GOOGLE AND THE CITY / by Morgan Sharar-Stoppel

Google is a world-renowned company that happens to be part of most people’s everyday life. The company moved its headquarters to the West Loop late last year, and wanted an installation in its main lobby that celebrated both Google and Chicago.  Tasked with the challenge, we began the brainstorming process and the concept of Voxel was formed.   

We initially pitched a handful of ideas to Google but the one that stood out was a video game-style interpretation (“Voxel”) of the four main sectors of Chicago: West Loop, South Side, Downtown and Northside.  It was our goal to showcase the diversity and depth of the city in a unique and slightly quirky way.


The project is a testament to Chicago itself.  Each neighborhood of the city has its own unique style and vibe--and the the Voxel project honored that with its mixture of well-known, vastly appreciated, and personally important features within the city.  

The eye will instantly recognize famous structures like the United Center, Google, The Bean (featured as a cube), Navy Pier, and The John Hancock.  Senior Designer and 3D Specialist, Thomas Jurgensen,  digitally constructed and detailed 80-100 buildings for the piece.  Accordingly, his favorite aspect of the project was designing and ‘voxelating’ the buildings.  He balanced the amount of pixelation with specific detailing to give voxel the novelty of coming off as video game art.           

The video game medium brings several advantages.  The isometric point-of-view allows for more of Chicago to be shown.  This point-of-view also contributes to the overall video game vibe.  Manipulation of both color and pixelation allow us to exaggerate and ‘play up’ the interesting features of the city.  


We were also able to incorporate numerous video game references and personal “easter eggs”.  PacMan causes a traffic jam. There are also details relating to Portal, Sonic, Fallout, Zelda, and Super Mario.  The Fallout vault is Motion Graphics and Compositing Specialist Aaron Asbury’s favorite part of Voxel.  He personally appreciates the subtlety of it, as well as the fact that it’s his favorite game (so he’s kinda biased). Director of Motion Graphics and Animation, Michael Fernandez, likes Star Wars--so he landed the Millennium Falcon at Midway Airport.

To say we enjoyed working on this project with Google is an understatement. We had an idea and were able to run with it. The entire experience has been both fun and enriching. It’s exciting to stop in on occasion to view the installation in person, and we are thankful that Google allowed us to bring Voxel from thought to (digital) reality.