Home Architecture & Real Estate Olafur Eliasson’s Chicago New Art Installation Captures Shifting Sunlight and a Changing...

Olafur Eliasson’s Chicago New Art Installation Captures Shifting Sunlight and a Changing Climate


Internationally renowned artist Olafur Eliasson, best known for reflective, light-filled, large-scale installations that prompt the viewer to consider visual perception and physical presence, unveiled his first public artwork in downtown Chicago yesterday. Commissioned by real estate investment and management company EQ Office in collaboration with curatorial partner CNL Projects, Eliasson’s Atmospheric wave wall is installed prominently for public viewing on the Jackson Boulevard facing the street-level façade of the historic Willis Tower.

Almost 2,000 powder-coated curved steel tiles in varying shades of complementary blues and greens are arranged in variegated hexagonal patterns to create the large-scale installation. Like an unfurled, multifaceted prism, the appearance of the work will alter with the changing sunlight, seasons of the year, time of day, and positions of passersby. Backlit at night with glimpses of light peering through the tile fissures, the work can also be viewed at dusk and beyond. 

Atmospheric wave wall was inspired by the environs of the Chicago River across the street as well as nearby Lake Michigan—just a short one-mile walk away past Anish Kapoor’s famous Cloud Gate sculpture (colloquially known as the Bean) and the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. The artist details his motivations and inspiration in a release: “Inspired by the unpredictable weather that I witnessed stirring up the surface of Lake Michigan, Atmospheric wave wall appears to change according to your position and to the time of day and year. What we see depends on our point of view: Understanding this is an important step toward realizing that we can change reality.” 

As much as it is a tribute to the natural beauty of the neighboring bodies of water, the work is also an acknowledgement of Eliasson’s sustained interest in considering and calling attention to the effects of climate change. In 2019, the artist was appointed the United Nations Development Program Goodwill Ambassador for climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Atmospheric wave wall is part of EQ Office’s $500 million renovation of Willis Tower, designed and completed in the 1970s by famed architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Notably, it was once lauded as the tallest building in the world. Part of the goal of the renovation, expected to be completed in summer 2021, includes advancements in sustainability and renewable energy technologies as EQ Office seeks possible LEED certification for Willis Tower. Just another reason why the work is posed to help make for a brighter—and more light-filled—future.

A close-up view of the work, with Willis Tower seen rising the in the background.

Photo: Darris Lee Harris



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