Responses by Joel Krieger, executive creative director, Second Story
Background: Unify is a generative, audio-visual artwork that was commissioned by developer Lincoln Harris for its newest marquee building in Charlotte, North Carolina, called Legacy Union, which boasts the largest native 4K LED display in the world. The purpose of the artwork was to celebrate the vibrancy of the city, create an atmosphere and ambiance for the building and instill a sense of pride in the community. The client wanted something that would stop people in their tracks and cause them to dwell in the lobby, transforming a transitory passage into a gathering place. NanoLumens was the creator of the LED display and Cenero was the AV partner.
Reasoning: Its ever-changing swirl of colors and sounds reflects the vibrancy of a city where all the right elements are coalescing to form something new and beautiful. Driven by a complex algorithm, the behavior of each pixel influences the others around it—color, movement, and sound recombine in a complex and interconnected dance. The algorithm is a metaphor for community: where we are is part of who we are—we affect, and are affected by, the actions of everyone around us.
Challenges: Because this artwork is displayed in the lobby, a major design consideration was creating something that people would never quite get tired of looking at. So, we built Unify with a generative, code-driven method that could unfold in real time and never look the same way twice. Also, since we created the rules of the universe with code, the type of control you have over how things look and sound is different. Instead of carefully crafting visual compositions and sounds, we had to think about what conditions were needed to create the right environment for the desired visuals, animations and sounds to play out, which required massive amounts of trial and error.
Favorite details: How the success or failure of a work like this is very transparent, and seen based on how people engage with the piece. At install, there were about fifty construction workers in the lobby, dust and hammering and bustling activity everywhere. When we flipped the switch and the artwork appeared, everything just stopped. All the workers dropped what they were doing and just locked into a meditative stare. But watching the people who inhabit the building was the real test though since they see it every day. The fact that this moment of entering or leaving the lobby has become a pleasant ritual for them is rewarding.
Visual influences: Abstract painting and observing the naturally occurring motion of the sky and water informed the character of the motion. The colors are inspired by the vivid color palettes that are typical of celebrations and festivals, such as the Holi festival in India. The soundscape is a remix of sampled sounds from the city of Charlotte, with added tonal qualities to make it feel musical but still ambient in nature.