On Friday, Oct. 30, the KU School of Engineering dedicated their new building, LEEP2. Prominently featured in the building's new atrium is "Structural Evolution" a sculpture designed by Department of Architecture student Perry May, which weighs in at around 2,000 pounds and measures 35 feet long and 8 feet wide.
May submitted the winning entry to a sculptural art competition last winter which was open to all KU students and sponsored by the School of Engineering and A. Zahner Co., a Kansas City-based architectural metals fabricator. The company is best known for the facades it has produced for several of architect Frank Gehry's buildings. Perry's entry was selected from five finalists to be fabricated with the assistance and resources from Zahner.
“A big thanks to the generous people at A. Zahner," said May. "Collaborate with them if you have the opportunity to do so. And, special thanks to the people at Zahner: Bill Zahner, and Craig Long, Trygve Wastvedt. I cannot adequately express my gratitude. Working with them has been everything I could have hoped for. They are evolving and expanding quickly with technology, while maintaining great values. They are truly the intersection between art and architecture.”
We had some time to sit down and visit with Perry about his experience in this competition and developing this sculpture. Here is our Q&A session:
Q: Why did you enter the competition?
A: I have been heavily involved with art and design my whole life. Art has been an important outlet for me and I wanted to help with the expression of new engineering facility's architecture. I wanted something that resonates with the spirit of the engineering students and staff at KU. Collaboration, growth, innovation. I wanted to learn more about the reality of architectural design. I knew working with Zahner would be a great opportunity to interact with great engineers, learn technical aspects of architectural fabrication and create a relationship with them for future collaboration.
Q: How would you describe the idea behind your sculpture?
A: I would describe the sculpture as natural growth – human progression. DNA/Genetics are at the core of organic growth, but through engineering we can alter the future. There is great power and responsibility in this. I wanted to accentuate the harmony and contrast in the relationship between the natural and the engineered. It was inspired by genetic structure. Engineering is enabled, but not limited by genetics. Genetic code does not include the things we engineer. I was taking out the lateral elements of the sculpture that, in nature, hold the genetic code. This symbolizes that we are not limited to our natural definition, only by our imagination. I wanted to highlight this relationship.
Q: How did you approach creating the sculpture?
A: It was certainly a unique opportunity to display one of nature’s most foundational structures without a compressive structural system as in nature. I decided to float the sculpture in the air. I wanted to consider the sculptural piece as perceived from interior and exterior, symbolizing growth. The surfaces translate the space between them, growing and twisting it. As your eyes move along the length of the sculpture, the opening sizes gradually increase until the metal sheet with openings in it becomes a much lighter structure defined by a voronoi diagram,iverting load paths like a section of soap film, a natural structure, accentuating the relationship between the natural and the engineered.
Q: Does the sculpture also have a function?
A: Yes, it helps shade the space from low morning sun.
Q: How did you go about making your idea come to life and what challenges did you encounter along the way?
A: We worked through many complex constraints such as clouds; limited attachments reinforcement in the bottom of beams; surfaces limiting structural options for each other, and 360 degrees of conditions. Trygve Wastvedt helped with advanced scripting. We calculated the center of mass for each panel and determined angles of two cables given available attachment locations to each panel in equilibrium. We had the limitations of the manufacturing machinery including sheet size, mill bed, roller. Rolling and fitting seams was big challenge.
Q: Did you have an surprises throughout the process?
A: When we started working on this, I pictured Trigve and I on ladders holding the hundred pound panels above our heads. It took four union sheet metal workers four days to drill, place anchors, hang cables, raise panels, join panels, and adjust cables.