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Art and glass unite

June 14, 2022  By Treena Hein

When attempts to hand-paint the backlit glass failed, the designer turned to iMagic’s advanced digital printing technology and found a solution. photo: Steve Driscoll Studio

AT A GLANCE – CIBC Square at a glance

  • Architects: WilksonsonEyre and Adamson Associates 
  • Contractor: EllisDon
  • Developer: Ivanhoe Cambridge and Hines 
  • Glass artwork title: “A Light Stolen From the Sun” 
  • Artist: Steve Driscoll of Steve Driscoll Studios 
  • Completion: 2021
  • Custom architectural glass fabricator: Imagic Glass
  • Backlighting engineer and build: GPI Design
  • Total number of backlit glass art walls: 12 (made up of 84 glass panels)
  • Locations: Six approximately 37-foot art walls in the main lobby; six approximately 18-foot art walls at the fourth floor canopy level  
  • Glass assembly: 12 mm low-iron tempered printed and laminated glass with UV protective interlayer
  • Total diodes: About 500,000
  • Total glass weight: Over 30,000 pounds

A Light Stolen From the Sun”…a fitting name for the stunning and unique public art installation at CIBC Square in Toronto. Through the cutting-edge technology of digital printing on glass, those entering the lobby are presented with six art walls, each around 40 feet tall, depicting the sun setting over water through a forest of cedar and red pine. From the fourth-floor canopy level, six other glass art walls give another stunning perspective of looking up through trees.

The building itself is also unique. It’s a complex comprised of two office towers totalling three million square feet. One tower – 81 Bay Street at CIBC Square – is 49 storeys tall and home to the art installation. 141 Bay Street at CIBC Square is 50 storeys tall and is slated to open in 2024. The entire complex is described on its website as “an unparalleled experience,” and “a reflection of thoughtful dedication to the people of Toronto, health, wellness and smart technology.” It sets “a new standard for community – creating workspaces, places to socialize and celebrate culture and cuisine.”

Returning to the glass art walls, this was the first time Steve Driscoll of Steve Driscoll Studios had worked on backlit glass on such a large scale. “After a number of months of failed experiments with a hand-painting approach, I landed on some stand-out samples from Imagic Glass, a custom architectural glass fabricator based in Vaughan,” he explains. “Working through a number of iterations of printing density, saturation, file resolution and various defusers, we came up with samples that felt more like a painting than the prints they actually were.”


In order to achieve the resolution required, Driscoll worked with a photographer to capture over 100 stills of each of his 12 paintings, with the stills then stitched together digitally and edited.

This process was done in tandem with experimentation with a team from GPI Design, an Ohio-based specialist backlighting firm. “In the end, the laminated tempered glass panels were printed on low-iron tempered sheets about four inches by nine inches and stacked vertically with a slim steel support at each seam,” says Driscoll, “resulting in only about 1/4-inch interruption of the image.”

The digital printing to glass of Driscoll’s paintings was the responsibility of Imagic Glass, which holds a methods and apparatus patent for its digital printing on glass and mirror. “We achieve vivid, precise colour reproduction across the entire spectrum, which is very important for public art projects,” explains Adam Shearer, president of Imagic Glass. “Our technology also allows us to control the opacity of the artwork, which is critical for backlighting. We collaborated extensively with Steve to successfully fabricate what he wished to achieve. Hundreds of man hours and dozens of custom samples were produced during the collaboration process.”

GPI custom-engineered the structural system to house the backlighting and the 84 different glass panels. However, installation was extremely tricky and plans had to be changed at the last minute in order to individually hoist and place each 250-pound panel securely onto the structure.

Tall and narrow bays meant a crane was out of the question, explains Tom Lawrence, founder and principal of GPI Design. “The plan was to use a ceiling-mounted hoist above each bay with a vacuum glass lifter attached to lift each panel to the desired height before securing it into place. However, when we arrived on the site, we found that the ceiling was already finished. There were also a few bays with HVAC above the feature so even if the finish ceiling wasn’t there, we wouldn’t have had access to the deck above.”

Two rented scissor lifts side by side in each bay were modified to accept the glass panels in the front and lift each piece in tandem. It was the best way but came with challenges, including the need for extreme attention to detail. Mitch Polly of GPI Design was in charge of running the two lifts simultaneously while the team was split into two on either lift holding the glass simply with vacuum cups. After a few dry runs, they realized it was easier to have one person run both at the same time.

Polly states, “In hindsight, we should have asked the rental company to reprogram them to behave exactly the same. The joysticks had slightly different dead zones and speed settings.  It took some major hand-eye coordination to run them up at the same rate. I would stare at the railings and make one catch up or slow down to keep them even.”

Joint treatment was also explored, including a variety of caulk colours, notes Lawrence. “With the inherently darker artwork of this project, the translucent caulk we typically use called attention to the joints instead of concealing them,” he says. “Black caulk made the artwork appear more seamless from panel to panel.”

The mockup at GPI proved essential in determining several key things, including the optimal glass “recipe “to compliment the artwork and the proper lighting colour temperature to accurately enhance – without shifting – the hue of the original works. With intense colour variations and amorphous forms spanning multiple stories, these art walls make for an intense experience in colour, light, and scale.

Colour temperature was heavily discussed in the mock up phase. Choosing the correct colour temperature to appropriately enhance the artwork without shifting the intended hues was key on this job. •

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