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You Come Face To Face With The Most Overlooked Building Amenity Every Day


The amenities arms race often focuses on what a tenant uses within a building — fitness centers, tenant lounges and loaded technology packages. But one amenity is often overlooked even as people interact with it daily.

Savvy developers have come to realize that thoughtfully curated public art that stands out while blending in with a building's overall function can attract and maintain tenants.

A detail of "Suspended Light Veils"

CBRE Vice President Cody Hundertmark said the value public art adds to an asset cannot be measured with dollars and cents. Art enhances a building’s buzz. 

“There is no question that investors and tenants alike appreciate quality that extends beyond offices and amenities,” Hundertmark said.

Irvine Company Office Properties is particularly dedicated to art in its projects across the country. Irvine has an in-house planning and design team, dating back to when the company master planned Irvine Ranch in Orange County in the 1960s. That team comes up with the designs for artwork in its properties and works with a dedicated group of art consultants to source its pieces. The team is also tasked with folding new art installations into planned capital improvements across its portfolio.

President Doug Holte said video art displays are being installed at Irvine's assets in San Diego and Irvine, California, and Chicago’s 71 South Wacker next year, and he believes well-curated 3D sculptures can help a building with its tenancy. Holte was in Chicago last week for the public unveiling of “Suspended Light Veils,” an 800-pound, 29-foot-tall sculpture from James Carpenter Design Associates, at 71 South Wacker.

Irvine Company Office Properties recently installed "Suspended Light Veils," a 29-foot-tall sculpture, in the lobby of 71 South Wacker Drive.

Holte said Irvine spent six figures installing “Suspended Light Veils” and the work included removing material from the walls, installing new steel support systems to support the piece, and new lighting to give the sculpture different color textures throughout the day.

Irvine looks at expressions of art on a regional basis to determine what matters most to its tenants.

“In Chicago, there’s a high-minded attitude toward the visual arts, so a fixed object is consistent with that. In some of our California markets, we find that performing arts are more valuable to local customers,” Holte said.

Holte said the renewed focus on art in office buildings is partly directed at the younger generation of workers. Millennials expect the workplace to have something visually stimulating as an incentive to come in. Holte compared it to when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ordered remote workers to return to the office.

“Workers asked, ‘what do I get for that?’ As landlords we’re trying to provide spaces where people say, ‘I like to come to the office,’” Holte said.

Riverside Investment & Development installed a 200-foot-long video art display in the lobby of its new office tower at 150 North Riverside.

For newer trophy assets, art can make a statement that aligns the asset with the high-profile tenancy it aims to attract.

At 150 North Riverside, one of Chicago’s newest trophy office towers, developer Riverside Investment & Development installed an 18-foot-high video art display that runs nearly the entire 200-foot length of the building’s lobby. Riverside CEO John O’Donnell said the firm struggled to determine what to do with the wall from a material finishes standpoint when the project’s architect, Jim Goettsch, asked if Riverside would be open to a technology-based solution. 

"We didn't decide on the installation until the building was 60% leased. We were focused on building the best building we could, and thought this could add to the uniqueness of the product," O'Donnell said.

O’Donnell and Riverside Executive Vice President Tony Scacco toured several installations in New York to find concepts they liked, and hired New Jersey-based design firm McCann Systems and a Chicago digital arts firm, Digital Kitchen, to come up with the form and substance of the wall. O’Donnell said Riverside had one simple qualifier.

“We wanted the art installation to be a noncommercial enterprise,” O’Donnell said.

Scacco would not say how much 150 North Riverside’s video wall cost — he would only say that it was significant but worthwhile. The display is of a scale that complements the lobby's size, while adding a unique wrinkle to what is an otherwise cavernous lobby. 

“We simply wanted to create fortress real estate by enhancing the experience of current and future tenants,” Scacco said.

He likened the video display to other amenities like food and beverage, wellness and health, and outdoor space. Each contributes to the value of the building.

A detail shot of 150 North Riverside's video art display.

Riverside also used the art wall to connect to Chicago at large, bringing the community inside its building. As the installation took shape, Scacco said Riverside took the idea to 15 local institutions, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Adler Planetarium, Columbia College Chicago, Chicago History Museum, View Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which offered feedback on how to curate the digital arts portfolio. O’Donnell said Riverside quickly realized it did not have the resources in house to curate the installation. The Art Institute suggested Riverside hire Yuge Zhou, who holds dual master's degrees in computer science and fine art, to curate the wall.

Zhou helped solidify the relationships with cultural institutions and built relationships with 15 individual artists. Currently, 150 North Riverside’s video art display has a collection of 150 unique pieces from sources ranging from linear video playback to collaged still imagery, as well as generative art relying on outside data sources like weather and internet search data to create custom and ever-changing pieces.

The featured art on the wall runs a gamut from internationally recognized artists like Jason Salavon to art from SAIC graduates who created a pop art illustration of Chicago.

Scacco believes the surest sign of the display's success is the level of feedback Riverside receives on specific pieces from its tenants or seeing custom Instagram feeds directed toward the installation.

"We've taken that feedback, and it has enhanced our appreciation for creating cultural touchpoints which inspires or motivates," Scacco said.

Akara Partners commissioned artist Hebru Brantley to create a painting, based on Brantley's "flyboy" series, for Kenect, a multifamily development.

Kenect, a multifamily transit-oriented development in Chicago, is also using art as connection.

Akara Partners CEO Rajen Shastri commissioned an original work from noted artist Hebru Brantley to grace the lobby. Shastri felt Brantley could bring something unique to Kenect's theme of connecting its tenants to the surrounding neighborhood, and each other, through entertainment and amenities.

"Art brings people together," Shastri said.

Shastri explained Kenect's mission and theme, and Brantley returned with designs featuring characters from his "Flyboy" series of art and sculpture. The final piece reflects the demographic mix of Kenect's neighborhood while also connecting tenants to the building.

Shastri said Akara teams up with local art galleries to bring rotating exhibits and networking events to its other properties, like art and wine soirees and meet-and-greets with artists who have exhibits in nearby galleries. These events and the artwork also serve to bring tenants together and give each building a unique identity.

"The art absolutely must complement the architecture, and it's different from asset to asset. Art also must fit the interests of our tenants and demographics. We think a lot about that," Shastri said.

CORRECTION, DEC. 8, 10:38 A.M. CT: A previous version of this story misspelled Akara Partners CEO Rajen Shastri's name in a quote.