Who designs the giant holiday displays in office buildings?

Have you ever wondered who is behind the holiday decorations that brighten the experience of walking through Toronto’s downtown commercial buildings?

We talked to three designers with very different visions and challenges installing their large-scale works.

Interactive Snowflakes

Brookfield Place (181 Bay St.)

Snowfall: Frost holiday art installation by Studio F Minus at Brookfield Place in Toronto.

Snowfall: Frost holiday art installation by Studio F Minus at Brookfield Place in Toronto. Detail shows a hand touching the sculpture, causing it to change colour.

Snowfall: Flurry holiday art installation by Studio F Minus at Brookfield Place in Toronto.

Snowfall: Gust holiday art installation by Studio F Minus at Brookfield Place in Toronto. Detail shows a hand touching the sculpture, causing it to change colour.

Property owner and manager Brookfield Properties wanted something different than the usual holiday décor, says Brad Hindson, co-founder of Studio F Minus. Happy to have a “forward-thinking client” that was interested in providing tenants with artistic pieces, the firm came up with a design that includes a 3,000-pound snowflake, that, when visitors touch it, changes colour.

The interactive Snowfall: Frost is part of a three-part installation at Brookfield Place. Its companion installation, Snowfall: Gust, is a series of 60 mid-sized, internally-illuminated snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. As each is about 250 pounds, a structure was built behind the ceiling to hold the weight, and caps were 3-D printed to hide the hardware for the other 11 months of the year. The third installation, Snowfall: Flurry, is about 2,000 small acrylic snowflakes that change colour as they move, hanging from 6,000 square feet of ceiling at the concourse level. This required the ceiling to be coated with magnetic paint, so that the snowflakes could be hung without drilling holes that would be visible the rest of the year. The installation requires a crew of about 60 people.

All of the snowflakes evoke the branching Y-shape of the iconic arch of the building, a fractal pattern inspired by nature. Though it is always a challenge to incorporate technology into the work, Hindson says, “Holiday décor has become so ubiquitous that there’s room to re-evaluate how we celebrate the changing of the seasons.”

Sparkling Moose

Scotia Plaza (40 King St. West)

Moose and stars holiday art installation by Visualize It Inc. at Scotia Plaza in Toronto.

Visualize It Inc. designed sparkling moose for Scotia Plaza to create holiday decorations that were not the traditional tree but more representative of Canada, says Judith Crombie, Managing Director.

Crombie, who got her start as a window dresser for retailers, says the metal the moose are made of were coloured to match the stonework of the building.

Other holiday decorations at Scotia Plaza include stars hanging from an overhang above the moose, and an 11-foot-wide by 11-foot-high ornament visitors can sit inside in the interior.

The giant ornament comes from Europe, as Crombie finds items not manufactured in North America at trade shows overseas, though she buys locally whenever she can, she says.

It’s not just the scale of commercial decorations that have special installation challenges. Outdoor décor also needs to withstand the weather winter throws at Canadians. For instance, the hanging stars require airline cable certified for their weight and pressure in order to safely withstand the occasional gale-force wind.

Timeless White

First Canadian Place, 100 King St. West

A composite of white holiday decorations by Studio Artefact in First Canadian Place in Toronto.

The request from property owner and developer Brookfield was something timeless; not too traditional but traditional.

With a “white canvass,” at First Canadian Place, Montreal-based design firm Studio Artefact was looking for a way to keep holiday decorations elegant and have a different take on traditional, says the firm’s Patrick Legault. The result: “White on white looks elegant and majestic.”

In fact, the firm has 4 different whites it offers clients: cold, pure, traditional and warm. The décor at this location was the “pure” white, he says. “We tried to bring an ice feel without being cold.”

Since the location is a historical building, Studio Artefact worked with its client, Brookfield, and an installation company to go through the roof to both support the weight of the ice-crystal lights and include electrical wiring for them. This also provides power for the giant tree, which does not draw power through the floor. Installation of the holiday décor is completed in two days.

Visitors “just see the sparkle, [not] all the work behind the scenes,” Legault says.

Studio Artefact manufactures almost everything in Montreal. The only items made overseas are the foliage and the lights.

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