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Tech-Enabled Art in Real Estate Can Be a Mesmerizing Amenity

Amid the concrete jungle of downtown Chicago lies a digital art experience that you have to see to believe. The CNA Center at 151 N Franklin is a skyscraper in the Chicago Loop, the city’s central business district. The building is loaded with amenities, but the most interesting is a mesmerizing light art installation that plays on the concrete wall of the 2nd-floor terrace.

ESI Design, a New York-based design studio, created “Sensing Change,” the dynamic light art installation enjoyed day and night by workers in the office or those simply walking by the tower. An LED trellis of brushed metal fins and vertical light bars create a display featured in two different media modes. One mode reacts to weather data, mimicking the color and light patterns of the sun, temperature, and precipitation. The other mode enables building management to program color patterns and animation styles for Chicago’s holidays and celebration of local events. The result is a calming experience reflecting and drawing inspiration from the natural world.

“Sensing Change” is a dynamic, data-driven light installation at 151 North Franklin Street in Chicago.
Source: ESI Design

Many commercial real estate firms use art in the development of all types of assets, from offices to hotels to multifamily. “Sensing Change” at 151 North Franklin Street is one example, but Tishman Speyer is another example of a firm that takes art very seriously. Jerry Speyer co-founded the firm in 1978 with Robert Tishman, and he’s also an art collector and has been a cultural power broker in New York City for decades. Speyer was a driving force behind the Museum of Modern Art’s expansion in the early 2000s. He’s also known to own several pieces of art history, including a graffiti-tagged chunk of the Berlin Wall.

Needless to say, Jerry Speyer’s deep connections and interest in the art world are significant reasons the real estate firm pays such close attention to art. Rustom Cowasjee, Managing Director of Design and Constructon for Tishman Speyer in the Washington, D.C., region, said art is “part of the company’s DNA” and that including art is a consideration in almost every development for the company.

There’s no shortage of examples of art installations in Tishman Speyer’s real estate portfolio, including many that benefit both tenants and the building’s surrounding community. One recent example is a development in South Boston, where part of the lobby has a public pass-through. The 100-foot-long wall will have a mural painted by local students and led by none other than Scottish-born music and art icon David Byrne of the Talking Heads.

Because of the Speyer families’ deep connections in the art world, the company regularly commissions work from world-class artists like Byrne. Many of Tishman Speyer’s architects are also well-connected in the art world and bring in artists they know for projects. Cowasjee told me that Tishman Speyer commissions most of the pieces they use in their developments, and CEO Rob Speyer, Jerry’s son, is very involved in the process. The artwork is conceived at the project level, and the team engages with Rob for recommendations on many of the installations.

Immersive, kinetic experiences

The light artwork installation at office REIT Boston Properties’ Salesforce Tower in San Francisco is another excellent example of the use of tech-enabled art in real estate. The “Day for Night” light art installation is a video-based work at the tower’s very top. The top six floors are aglow with 11,000 LEDs that display low-resolution moving color imagery. The content of the installation is also constantly changing. Cameras placed throughout San Francisco capture different elements of the city.  Each night, a synopsis of that day is projected on the video display and is visible from 20 miles away.

The “Day for Night” light art installation is a video-based work at the very top of the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.
Source: Boston Properties

The “Day for Night” artwork at the Salesforce Tower is one of many innovative examples of artwork in real estate, but there are plenty of other examples. WRAPPED Studios is one company that installs art displays in commercial real estate properties. Sam Seidman, Co-Founder of WRAPPED, said many real estate firms are leaning toward murals for big-impact communal spaces, but his company also works on digital art, NFT art displays, and video displays. “Everyone’s trying to figure out how to display NFTs in the real world. We integrate them into a digital art display,” Seidman said. NFT art is still very new, and many people are trying to feel it out.

NFT artwork is digital art that allows creators to prove ownership. Because of the nature of the blockchain, you can’t change the record of ownership or copy and paste a version of the artwork. However, they can be easily traded, though they have no tangible existence in the real world. NFTs have caused a lot of buzz in the art world, as venerable auction houses like Christie’s have hosted sales of collections like CryptoPunks and Bored Apes. But choosing how to display digital-only art in a real-world setting, such as in a gallery or real estate property, is somewhat of a conundrum.

One way galleries choose to display NFT art is through digital display frames. It’s easy to print NFTs and display still images, but digital displays enable galleries to exhibit the pieces in the form of videos or GIFs. WRAPPED Studios partnered last year with AkoinNFT, an artist-driven venture launched by global musical artist Akon, to present a curated digital art series. The series provided immersive digital art viewing and auctioning in a real-world gallery.

While NFT art displays are rare in real estate developments, they show how ways of showcasing art are changing and can be used as building amenities. Many other newer, tech-driven art displays in properties could fit the definition of “immersive art experiences.” One example from WRAPPED Studios is a maintenance-free digital “living wall” they designed for one client. Living walls are a popular interior design trend and an example of the increased use of biophilia and plant life in buildings . With WRAPPED Studios’ design, they created a digital version that’s a textured, photorealistic rendering. The digital living wall creates a calm, soothing experience.

Another one of the video displays offered by WRAPPED Studios includes “Rorschach,” which superimposes the image of an inkblot against a blank video background. The abstract video of the famous psychological inkblot test has motion effects and gives the piece what the company says is a “subtle sense of kinetic energy.” Video design techniques create the impression of ink from the blot bleeding onto a digital page. WRAPPED says the Rorschach video art piece works particularly well in education and healthcare facilities, given the test’s iconic status in psychology and history.

WRAPPED Studios’ video art display “Rorschach” superimposes the image of an inkblot against a blank video background. Source: WRAPPED Studios

Buzz-worthy amenities

It’s evident to many that art benefits office workers, multifamily tenants, and hotel guests. Numerous studies have proven art’s emotional and psychological benefits, and these benefits extend to their use in real estate properties. For example, a British Council for Offices report said 61 percent of office workers think artwork inspires them to work more creatively. Another study by ARTIQ found that displaying art in the workplace increases productivity by 14.3 percent compared to those bland, dull officers without artwork. Not as many studies have researched the financial return of art as an amenity in real estate or if art installations lead to faster leasing and higher rent premiums. But for companies like Tishman Speyer, the advantages of art installations are more intangible.

We could debate the benefits of art as a philosophical question, but when it comes to building, it can be an amenity that differentiates a property. Art in real estate can generate buzz, which can be vital for assets like offices. Office owners and tenants who incorporate art can use it to draw employees back to the office, keep them engaged while they’re there, and perhaps give them something to chat about. This is especially the case with more immersive and tech-enabled art pieces, things you can’t see while sitting at home and working remotely.

Incorporating art in real estate is more about hanging pictures on the wall or throwing up department-store-like pieces with inspirational quotes. Unique new pieces like video displays and digital living walls are prime examples. Not every building owner has to be like a big firm like Tishman Speyer when it comes to using art. However, pushing the envelope with new types of installations can provide an amenity that may give a surprising competitive advantage. Some tech-enabled art pieces must be seen to be believed, and the more people want to see them, the more they’ll flock to the buildings that display them.

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