900 North Michigan Shops 2017, United States of America, Chicago

A 1,083-sqft digital canopy transforms 900 North Michigan Shops into an immersive shopping experience.

JMB Realty Corporation, owners of 900 North Michigan Shops, enlisted New York-based experience design studio ESI Design to help reimagine their seven-story mall from the top down. To wow visitors, the transformation centered on a massive media architecture installation on the atrium ceiling. The 1083-square-foot digital art tapestry is unlike anything that’s ever been installed in a shopping center environment and is the centerpiece of a comprehensive renovation that reimagines the visitor experience. The digital skylight creates an ever-evolving, customizable tapestry with pre-rendered video, software-generated animation and dynamic branded media templates.

To attract new shoppers and entice retailers, ESI Design created a 190-foot spectacular digital ceiling at 900 North Michigan Shops. Built in 10 sections (nine are 20x20ft, and one is 20x10ft) it integrates into the existing architecture, transforming a dull ceiling into a vibrant digital skylight. With 2 panels on the ground level, shoppers are drawn in and encouraged to explore all 7 stories. To design such an ambitious undertaking, we built the entire mall in VR for both our design team and the client to understand viewing angles, perspective, scale, how the media content will look on such a large canvas. Building the digital canopy provided a unique challenge: how do you plan for maintenance on such large canvases, hanging from the ceiling seven stories up? We chose LED displays that are both durable and light, and scoped an entirely custom-built mounting system with hoists to suspend and lower the screens from the ceiling to the seventh floor creating a platform for maintenance crew to climb onto the back for easy servicing. The digital canopy leverages the existing panel layout of the ceiling and trompe l’oeil effects magically allow the panels appear to open and then close again. The “skylight” modes create the illusion of the exterior sky, drawing on local flora and fauna, like the Cedar Waxwing bird and the Eastern Redbud Tree. The birds gather and disperse using algorithmic rules based on flocking behaviors and never fly the same way twice. The background sky and sunlight change with the current time of day. Other media modes have a kaleidoscope-like design that can be customized for special events or to promote brands products. These modes all work together to create a flexible storytelling platform for the retailers. It is also a platform to feature new work from emerging local artists, curated by 900 Shops. The Canopy reimagines the visitor experience, puts the mall tenants front and center, and adds the “wow” factor that 900 Shops was looking for.






Building or project owner : JMB Realty Corporation

Architecture : OKW Architects

Project artist/ concept/ design/ planning : ESI Design

Structural engineering : KJWW Engineering, RTM Associates (MEP)

Facade design : ESI Design

Facade construction : Pepper Construction and Poblocki Sign Company

Kinetic engineering : ESI Design, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc & Poblocki Sign Company

Light design : ESI Design

Technical layout light : ESI Design, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc & Diversified Systems

Display content/ visuals/ showreel : ESI Design

Light hardware (LED hardware) : Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc

Lighting control software : ESI Design & Float4

Project co-ordination : ESI Design, Development Management Associates, LLC & Pepper Construction

Project sponsor/ support : Owner’s Representative: Development Management Associates, LLC


Facade type and geometry (structure) : Interior flat gypsum plaster ceiling bays framed by columns and beams. LED tile on a rigid frame suspended on concealed chain hoists.

Kind of light creation : RGB LED tile, undiffused.

Resolution and transmitting behaviour : The video content was custom filmed in ultra-high definition, 16K resolution on two RED WEAPON 8K cameras which when displayed on the atrium ceiling, the video quality makes the illusion of the skylight and open air above feel hyper-real.

Pixel distance : 4mm

Urban situation : Interior shopping mall on busy commercial urban street.

Description of showreel : 1.Flocking birds in the open sky 2.Treetops, stretching overhead with different trees in each season 3.Kaleidoscope, dazzling colorful patterns 4.Carousel, products appear in unexpected ways 5.Brand and tenant showcase 6.Interstitials, restful trompe l’oeil effects has the ceiling magically open and close 7.Play the building 8.Emerging local digital artists, curated by 900 Shops

Participatory architecture & urban interaction


Caleb Tkach

Caleb Tkach

Caleb Tkach

Caleb Tkach

Caleb Tkach

Caleb Tkach, Stebbs