Campus building gets a ghostly facade

By Ivana Hester

Renovations to the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building are coming to an end, and the innovative facade is almost complete.

The new design features a ghostly image replicating the original terra-cotta front designed by William Carbys Zimmerman in 1913. Close inspection reveals the design is composed entirely of miniature birds etched into glass panels.

According to Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, it was 2004 alumnus Joe Leamanczyk’s idea to create the ghost image, which was drafted by the Gensler architecture firm.

Columbia has owned the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building since 2007, and in 2010 the city demanded the facade be repaired because the curtain wall that replaced the original building front was deemed unsafe, Berg said.

“We turned a deferred maintenance project into art as a way of showing how creative Columbia is,” Berg said. “It is exciting that the original idea came from an alumnus.”

The historic building is in the landmark district, so the city had to approve everything the college did, according to Berg. The college considered replicating the historic facade, but she and her team determined the $10 million cost was prohibitive.

According to David Broz, firmwide education leader and senior associate at Gensler, the image of the original building was printed on the glass using a new technology in which a digital photo can be applied in pixilated form. The process is unique because the image is not photorealistic, he said.

“We took the historical image, and we artistically modified it by abstracting it into a dot matrix pattern,” Broz said.

Berg said, upon coming up with the idea of the ghost image, they researched the possibilities and found nothing like this has ever been done anywhere.