Imagine circling through a multistory parking garage, becoming frazzled as you search for somewhere to park.

Now, imagine that experience driving through slowly rotating patchworks of colors, causing you to feel as if you’re floating on a rainbow. Finding a parking space becomes a much more enjoyable experience. 

“The movement of the color, it is like music,” internationally known artist and Des Moines resident Yorame Mevorach said. “It is something you feel … a visual composition of colors.”

Mevorach, known as Oyoram in art circles, is working with local developer Justin Mandelbaum to create a unique piece of moving art that will cover the west side of a parking garage under construction at Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street in downtown Des Moines. Called “The Flying Fifth,”  the 20,400-square-foot space art facade – about a third the size of a football field – will be covered with 435 two-bladed windmills that rotate slowly with the wind. 

The artwork will also include 870 one-foot square LED panels, located in the center of each windmill and in between each windmill, that will serve as a digital canvas for Oyoram’s radiating visuals.

“The west side of the garage – a massive canvas – presented an opportunity to do something that can be iconic for the city for decades to come,” Mandelbaum told the Business Record. “Our vision is to have an art facade that’s dynamic, that moves with the wind, and excites both pedestrians and users of the garage.

“One of our goals is to help Des Moines become a nationally recognized city for the arts,” Mandelbaum said. “We think Yorame is the perfect headliner for this because he’s already an internationally recognized artist, and because the canvas that we have for him will be of a scale that should garner national attention.”

‘You want the experience … to be the garage’

Mandelbaum always envisioned his $200 million project “the Fifth” – a 40-story tower that includes 209 luxury apartments and a 21c Museum Hotel, a dine-in movie theater, retail space and a public parking garage – to include unique artwork that would turn the heads of passers-by and create something groundbreaking.

But Mandelbaum didn’t have anyone in mind to create the artwork until he met Mevorach, a Paris-based artist who moved to Des Moines after marrying a Grinnell College professor.

Mevorach, whose expertise ranges from producing and directing short films to creating video artwork for boutiques and runways, created “Mental Banquet: Painting with Lights,” which was displayed on the facade of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in fall 2018. The video light show, choreographed to music, garnered wide-ranging accolades.

Mandelbaum had heard about the studio Mevorach built at the Sherman Hill home he shares with Katya Gibel Mevorach. He heard of Mevorach’s internationally renowned reputation and of the video artwork he created for boutiques operated by Dior, Louis Vuitton and others.

The two met over lunch at Mevorach’s home.

Mandelbaum explained the project and the different elements of art it will include, such as incorporating murals in the parking garage’s elevator lobbies and partnering with 21c Museum Hotels, which displays contemporary art throughout its properties and will occupy 13 floors of the tower.

Mevorach immediately latched onto what Mandelbaum was trying to accomplish.

“He said, ‘I get it. You want people to come downtown to park in the garage,’” said Mandelbaum, imitating Mevroach’s French-Israeli accent. “‘You want the experience for these people to be the garage itself.’

“This guy totally gets it,” Mandelbaum said. “He knows what we’re looking for.”

The two walked the site of the parking garage and talked over ideas. Mandelbaum shared the work of other artists who have transformed parking garages into pieces of art. One artist, he told Mevorach, designed a massive screen featuring 250,000 perforated aluminum panels mounted on pivots so they could move in the wind. The cascading panels create an illusion of fast-moving clouds.

“I said, ‘Let’s do better than this,’” Mandelbaum said.

How to attach windmills to a parking garage

As Mevorach’s ideas began to emerge in a form that both he and Mandelbaum could visualize and verbalize, they reached out to Tim Hickman, principal at Substance Architecture, a Des Moines firm that had worked with Mevorach on his studio. Hickman also is president of the board of directors for the Greater Des Moines Public Arts Foundation, which worked with the artist on the video art displayed on the World Food Prize building. Substance Architecture is also involved with the parking garage project.

Hickman recalled Mandelbaum talking about Mevorach’s artwork during a meeting about the parking garage.

“I said, ‘We’ve worked with Yorame; we love working with Yorame,’” Hickman said. About a month later Mandelbaum reached out to Hickman. 

“There is a lot of logistical elements to Yorame’s project – gravity, for one – and a lot of technical things to sort out, Hickman said.”

Hickman needed to figure out how to attach 6 1/2-foot-wide two-bladed windmills to the side of the garage. What he settled on was a network of steel supports that will crisscross the garage. The windmills’ blades will be slightly angled to catch the wind and  will be positioned on the steel pipes, as will the 12-inch-square LED panels.   

