If you happen to be in New York City — be sure to look up.
The south facade of the Empire State Building is being transformed into a 32-story screen ablaze with real-time election results, campaign photos, Instagram mosaics and animations — a spectacle befitting the final hours of an historic, high-stakes, over-the-top campaign.
When the 45th president of the United States is officially announced, the winner’s towering visage will glow over Manhattan.
The display, produced by Obscura Digital, is a collaboration by CNN, Instagram, CA Technologies and the skyscraper’s management. It’s one part news-delivering tool, and one part crowd-sourced art project: A countdown clock will mark when polls close across the country, and massive charts will track the candidates’ progress as they compete for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
There will also be flashing lights and animated images of fireworks. And if you’ve ever posted an election-themed photo to Instagram with the hashtag #MyVote, it just might be featured in the display.
“We are using those images, the faces of the supporters of each candidate, to create these projections,” said Ed O’Keefe, a senior vice president at CNN. Since September, CNN has documented voters as part of its #MyVote social media tour. The election night display is the tour’s grand finale.
“We wanted to break the fourth wall,” O’Keefe said. “We wanted to make a connection between the television program, which is very much speaking at people, and this election, which has fostered so many emotions and conversations among people.”
Adding to the dramatic atmosphere is the fact that both candidates are notably in the vicinity: Donald Trump and his fans will be following the election results from the New York Hilton in midtown. Just two miles away, Hillary Clinton will be doing the same with her supporters at the Jacob. K. Javitz Convention Center.
“It really just struck us as this incredibly unique opportunity,” O’Keefe said. “After the most vitriolic campaign, and months of back-and-forth across the nation, they both end up here.”
If you’re not in New York — not to worry: CNN will televise the Empire State Building display and share it on social media. There will also be similar, smaller-scale events in other cities: The facade of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., will be splashed with live election results and Instagram images, as will the exterior of Miracle Mile shopping mall on the Las Vegas Strip.
Meanwhile, at the end of the night, San Francisco’s Colt Tower will be lit red or blue to symbolize California’s choice for America’s next president.
This isn’t the first time that the Empire State Building has put on an election-themed show. On Election Day 2012, the top of the building was bathed in blue light when CNN called the race for President Barack Obama. The skyscraper has become well known for its elaborate light displays; last year, filmmakers projected massive portraits and moving images of endangered species on the building to promote the documentary “Racing Extinction.”
But the event planned for this election night is the most ambitious yet, said Anthony E. Malkin, chairman and chief executive officer of Empire State Realty Trust, which owns the building.
“This is performing without a net,” Malkin said. “It’s real time, and the content has been specifically prepared for this purpose, and none of that has ever been done before.”
The light display will be created with 40 projectors perched atop a building three blocks away. The projection will cover 70,000 square feet — “one of the world’s most enormous canvasses,” O’Keefe said.
And it’s not just any canvass: “The Empire State building is an international phenomenon,” Malkin said. “It connects with individuals around the world in a very personal way.” Now, he hopes the luminous extravaganza might help a weary nation rally.
“This is still the best political system in the world, and I think this is a great way to share the results and broadcast that,” he said. “I hope it distracts people from some of the rancor, and puts us in a position to move forward.”