Imagine pulling up to a six-story parking lot that’s wrapped in binary code from corner to corner. As you get closer, you see lights shooting across the code and creating a digital mosaic that pulses with energy.
Residents and visitors in Lake Nona, Florida can now call this a familiar sight, thanks to a unique collaboration between public artist JEFRË and designer/immersive theatre director Michael Counts. An average parking lot gets transformed with the addition of not only a 264-foot-long Code Wall, but also a 60-foot steel structure called The Beacon.
The Tavistock Group—an organization founded by British billionaire Joe Lewis and which owns Lake Nona—originally reached out to Counts to tell him about the project. The idea: create something interactive that would make the town center stand out. Beyond that, Counts was given little direction and left to his own creative devices.
Counts recently created a large-scale, commissioned project for Michael Kors in Shanghai working with Three Legged Dog (3LD) Art and Technology center. He teamed up with them again for the visual content that would bring life to “The Beacon.”
Each night, the projections on structure change. About 15 different themes, developed over nine months, trick the eye into seeing the piece as a large-scale aquarium or the colorful inside of a kaleidoscope. The team worked with a model 1/8th of the size of the final product to make sure each projection “would look right in its final application.” While many of the interactions bring to mind nature and organic forms, Counts wanted to keep the content as diverse as possible.
“What guided me was a desire to have it be extremely varied so that you come one night it’s one thing and you come the next night — not just sort of variations on a theme,” says Counts.
The installation continues to attract local visitors but also tourists in the area. Counts recalls that JEFRE once met a couple that was in the Florida and decided to drive an hour to see the installation.
“Part of what I’ve always enjoyed about the creative process and public art is how much it can change your perception of a location,” Counts says. “So the idea of this piece, which is just by virtue of its design so different from day to night, but then the idea of adding an element that totally transforms the character of the town center from night to night. [And] understanding who the community is and the idea that people would be coming back.”
The designers also took into account possible interactions between “Code Wall” and “The Beacon.” Counts explains that Code Wall’s dichroic glass panels make it reflective in the sunlight and “even more dynamic” when shot through with light at night. The team—including Counts and Ryan O’Gara— brainstormed lighting designs that would “enhance what was already there and bring out new elements.”
The binary code included in the wall, when spelled out, references the main goals of the Lake Nona Community. Among them are inspire, connect and participate.
Counts sees the installation as a “much more visionary approach to what could’ve easily been a very cookie cutter town center.” The team hopes to collaborate with other artists in the future so they might use the structure as a space for experimentation. So far, they have worked with media students from Full Sail University to encourage students and professors to think of their own collaborations for future projects.