The weather will determine which windmills spin and the speed of their rotation.

“It will be random,” Mevorach said. “We cannot anticipate what will happen, but what we can anticipate is that it will be random, and that is good for us. Even if it’s not rotating, it will be colorful and beautiful.”

The blades will move about 30 revolutions per minute, Hickman said.

Light from the sun will penetrate through the translucent blades, which also will have color in them. Other light will come from the nearly 900 LED panels that will be mounted on the side of the garage. A computer program will operate the panels that will change colors and project varying images such as waterfalls or snowfall.

“Sometimes all of the [LED panels] may be the same color,” Hickman said. “But then it can change. It will be constantly changing and transforming. And that’s what will make it all very interesting.”

Hickman said colored lights will fill the parking garage, and because the blades will be turning, the light will look as if it’s moving.

“You’ll get a different experience inside the ramp from outside; you’ll get a different experience during the daytime from nighttime,” Hickman said. “It will be constantly changing. And that is part of what makes it exciting.”

Next step: Appearing before city design board

A model of the artwork hasn’t yet been made, making it difficult for Mandelbaum, Mevorach and Hickman to explain what is planned for the parking garage to the city’s decision-makers.

In October, Mandelbaum will explain the art project to the Urban Design Review Board, the first public discussion of Mevorach’s vision.

“Typically, it’s [the board’s] job to judge ‘Do we like the architecture or not,’” Hickman said. “This is another layer because the architecture has some artwork in front of it, which is a little bit different kind of task than they are normally given. I think it’ll be interesting to see how that conversation goes.”

Construction of the 11-story, 751-stall parking garage is expected to be completed in August. The goal is to have the artwork completed then as well, Mandelbaum said.

Hickman said a working model of the art will be made this fall and likely placed on a downtown structure to see how it works. Once any bugs are worked out, the steel supports and blades will be manufactured. He expects that once all the pieces are in hand, it will take about a month to install on the side of the garage.

Hickman said he’s excited to see the final version of Mevorach’s artwork.

“There are all kinds of artworks that have been done on the side of parking garages and a couple that are pretty dynamic and move a bit,” he said. “Nothing I’ve seen, though, moves and  incorporates a screen or light element.

“This is the kind of thing that is consistent for Des Moines,” Hickman said. “In the last 10 years we’ve done a lot of things that set Des Moines apart. This will be another thing.”



The people behind the garage artwork

A look at the people involved with the artwork planned on the west wall of the parking garage under construction at Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street:

Justin Mandelbaum, principal with Mandelbaum Properties, a family-owned and Des Moines-based real estate development and investment firm. Mandelbaum is the son of John Mandelbaum, who prior to starting Mandelbaum Properties, was the co-founder and president of Crowley Mandelbaum Commercial Real Estate brokerage firm. Before joining the family business, Justin Mandelbaum was co-founder of Vespera Investments, a real estate development firm that focused on socially and environmentally conscious community developments in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Justin Mandelbaum, who returned to Des Moines in 2008, earned degrees with concentrations in real estate and finance from the Wharton School and the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also founder and president of Mainframe Studios, an affordable workspace for artists located at 900 Keosauqua Way.

Yorame Mevorach, internationally -known artist who splits his time between Des Moines and Paris. The Isreali-born Mevorach, who goes by Oyoram professionally, studied filmmaking at the Beit Zvi School for the Performing Arts in Tel Aviv. After moving to Paris, he studied at the Sorbonne. In 1993 he founded his company, Off-Screen Motion Pictures, which produces his videos for out-of-the-box sites, wrote Michael Morain, in a profile of Mevroach published in dsm Magazine this spring (. [http://bit.ly/2lMUQfw).] When Christian Dior officials asked Mevroach to “spiff up their flagship store near the Champs-Elysees, in 2007, he filled its gleaming rotunda with ‘digital frescoes’ that enlivened the space with dreamlike animations,” Morain wrote. Mevorach’s video artwork can be found in numerous high-end boutiques around the world.  

Tim Hickman, principal of Des Moines-based Substance Architecture. Hickman, according to his online biography, has directed the design of dozens of higher education, athletic and transportation projects over the past 30 years. Among them are projects at the University of Iowa including the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center, Blank Honors Center and Newton Road Parking Facility, winner of a National Honor Award for Architecture from the American Institute of Architects. Hickman led the design of the Pappajohn Higher Education Center in Des Moines and the Multimodal Parking Facility at the University of Northern Iowa. He currently is president of the board of directors for the Greater Des Moines Public Arts Foundation.