The piece is called 'Chirality', meaning 'handedness', and is a large scale tensegrity sculpture that was designed and built for Burning Man 2015 in the span of four months. It was built onsite by a dedicated crew of 8, with a total volunteer base of 30.

Tensegrity structures are highly responsive, ultralight, and very strong. They also happen to be incredibly difficult to build, which is what made this such a fun engineering challenge. We set out to build a tensegrity structure that could be climbed, to allow the viewer experience the dynamics firsthand, and learn to trust the fundamental strength and compliance of tensegrity.

Chirality is seen in physics when the spin of a particle is used to define its handeness, or in chemistry when molecules cannot be superimposed onto their mirror images. 'Handedness' is essential to the technique of developing a tensegrity structure: when you stare down the axis, each progressive layer alternates from Left to Right, interwoven in space. When viewing Chirality, there is a moment of alignment down the axis which provides insight into the fundamental techniques of tensegrity. The form represents a loose interpretation of a molecule.

Tensegrity represents a hybrid of art and engineering, two disciplines that I've been passionate about. The goal was to make the technique accessible and find a way to map the forces and responsive aspect of the structure, a like a realtime FEA. The structure had LEDs triggered by accelerometers embedded within the end caps, and changed as the structure was climbed. At night it became a structural data visualization, resembling a twinkling point cloud at night.

The true beauty for me lies in the process we developed, the hard earned learning experiences, and the team that grew together. The sculpture happened almost by accident. This is the story of how it all came to life.

Step 1: Wait, What Did I Just Commit To?

Working on an art piece for Burning Man is like running a startup in your free time. It challenged me on all levels: driving concept, pioneering a new method of construction, building a team, keeping the team happy, coordinating fabrication & engineering, endless mechanical design, sweeping the shop, and taking out the trash. It took a whole new level of learning and self sacrifice to bring this thing to life.

We took a challenging construction technique and brought it from conception to fruition in an incredibly harsh environment on an accelerated timeline. Here's what proved essential to the process:

  1. Maker Community: This piece was built in American Steel Studios in West Oakland, CA. It is a hub of the maker movement, a community brimming with creativity, and produces a large portion of the art for Burning Man. If I had not participated in artworks through the Flux Foundation and Autodesk's Pier 9 Residency, this project would not have been possible.
  2. Team: I was fortunate enough to have recruited the right team and the rest came together almost as an afterthought. Our build team consisted of the following rockstars:
    • Katherine Barton - General Counsel, Sanity Check, And Best Helper

    • Devon Penney - Animator
    • Natalie Walsh - Fabric Design

    • Ken Caluawerts - Electronics Design & Software Development

    • Jack Kalish - Lighting Effects

    • Rachel Ciaverella - Electronics/Fabric/Drill Press

    • Atil Iscen - Software Analysis

    • Ekin Senturk - Structural Engineering

    • Many Others Including, But Not Limited To: Johann Karkheck, AJ Romine, Pamela Pascual, Vytas Sunspiral, Joe O'Connor, Jonathan McKeever, Ashley Cuppet, Jamie Trowbridge, Gordon Kirkwood, Dustin Fieder, Tory Voight, Brittany Powers, Aaron Porterfield, Bryan Hermannson, Owen Laine, Shelby Clark

  3. Funding: I was incredibly fortunate to have found a private source of funding through Sonjia Smith. She was attending Burning Man for the first time and wanted to contribute from afar. She spurred the whole thing, and i'm incredibly grateful. One of my top moments at Burning Man was getting to connect while we were out there, and talk through the experiences with her.
  4. Budget: This was evolved over the course of the project, but was first and foremost the driver of decisions. We started out with a very small sum compared to most large scale art, so it was important to allocate resources and source materials effectively. I'm proud to say that we totally nailed the budget.
    • 40% Mechanical
    • 20% Electrical
    • 20% Infrastructure
    • 10% Fabric
    • 10% Contingency
  5. Sticks & String: I found it was really helpful to make maquettes; it allowed me to fail quickly, fearlessly, and early. I bought a bulk order kit of Tensegritoy for most of the discovery stage, and it was the best purchase I ever made.
  6. Mentors: Over the past several years i'd worked in various capacities for the Flux Foundation and learned a ton. A huge thanks to Peter Kimmelman, Catie Magee, Wes Skinner, Thwen Chaloemtiarana, Jess Hobbs, Paul Franke, Marc Hertlein, and everyone at Flux for providing me with invaluable project experience, friendship, labor trades, scrap metal, tools, and mentorship. These are the people that taught me to build art through community and community through art.
<p>You did a great job, specially in detailing. I'm doing research on Tensegrity Structures and I have to tell you, the details are great. I also invite you guys to take a look at Tensegrity Structures that I've made before.</p><p>https://www.instructables.com/member/Arian_S/</p>
<p>I'm in awe, excellent job!</p>
<p>Really really really really lovely write up - Thank you so much for sharing your whole process &lt;3</p>
<p>:) Wanna join up for the next one?</p>
<p>:D Prolly! There is some talk of some friends and I building a giant Pizza Slice.....more on that soon.</p>
<p>Your instructable made me wanting to know you personally!</p><p>The most inspiring and beautiful things are those I can't figure out how they are made at first glance.</p>
<p>By the way I thought about it in context of this: http://www.sidefx.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=2662&amp;Itemid=304 and simulated evolution in general. What do you think about it?</p>
<p>That's super cool! I can't think of a direct way to tie it into the design process as we know of it, but makes me want to incorporate it into the next round. We'll be doing something related to DNA. Thanks for sharing.</p>
<p>Way to go on this beast of an instructable. So fun seeing the whole build story from start to finish!</p>
<p>Thanks for the little Natalie on the shoulder! I'll keep her always there</p>
<p>Wow, this is amazing!</p>

About This Instructable




More by buchananwp:Cellular Tensegrity At Burning Man Tensegrity Goes Big For Burning Man  Save The World One Drop At A Time 
Add instructable to: