Vancouver’s burgeoning False Creek Flats neighbourhood is home to an eclectic mix of artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, tech employers and students. With such a diverse group of communities all sharing space, the neighborhood is ripe for cross-collaboration. We saw one such opportunity in our building at 565 Great Northern Way. Known affectionately as “The Slide” at South Flatz, this seven-storey building boasts an expansive lobby. The minimalist beauty of the materials in the grand entryway creates a gallery-esque backdrop that we felt was begging for a statement piece. Now, we’re happy to share that the lobby is home to a large-scale interactive media wall—a colourful display of public art.
Take a moment to soak it in—an expansive array of screens that stretch to the heights of the vaulted lobby’s ceiling. On display, a dazzling mix of colours and shapes. You catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye upon entering the building. But this is no static display—as you approach, the shapes move to mirror your movement, footstep by footstep, and you turn to view it head-on. All of a sudden, these colourful shapes join together to create an MC Escher-esque fantastical world. Reaching down to tie your shoe, you’re intrigued to see the image respond to your movements, reacting to meet your new eye level and zooming in to let you examine a small pocket of this new uncharted world.
This digital wall is a bold display of what the future of public art can be—an interactive experience that takes input from the viewer as it pulls you into a fantasy world brimming with possibilities.
Creating public art at this scale was a truly collaborative effort. We brought together Vancouver’s higher education, design, technology, and real estate sectors, a true testament to the power of community.
From concept to reality—creating the digital wall
Along with our partner, PCI, we tapped local technology consultant Xprt Solutions to help bring this project’s large-scale vision to life. Knowing we wanted this digital wall to have longevity, we worked with Xprt to create a modular grill: it offers maximum flexibility so we can swap in new technologies and sensors as the technology continues to change.
A public art piece might use a few sensors, or it might use them all—the possibilities are nearly limitless. Rob Sunderland, Design Director at Xprt, explains: “When you’re producing work to be consumed publicly, the context, the audience, and the concepts all have to be synthesized in a way that satisfies the public. Public art is a very rich win in creative production—having the chance to train new artists to produce this kind of work is a fantastic opportunity.”
Getting the students involved
The nearby Centre for Digital Media (CDM) was the perfect partner for the project. We were looking for students who would help us push the boundaries of what this wall could be—creative thinkers capable of creating a public art piece compelling enough to call passersby into taking a break from their day to interact.
“Low Tide’s digital wall was an exciting project for us from the get-go,” recalls Larry Bafia, Associate Director of CDM’s Master of Digital Media program (MDM). “Student involvement in public art projects has many benefits. They have an opportunity for greater exposure of their talents and also have a ‘visual voice’ in the community,” he says.
After 11 years of running the MDM program, the passion Larry feels in helping train the next generation of artists is palpable. “When you’re thinking about getting a degree, a lot of people want a magical formula that helps them land a job in their industry,” shares Larry. “The thing I enjoy the most about a program like MDM is that we help students learn about critical thinking, and then watch them discover how to solve problems. They go beyond ‘How do I become an employee?’ and instead become real peers with their clients.”
Creating something for the community
As one of the goals for the project was to touch the lives of the creatives who come through the building’s lobby every day for work, we reached out to some of our tenants to get their perspective on what it was like seeing this project come to life.
“I actually didn’t know anything about this project until it was up on the screen!” reveals Kate Findlay of video game studio Blackbird Interactive. “But it was a really welcome surprise. I feel it represents the community that this office building is part of—a combination of business people, students, and artists. Seeing it every morning reminds me that I work in a pretty creative spot in Vancouver.”
Sara Martin, an employee of digital entertainment studio Cinesite, echoes Kate’s sentiments: “It was really fun to see the digital wall come together. The students working on it seemed very excited to be setting it up and figuring it out. It’s been a great addition to our lobby. The fact that it is interactive is an added bonus that I haven’t seen before! I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.”
The future of the digital wall
Our plan is to continue iterating, bringing in new artists to create installations for our digital wall in South Flatz on a rotating basis. While the content of future artworks remains open-ended, one thing is for certain. “This wall will never be used for commercial or advertising purposes,” declares Harmony Cornwell, our Senior Property Manager and the lead on the project. “It’s beauty over function—it’s a public art piece.”
In other words, this wall is, and will always be, a chance for future students, artists and designers to invent new public art installations that stop people in their tracks, give them a break from their everyday life, and remind them that our city is brimming with creative energy. “I find public art to be a vital inspiration in our daily lives,” Larry says, as he reflects on why it’s important to have more projects like this in our local community. “Public art breaks the monotony of daily routines and also adds a fresh perspective to the city, a welcome addition especially on grey days.” Anyone who lives in Vancouver surely resonates with this idea. In a city where we can spend eight months of the year shrouded in overcast skies, a colourful interactive art display is certainly welcome respite.
To see the wall for yourself, be sure to visit the 565 Great Northern Way lobby, open to the public during office hours from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on weekdays.