Squaring Off Circles: Luftwerk at Marina City

Luftwerk from Richard Prouty on Vimeo.

Last Saturday night I attended an event staged by Iker Gil and MAS Context on the roof deck of Marina City in downtown Chicago. The event featured a light and video installation by Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, a Chicago-based design who practice under the name Luftwerk. The installation was designed specifically for Marina City, designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1959. 

The installation consisted of a series of shifting forms and patterns projected onto a circular structure extending above the deck. Each screen was actually two conjoined projections, lending the images a symmetry that echoed the symmetry of the twin towers of Marina City. The screens were framed in such a way as to appear squared off, almost flat, thus re-covering all the corners rounded off by Goldberg in his mania for curvature. Under a cloudless night sky the event attendees strolled through a field of light between Luftwerk’s screens and the lights of downtown Chicago. The circular space had the same fluidity as the infinite scroll of Bachmaier and Gallero’s video. 

The space was ethereal and elegant—very architectural, with the spareness and clarity of a Mies drawing. The Luftwerk installation made me look at Marina City in a different way—which is the whole point.

I always think of the Marina City towers as daytime structures, perhaps because I walk past Marina City on my way to and from work. When they were completed in 1964 the towers were totemic structures, rising above a decaying urban environment and connecting the city with the last vestiges of nature. There’s something elemental about the buildings, an expression of a Middle American-brand of 1960s futurism: air, river, lake, sun—all brought together into one place. 

At night Marina City is the perfect place from which to observe the city skyline from the inside. The Willis Tower and the Hancock Building stand apart from the skyline, but Marina City sits along the Chicago River, nestled among taller and more contemporary structures. The Luftwerk installation combined two experiences into one, turning Marina City into a place from which to observe the current state of urbanism and an object of contemplation itself.

If this all sounds very abstract, it’s because Bachmaier and Gallero’s installation was abstract. Their images were constantly moving—but expressing the dynamics of what? The architectural process? The distracted manner in which we generally experience buildings? One thing is certain: Bachmaier and Gallero turned Marina City into a screen on which they projected new meanings onto iconic buildings. 

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