as people go from one place to another. If you can make something that gives people a break, and I think art has a calming effect, it can be powerful, but soothing, and very meditative.

According to EQ, there are 15,000 tenants plus thousands of visitors that will pass through this space daily. If only in passing, they can appreciate some aspect of the sculpture as it changes with the light, or from the viewer’s perspective, it has gone a long way to completing Jacob Hashimoto’s artistic vision.

Learn more about the Willis Tower and Jacob Hashimoto.

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