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618 South Michigan Façade
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618 South Michigan Façade

A Nod to the Past with Cutting Edge Technology

In summer 2012, visitors to South Michigan Avenue  saw a dramatic change to the face of 618 S. Michigan. While the historic building once boasted an original, ornamental terra cotta façade, the original was replaced in the 1950s with a then-new curtain wall system. Today, as Columbia modernized the building to meet contemporary energy efficiency standards, passersby will notice a unique contemporary glass wall with a “ghost image” of the building’s original, but no longer existing, ornamental terra cotta façade printed onto it. This idea—to use the image of the original façade on a completely new building envelope—was inspired by Columbia alumnus Joe Leamanczyk (FBA, ’04).

The new facade, designed by global design firm Gensler, visually tells the story of the building’s past and its physical evolution. This unique project has been executed with the latest technology – a digital ceramic printing technique called i-Glass—on a new energy-efficient glass curtain wall system.

Looking closely, observers will notice that the image of the original terra cotta façade is a dot-matrix pattern whose ‘dots’ are a small graphic of a bird—a subtle reference to the building’s location along a major migratory path for birds. The pattern also serves to protect migrating birds from flying into the building by keeping it from being entirely transparent.