Wall Murals With A ‘Viewnique’ Perspective
Large format, digitally printed vinyl canvases from OMNOVA Solutions transform mere walls into dramatic, artistic statements.
By Rich Christianson
Visitors stepping off the elevator into the fifth-floor headquarters of the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) in Washington, D.C., immediately encounter a space like no other.
First, their ears are piqued by white noise filtering around them, the recorded soundscape of a plastics processing plant replete with the occasional beeping of a forklift backing up. Then, as they continue walking through the lobby toward the reception desk, their attention is commanded by a 43-foot-wide, floor-to-ceiling mural of the Bemis Manufacturing injection molding operation in Sheboygan, Wis. The concrete floor of the high-definition mural seamlessly blends into the lobby’s recycled plastic tile floor, creating the 3D illusion of actually being able to reach out and touch the hulking Milacron injection molder in the foreground.
Re-creating the look and feel of a modern plastics manufacturing facility was the overarching objective in transforming the former offices of a law firm into the new digs of SPI, an association dedicated to promoting growth in the $427 billion U.S. plastics industry.
Other unconventional elements of the 18,000-square-foot office space that lend themselves to creating the plastics plant aura include a conference room that incorporates 4 tons of steel I-beams and an open ceiling, purposely exposing ducting, plumbing and wiring.
Adjacent to the conference room is a breakroom with large sliding thermoplastic honeycomb doors that open into the lobby to reveal a second floor-to-ceiling mural. This one is about 30 feet wide by 10 feet high and depicts the LyondellBasell plastic pellet manufacturing plant in Houston.
“The breakroom mural is really cool,” said Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI. “It captures the big beams and a lot of piping, plus the equipment to process and blend material, just what you would expect in a plastic resin manufacturing facility.”
Carteaux said the office designed by local firm Wingate Hughes Architects rarely fails to impress first-time visitors, including association members, congressmen and federal regulators that he hosts. He added that most accolades are reserved for the two “viewnique” digitally printed wall coverings supplied and installed by OMNOVA Solutions.
“Visitor reactions to the viewnique murals are unbelievable because they are so real,” Carteaux said. “They help tell our story and depict the technology and cleanliness you would see at a modern plastics plant. They really are the focal points when we do tours of our offices or host fundraisers for congressional candidates because they talk about what we are doing.”
Lori Barnett, who grew up in the printing industry and swears she has ink for blood, manages the viewnique program for OMNOVA. Clients range from corporations, hotels and fitness clubs to restaurants, cafes and rental car agencies. She has seen the digital printing process make tremendous strides, including improvements in low-VOC inks, faster drying and especially print clarity.
“The dots per inch have increased 1,000 percent,” she said.
Barnett said the SPI turnkey project was as unusual, challenging and fun as any installation she has been involved with during her more than 10-year tenure. The biggest challenge, she said, was procuring sufficient high-resolution photography of each plant.
“The photography not only had to achieve the creative vision, the quality had to be really great so that it could be blown up to 30 feet wide or more,” she said.
The viewnique team did a thorough survey of the SPI space, taking exacting measurements of each feature wall, verifying that the conditions of dry walls were ship shape and painstakingly noting the location of any obstructions such as doors, light switches, fire extinguishers and other objects that might steal from the image’s drama.
The installation survey helped guide cropping of the photos that were sent to a West Coast digital printer and “ripped” to produce panels each with a printed area up to 53 inches wide. The SPI viewnique murals were printed on a 20-ounce commercial vinyl wall covering with a type 2 fire rating. Appropriately, SPI chose to specify backers made with 20 percent post-consumer, recycled plastic content – made from grinding up plastic soda bottles -- instead of the standard non-woven backing, Barnett said.
Each of the double-cut seamed panels was individually rolled onto a 3-inch corrugated core, packaged, numbered and shipped from the printer to SPI headquarters for installation. For the lobby mural, 10 panels were expertly laid up side by side and adhered to the wall using off-the-shelf primers and adhesives to bring the Bemis Manufacturing plant floor to life.
Barnett said the viewnique murals are best viewed from a distance of 10 feet or more, noting that the image will look pixelated from a close distance similar to standing too close to an HD TV.
“It sounds weird, but when you design something on a 20-inch screen and then you go to the site and see it live and in person after it has been installed, it really creates a sense of pride,” she said.
View to the future
Time marches on, and trends and technology change.
Carteaux, who has been involved in the plastics industry for 30 years, has witnessed a slew of advances and is mindful that the technology depicted in the viewnique murals gracing SPI’s walls today will give way to newer manufacturing processes down the road. With this in mind, he said plans call for swapping out the murals every five years.
“The next scenes might be of bioplastic and 3D printing,” Carteaux said. “We have a 15-year lease, so we could do this again twice, giving different members a chance to sponsor them.”
Technology also is on the move for viewnique. Barnett said OMNOVA is working on a couple of initiatives: Starlight Mural and Motion Mural.
Starlight Mural uses fluorescent color inks that “can create a daylight or nighttime environment based on how you program black lights to interact with white LED lights,” Barnett said. “When you add black light with LED light, you start to see a little more depth like 3D. If you turn the LED lights off completely, the mural will illuminate kind of like a midnight bowling alley effect.”
In March, OMNOVA previewed Motion Mural at GlobalShop, the annual retail design convention held in Las Vegas.
“We had a 4x5 mural of a lady dressed in a steampunk theme, and she was holding an old steampunk movie camera,” Barnett said. “The mural had gears rotating in the background that looped. A lot of people stopped and asked, ‘How did you do that?’”
Barnett wouldn’t say. It’s a uniquely viewnique secret.