The Talk of the Town: A Morgan Stanley Sunrise, a Lehman Brothers Moon

By Goldberger, Paul | The New Yorker, January 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Talk of the Town: A Morgan Stanley Sunrise, a Lehman Brothers Moon


Goldberger, Paul, The New Yorker


When Morgan Stanley sold Lehman Brothers its new glass tower at 745 Seventh Avenue, just north of Times Square, last fall, there wasn't much for the new owner to do except switch the name above the door. What works for one mega financial firm pretty much works for another. That principle applies even to the building's most conspicuous feature, a two-and-a-half-story-high electronic sign. The Morgan Stanley sign, which is now the Lehman Brothers sign, is a generation ahead of such high-voltage Times Square showpieces as the cylindrical Nasdaq sign on the Conde Nast Building, the ABC news ticker and television screen at 1500 Broadway, and the series of tall screens jutting out from the new Reuters Building.

The Lehman Brothers sign doesn't stick out or cover up the building. It is the building, or, at least, the base of the building. Three horizontal strips of screen run across the facade, from Forty-ninth to Fiftieth Street, and there is a larger central panel above the entrance, like an electronic bas-relief. The sign was designed not by Artkraft Strauss, the company that has more or less owned the Times Square sign market for generations, but by Imaginary Forces, which isn't really in the sign business at all. Imaginary Forces is best known for doing title sequences for films such as "Harry Potter" and "Band of Brothers" and for producing short films that are designed to rev up the crowds before Rangers and Knicks games at Madison Square Garden.

One of the architects of 745 Seventh Avenue, Kevin Kennon, brought in Imaginary Forces to do the sign. "It wasn't just slapped onto the building--it is a layer of the architecture," said Mikon van Gastel, who was in charge of the project for Imaginary Forces. Van Gastel, a Dutchman with dyed-blond hair, said he had been inspired by the colored lights on top of the Empire State Building. He wanted to use technology, he said, to create a series of images that would constantly change the facade's appearance. "It's structured like television, with themes, interstitials, transitions," he said.

If you design title sequences for a living, you become an expert at finding simple visual symbols that convey complex messages quickly, and that is what Imaginary Forces tried to do here. "People walk by for ten seconds or pass in a cab for three seconds," van Gastel said. "It has to be a nonlinear story."

Morgan Stanley envisioned the sign as a chance to polish its reputation, so van Gastel proposed a series of images on various themes--sunrises, piggy banks, globes, traders at work--that would swirl and zip and zoom all the time. …

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