Heritage Graphics and Scaffold Wraps
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Heritage Graphics and Scaffold Wraps

From Manhattan's Times Square to an Argentinan Palace, outdoor graphics has put unsightly construction under wraps with over the top picturesque renderings, art images or patriotic beautification panels

By Louis M. Brill

Outdoor advertising used to be billboards, kiosks and bus shelter panels, but now with large format, high resolution wide bed printers, the realm of outdoor is wide open to printing anything large and putting it almost anywhere. Of this, a niche printing market of Heritage Graphics has emerged and it's under wraps with new construction.

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  • Heritage Graphics is a slowly emerging market niche for urban beautification used to enhance building construction sites and existing neighborhoods with temporary rehab, turning them into destinations of visual delight. Most urban construction sites are an interruption in the continuing landscape or skyline of its neighborhood, unsightly and esthetically disruptive to the neighborhood's presence. While this is a classic concern with new construction, an interesting solution has emerged, mostly popular in Europe, but also slowly gaining acknowledgment in America with similar inspiration.

    With the ease of printing large format vinyls and banners as building wraps a solution to 'construction interuptus' is the use of large format graphics to create a temporary heritage-based interpretative graphic, which is then placed on the scaffolding surrounding the construction. Why this graphic niche is important, is because of all the urban construction continually going on in major cities around the world, the market opportunities of Heritage Graphic installations are endless. This article discusses several print service bureaus that see this as a new market opportunity for increased use of outdoor graphics for urban beautification.

    A European digital print company, ExtraLarge Italia, based near Milano has become one of the country’s premier producers of high quality large-format prints for both indoor and outdoor use. The company has four market areas for large format graphics including Megaprints, Expoprints, Shopprints and Truckprints. In creating the output of their images the company uses NUR Blueboard™ superwide digital printing systems. The company not only provides the prints but also offers mounting, lights and technical assistance. Mauro Oliva, a company director, explained the emphasis of urban beautification in Europe and how the large format printing industry is benefiting from that. Oliva states, "Europe is full of historic buildings and visited by millions of tourist that want to see these buildings. Sometimes there is construction and while a large printed PVC panel cannot be compared to the actual facade it is much better both for the tourists and the community to see a graphic reproduction than a green or blue cover-up."

    Students from the Liberal Art High School of Lucca created a gallery of images that were printed on a mesh coverup of the Regal Palace at Lucca, a city in Tuscany, Italy. The wrap is 96 metres wide x 26 metres high and was printed by Extralarge in Italy. Photo credit: EXTRALARGE

    The implementation of civic beautification graphic landscaping in Europe, according to Oliva, is governed by regulations which determines a per centage split in outdoor graphics between advertising and beautification placements, "In Rome and in Florence for example if we have 200 square meters of scaffolding available, 50% can be an advertisement but the other 50% must be the reproduction of the building. I have noticed that when we work for private and prestigious entities, they do not care about advertising; they only want to reproduce the actual facade of the building. They consider it very elegant and inspirational to be 'seen' correctly."

    Patriotism Themes Cover Construction
    However, having said that, employing large format beautification graphics to buildings and construction projects in the United States is beginning to appear under varying inspirations. The most prominent project to date has been in Boston with a massive scaffold wrap enclosed around the front facade of the Massachusetts State Capital. The State House is an important stop on Boston's Freedom Trail and also an African American Heritage Trail tourist attraction. The building was shut down by construction for refurbishing, but is still considered an important tourist attraction.

    Problem: tourists show up and see cranes, cement trucks, and workers scurrying around its construction rehabilitation. Solution: The entire front building scaffold was completely covered with a mesh which had imprinted on it a graphic image of a large statue depicting the Massachusetts 54th regiment, the first black regiment recruited for the Civil War. Along with the primary image, printed on a separate mesh was the phrase "Hope and Glory." Now when tourists arrive, although the building is off limits, they see the graphic, which they can photograph and still have a sense of the building's presence.

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    There's always Paris. Seen in passing, a trompe l'oeil graphic affixed to the La Madeleine Church. Photo credit: Philip Malkin

    The Boston scaffold mesh was designed and digitally printed by AK MediaPrint of Seattle. The company specializes in large format digital printing and provides its output from NUR Blueboard HighQ + equipment. The final mesh, which the company also installed on site, was 16,838 sq. foot of graphic imagery. In creating the graphic mesh as explained by AK's director of research and development, Bob Spurr. "First a digital photograph of the original statue was taken. It was then outputted as flat art that was then scanned back into a digital form at a higher resolution. It was then imported to Photoshop where it was massaged to create a final image that fit the State House building's aspect ratio where it was to be installed."

    "Once the image was finalized, it was printed as a typical mesh job and prepared for installation. The final piece was composed of five separate graphic panels and 68 feet tall by 110 feet wide. To insure the integrity of combining the separate panel seams, AK MediaPrint first connected each panel to each other using an RF (radio frequency) welding system. Employees then backed up the seams with a special double stitch along the hem and seams to strengthen the mesh against the occasional wind storms that pass on through."

