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Artist James Lahey, left, and developer Gabriel Leung. Mr. Lahey, an artist, designed the public art installation of Toronto tree blossoms for Concord Adex’s newest building.

Jennifer Yeaman

Cast in the pinkish light of the Concord Adex Tango complex windows, Gabriel Leung and James Lahey seem an unlikely pair. The former is in a trim suit with pink tie, not a hair out of place; the latter sports a leather jacket, paint-splashed boots and a David Lynch mop.

Here, they're partners. The light they're bathed in is a collaborative effort.

Designed by Mr. Lahey, it's part of a spine of manipulated, transparent photos of tree blossoms Concord Adex has installed along the whole height of its 31-storey Tango tower. It's the newest building in Concord's growing Park Place development nestled along the 401 highway just west of the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto.

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Topped by a massive pixilated photomanipulation, the installation, called Spring, is the developer's largest public art project to date. It's a project not just aimed at tenants and neighbours, but for the public as a whole, a colourful beacon for far-flung commuters as they drive in and out of the city or pull into IKEA next door.

"We thought, 'Well, if we don't do something huge, it'll be a loss of opportunity," says Mr. Leung, Concord Adex's vice-president of development. "This project is so unique in the sense that it's next to the 401. It's a lot of exposure."

In many cities, public art has long been a required component of large-scale private development. The City of Toronto, for instance, recommends that at least 1 per cent of every project's gross construction cost be directed to such installations. And in Vancouver, large developments have to contribute $1.81 per buildable foot toward public art.

As new towers sprout up across the country, developers are starting to think outside the box by putting art on the box itself – installing bigger and more elaborate art pieces and integrating them directly into facades to be enjoyed by broader slices of the public.

Mr. Lahey, a Toronto photographer and painter whose work often depicts the natural world, was selected by a jury to design the Tango installation several years ago. Inspired by the "fugitive" moment each spring when the whole city is covered in tree blossoms, he zipped around Toronto on his motorcycle to capture that essence in photographs.

He manipulated those images in various ways, and a team printed them onto a transparent film with some opacity, sandwiching them within glass at the end of each hallway to create a colourful column from the ground to the roof. Inspired by Douglas Coupland's Digital Orca in downtown Vancouver, Mr. Lahey's team crowned the building with a purple-and-white blossom so impossibly zoomed-in-upon that it becomes pixelated.

Karen Mills wasn't shy about her support for Spring when she showed up for its launch; she came wearing a tree-blossom coat and orchid earrings. As the founder of the consultancy Public Art Management, she's overseen some of Canada's biggest public art installations, including Mr. Coupland's orca.

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About 25 per cent of public art development funding goes to soft costs, she says – the competition to select the artist, administration, and so on. The rest goes into making and manufacturing the piece, which, for larger and integrated projects, supports not only artists but local manufacturers, too.

"We've made a conscious decision to do projects that provide economic support to that area," Ms. Mills says.

It took builders, engineers and glass technicians to bring the 31 storeys of Spring to life. Ms. Mills is excited for everyone who drives by to see the fruits of their labour: "It's gorgeous."

Toronto is filled with walkable public art installations built into private projects, from United Visual Artists' Canopy light sculpture and the brightly lit bridge of Maple Leaf Square to Santiago Calatrava's Galleria in Brookfield Place.

Mr. Lahey's Spring, though, occupies a unique space, offering a sky-high purple-pink beacon for commuters along the 401 in place of an old Canadian Tire warehouse. While Concord Adex has played with colour before – with their bright yellow Bridge of Light and pastel-capped CityPlace condos – the spine and pixilated crown are an original touch for a Canadian condo tower.

At the glass lobby of Brookfield Asset Management's Bay Adelaide Centre downtown, James Turrell's Straight Flush greets passersby in cars and on foot with five tall pillars of light, rotating a rainbow of colours. While it was conceived as an independent piece, the property manager is planning to add complementary installations as it expands the Bay Adelaide campus. This will include a piece by Micah Lexier, a Canadian artist living in New York, that will have a "dialogue" with Straight Flush, says John Durschinger, Brookfield's senior vice-president of global design.

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"We've been trying to position and think about the art, locate it in a way where it has a big impact on the civic level," he says. "Not something that's hidden away."

In Vancouver, Liam Gillick has wrapped a line of poetry across 18 floors of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel at Burrard and Cordova. And Manulife Financial's new 16-storey building at 980 Howe St. will feature four LED colour-shifting bands along its south– and west-facing facades when it opens to tenants in June. The financial services company has installed lots of public art before, but this is the first time it's integrated an installation into a building's structure.

"Art isn't always accessible," says Ted Willcocks, Manulife's global head of real estate asset management. "This piece allowed the art to become accessible for those who work and visit the building, but also anyone within sight lines."

The installation, arranged by consultant Durante Kreuk Ltd. and designed by Vancouver's PECHET Studio, will use dichroic glass that shifts colour based on light conditions and perspective. Adjacent to the Granville Entertainment District, Mr. Willcocks says the piece "appropriately adds a splash of vibrance to the neighbourhood."

Concord Adex is thinking even bigger for its next public art project. In addition to an eight-acre "art park" planned for Park Place, Mr. Leung says the public can expect big things from the planned flagship CityPlace tower adjacent to the Rogers Centre. The landlord is aiming to build 70 storeys, making for an installation twice the size of Spring.

"It's our final hurrah for CityPlace," Mr. Leung says. "It would be a huge piece of art, coming down on all four sides of the building, down to the ground level."

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About the Author

Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. Since joining the paper in 2011, he has told stories from New Brunswick to Nairobi. More

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