theMART’s Massive Chicago Facade Now Permanently Projection-Mapped (w/ video)

October 11, 2018 by Dave Haynes

What is touted as the world’s largest permanent projection mapping display is now running on the side of Chicago’s theMART, formerly known as the Merchandise Mart.

The 2.5 acre south façade of the building (it’s a massive, massive building) is lit up by 34 Christie Boxer 4K30 projectors, generating 1 million lumens to run a show developed by the San Francisco experiential shop Obscura Digital.

The owners of theMART – Vornado Realty Trust – engaged Obscura to create an attraction that would celebrate the city’s rich heritage and add to the ongoing revitalization of the Chicago Riverwalk. Obscura has done things like lit up the Sydney Opera House sails, so a huge flat surface was no biggie.

“When we took on the project we knew it was a huge building, but I would call it a happy accident when we realized it would be the largest permanent projection mapping display of its kind in the world,” says Will Chase, head of communications, Obscura. “I think that added to the normal pressure you feel when you take on a project, but with a world class team like ours, we can accomplish practically anything.”

Says a press release:

The Obscura team got right to work by creating a digital 3D model of the building from a laser scan to account for the architectural features of theMART and to determine the projector configuration. Obscura also developed a content management solution to provide show control, and to allow theMART curatorial team to easily upload and render the projection mapping content. This included masking the windows with special software so the projectors wouldn’t shine light into the building interior.

To house the 34 Christie Boxer projectors, Obscura worked with Vornado and architectural firm Valerio Dewalt Train Associates (VDTA) to design a custom enclosure located across the Chicago River. “The projectors are housed in an architecturally integrated custom enclosure with a glass curtain wall and all the required mechanical and electrical systems,” says Nathan Houchin, senior technical producer, Obscura Digital. The enclosure protects the projectors from the elements, as the show is scheduled to run from March to December, five nights a week (Wednesday – Sunday).

The main channels have 16 projectors each, stacked to increase brightness, with the center channel, covering the center tower, having two projectors stacked. All are blended together to create one seamless image.

Diana Thater, Zheng Chongbin, Jason Salavon and Jan Tichy – all renowned contemporary artists ? were commissioned to create work for the inaugural program, which launched on September 29 and will remain on view through December. Art on theMART selected and commissioned the work by Thater and Chongbin, while Salavon and Tichy were commissioned by the Terra Foundation for American Art and confirmed by an esteemed Curatorial Advisory Board comprised of several of the Chicago’s most distinguished arts and culture leaders.

This is terrific – and the set-up is kinda perfect because of the way the projectors could be set back on the other aside of the river, so they can fill more space. Projection-mapping on buildings is not new, but there are few buildings that have the scale, and are positioned so nicely, to allow this sort of thing.

Of course, it’s even better when the show is content-driven and not just a bunch of visual tricks, like waterfalls and facades crumbling – the sort of thing that typified the early days of large-scale projection mapping. Obscura does nice work.

Leave a comment