    In Boston, the Massachusetts State Capital was shut down by construction for refurbishing, but is still considered an important tourist attraction. Solution: The entire front building scaffold was completely covered with a mesh which had imprinted on it a graphic image of a large statue depicting the Massachusetts 54th regiment, the first black regiment recruited for the Civil War. Photo credit: AK Mediaprint

    Spurr pointed out that the placement and installation of the graphic mesh was no different that how his company puts up a modern billboard. With the mesh in place, it worked as expected, he said, "Tourists have noticed it and just after its unveiling, people driving by began to acknowledge it by honking their horns or photographing it. Even better, he said, "The scaffold company on whose equipment we placed the mesh on was impressed with the ease and simplicity of our putting it up. We've heard from other states who have expressed an interest in doing this on their capital buildings."

    In a display of patriotism and solidarity as a result of the deadly terrorist attack last year in New York City, Elie Tahari, a fashion design company created and commissioned a spectacular building wrap of an American flag. The flag, possibly one of the biggest in the United States totally covers its host building, five stories tall on 5th Avenue and 43rd Street. Elie Tahari, company founder, stated how prior to 9/11/2001 he was able to see clearly across town and view the twin towers of the World Trade center.

    Elie Tahari, a fashion design company in response to the tragedy of the World Trade Center. Company founder, ElieTahari wanted to make a statement that in some way could bring people together. Ultimately he decided on the idea of wrapping his building with an American flag (50 feet high x 150 long) giving it a perfect example of civic graphic landscaping at work. Photo credit: Elie Tahari

    With the buildings gone, he felt the company should make a statement that in some way could bring people together. Ultimately he decided on the idea of wrapping his building with an American flag. After several quick phone calls to flag suppliers, he discovered there was no flag that size in existence, nor could he get one made as fast as he wanted for display. He finally contacted Extreme Digital in New York City who agreed to provide the flag mesh and was able to output it for immediate display. Alan Hurst, president of Extreme Digital described the flag project, which he said was printed on a 16-foot wide Vutek printer. The mesh was printed in 16 foot wide segments and heat seamed together to form up into a flag that was about 50 feet high by 150 feet long. From concept to presentation, Elie said it took about ten days to get his oversized American flag wrapped around his building.

    Once the flag was completed and hung from the building, Elie noted it resulted in a lot of expected media attention and that pedestrians and drivers approaching the building from either side 5th Avenue were able to see it from several blocks away. Given its ease of viewing from that part of mid-town Manhattan, New Yorkers find it a very reassuring sight and certainly a perfect example of Herritage graphic landscaping at work. The flag banner has since been removed, but did showcase the spirit of the times and the immediacy in which Heritage Graphics can respond as a visual statement.

    The Fake Building
    The Times Square Spire is another interesting civic beautification wrap that appeared recently in Times Square as a solution to covering up a permanent sign structure that was not exactly a 'pretty' site to pedestrians. The Spire is a sign tower managed by Clear Channel Specta color and in a transformation worthy of the ugly duckling fairy tale, the sign grid was completely covered with a wrap that transformed it into a 'virtual building.

    Initially the sign structure's placement in Times Square was very visible as an esthetic blemish in the form of a 20-story high steel grid of hanging pipe. In taking over the sign structure Spectacolor completely covered the Spire in a mesh wrap of a typical NYC brownstone apartment facade. As the signs are leased on the Spire, the brownstone image is covered with new vinyl signage. When the sign is removed at the end of the lease, the tower reverts back into its brownstone facade.

    Mike McGraw of Clear Channel / Spectacolor talked about transforming a steel 20-story sign structure into a leaseable billboard and sign tower: "First we created a brownstone mesh wrap around the structure to make it more visually appealing. Then we named it the Times Square Spire, to give it a more 'dignified' presence in Times Square. Now it's more than half filled with signs." South face of Spire, completely covered, north face - getting there. Photo credit: Clear Channel / Spectacolor)

    Making the Spire into the 'brownstone' seemed to be a more natural fit and a more appropriate image given the size of the steel sign structure, said Mike McGraw, director of Spectacular Development at Spectacolor. "Once we decided that we would transform the Spire into this virtual brownstone, we went around New York City and took photographs of existing brownstones and then took architectural elements (window ledges, archways, building decorations, etc.) from various buildings and composited all these digital images together to create our 'brownstone' facade that would become the under wrap we would place on the Spire."

    In a discussion with Spectacolor about the look of the Times Square Spire it was pointed out that the brownstone apartment image seemed visually out of place against many of the modern 50-story glass and steel architectural wonders now going up in Times Square. "And that, is exactly the point," McGraw stated. "Creating the brownstone mesh wrap around the sign structure was to give it a specific identity and a more 'dignified' presence in Times Square. We also wanted to make it more visually appealing thus giving advertisers more reasons to want to use it. Basically we transformed a big ugly, steel sign structure into a pseudo-landmark. The funny thing is the more successful the Spire is in leasing its advertising space, the more the brownstone disappears and becomes what it's intended to be, a billboard. However, whenever a vinyl comes off the tower, the brownstone underneath comes back, so it's a nice balance."

    Clearly large format mesh wraps are a part of the fabric of outdoor advertising, but what is interesting is how heritage Graphics is evolving into the realm of a visual 'public service announcement' process and creating a artistic and cultural presence in a very visceral and overpowering way, visually. AK Media's Bob Spurr summed it up nicely, "Herritage graphic landscaping has a lot of potential as a temporary civic improvement process for urban landscapes. First off, it acts to beautify a construction site, and second, as we did in Massachusetts, it can display a historical landmark (or art or cultural) image that impresses people who visit it." Now that's a cover up that everybody can appreciate.

    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications. He can reached at (415) 664-0694 or lmbrill@earthlink.net

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