Placemaking in a Corporate Lobby: Olympus Sculptural Installation

Read Time: 4 minutes

SEGD member Bill Galligan of Wayfinder Collaborative recently led a team of designers, fabricators, and contractors to create a sculptural installation inside the new North American headquarters of the Olympus Corporation. Read on to learn how this complex project successfully came together through the skillful coordination of schedules and work tasks.

The Japan-based company Olympus built its reputation as a camera maker in the 1950s when the firm introduced two now-classic models to the market: the Olympus Flex and the Olympus Pen, which today are highly collectible among analog camera enthusiasts. 

But recently, in 2020, the company sold off its camera division to focus more exclusively on medical technology. Here in the US, Olympus consolidated three different offices to create one new North American headquarters. This facility—located in Westborough, Massachusetts and designed by SMMA—combines inward facing departments, such as Research & Development, with more public areas, including Training, Marketing and Sales.

The new headquarters’ entrance lobby serves as a welcoming center for Olympus customers. As they enter the two-story atrium, visitors can’t help but notice a 30-foot-tall sculptural installation designed by SMMA. This statement piece draws attention to the reception desk while visually connecting the first-floor lobby to the lab spaces and training facilities located on the building’s second level.

Inspired by string art, the Olympus installation is constructed of 131 steel cables which form a gently twisting vertical plane, stretching between the building’s first-floor and third-floor slabs. The cables are painted blue and yellow—the company’s signature colors—with the yellow representing the “opto-digital pattern” that underlines “OLYMPUS” in its corporate logo.

“The opto-digital pattern represents the company’s cutting-edge technology,” says Marie Fitzgerald, Senior VP and Director of Interior Design at SMMA. “We liked the play of light and the idea of ‘light refraction’ in this piece.”

SEGD member Bill Galligan, founder of Wayfinder Collaborative, led the installation of the artwork. Bill put together a team of professionals—including fabricators and SEGD member firm Bluebird Graphic Solutions—to figure out how to best construct the piece and realize the SMMA designers’ vision.

“We worked with Bill and his team to make sure we received the visual aesthetic of string art—this was key for SMMA,” says Marie. “Bill and his team came up with a couple of concepts for fabrication and created mini mock-ups. After reviewing the mock-ups, we chose a direction and modified accordingly. The results were achieved!”

To achieve the effect of string art, Bill and his team developed two prototypes: one using steel cables and the other using bungie cords (as a more cost-friendly option). In the end, the team chose the steel cables—but that was not without its challenges!

First, multiple schedules needed to be coordinated, including those of the general contractor and of the subcontractors, each working to construct and finish the atrium space on time and on budget.

“The developer and GC had very tight deadlines,” says Bill. “We had to work in conjunction with a variety of subs—from the teams doing the floor and ceilings, to the teams installing the turnstiles and reception desk. We had to install the sculpture in multiple phases with small windows of time to work with ongoing construction.”

Second was the engineering challenge presented by the installation. Each of the artwork’s 131 cables is under 20 pounds of tension, so the combined pull on the ceiling slab and floor slab exceeds one ton (!) Mounting structures, designed to support the load, were engineered and installed. 

“The attachment in the ceiling went through multiple design changes up until the end. We were making changes days before it was installed,” says Bill. “Further, we needed to get the structure reviewed by an engineer, and stamped, before we could start the installation.”

The key to Bill’s success was communication. 

“It was critical for me to keep the fabricator, Bluebird, focused on the engineering and keep the client and GC/developer informed on any impact to the project’s schedule with updates as they happened,” says Bill. “Lack of communication can compound very quickly and that, in my opinion, is how the overall project experience is won or lost.”

In addition to the sculptural installation, SMMA created other experiential graphic design elements throughout the building to express and reinforce the Olympus brand. These include a Value Wall, a time zone “clock wall” and wayfinding signage. All work together to form a strong, branded environment inside the new Olympus headquarters.

“This shows the level of texture and layering and patterns that carry throughout the facility,” says Marie. “The SMMA team also included our environmental graphic designers who worked closely with the Olympus marketing team to develop a new architectural branding direction which is now being shared globally.”