When engineers and sculptures collide…

  • Event : Event
  • Remdial :
  • Structural :
  • Hydraulic :
  • All : All

“Art without engineering is dreaming; engineering without art is calculating.” Steven Roberts

For most people viewing artwork – and particularly in the case of sculptures – the joy is in appreciating the artists’ work, endeavours, interpretation, and skill.  But have you ever considered that, sometimes, the piece of art might have some engineering behind it?

For over ten years now, Partridge has sponsored and is proud to work closely with Sculpture by the Sea, Australia’s largest annual outdoor sculpture exhibition.  The exhibition is arguably most famous for its presence at Bondi Beach in Sydney, although it is also held annually at Cottesloe Beach in Perth, WA.

Each year, Partridge Event provides engineering advice and certification to many of the talented exhibiting artists, from concept design stage through to production and installation.  The engineering addresses aspects such as wind analysis, stability checks, and deflection including movement and sway.  Appropriate footing options are also designed or reviewed, taking into account any recommendations to mitigate potential failures, public interaction and safety.  These are often considerations that might not typically apply if the art was exhibited in a traditional indoor gallery – particularly in the case of wind loads, or balancing a piece on loose turf or a rocky outcrop!

Naturally, the engineering simply aims to ensures the sculpture performs as the artist intends, and for the public to enjoy it.

For this year’s Sculpture by the Sea 21st Anniversary Bondi exhibition (on show now!) one of the artists that Partridge Event provided engineering assistance to is renowned artist and sculptor, Ken Unsworth, for his sculpture “The Honey Trap”.  It’s a classic example of where some engineering is required to assess loads, stability, and footings – as you’ll see in the images below.  (You can click to enlarge).

Partridge designed cables to support the weight of the ball for the wind. Advice was given on load testing of the connections of the cables into the ball, which is astoundingly 3mm thick. Testing was then carried out by hanging 500 kilograms from the cable!  Finally, the footings were designed to ensure the supporting columns remained stable and were appropriately connected.

Another sculpture Partridge Event engineered this year is Linton Meagher’s “Lookout for me”.  The work was created by volunteers from retirement homes around Sydney expressing the notion of bridging seas, cultures and generations by sewing together flags of their favourite beach.

Partridge Event designed a practical footing frame, cleverly concealed in the sand, and also the connections for the timber frame sculpture.  Stability checks were carried out to confirm ballast requirements and certification.

“Temple” is an experiential and site-specific pavilion sculpture described by the artists Isobel Lord and Sophie Lanigan as “an architectural ephemera reflecting the landscape beyond. It functions as a reflective temple to the special peculiarity of never stepping into the same space twice”.

Partridge Event was responsible for the engineering certification of the Temple sculpture and worked closely with the artists from the concept design stage through to completion. The structure had to balance the visual lightness required for the artists’ vision with the ability to resist wind loads on the sculpture in the exposed environment of Tamarama Beach.

It uses a modular structural steel frame in combination with timber framed walls and a timber base frame buried in the sand to provide the overall stiffness and stability required.

Engineering for sculptures – particularly those in a temporary exhibition – is a specialist area.  Our engineering design codes are built around ensuring structures have a design life of 50 years.  It is both impractical and uneconomical to apply such design factors to structures that will only be insitu for two weeks!  It therefore requires some experience and knowledge to navigate through the structure and establish how much and where the maths kicks in – all the time whilst ensuring that the artist’s vision and intentions are not compromised.   In many ways, this shares the same principle Partridge has when it comes to collaborating with architects on more traditional structures.

Sculpture by the Sea 2017 is on in Sydney until November 5th.  If you’re able to attend, you’ll see 100 incredible sculptures by artists from Australia and across the world.  Partridge Event is proud to have had a hand in once again transforming this spectacular coastal walk.

Below are some other examples of this year’s sculptures which Partridge was involved with…

David Ball – Orb

Jane Cowie – Swirling Surround.

All photos supplied by Sculpture by the Sea.