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.
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:
Katherine Barton - General Counsel, Sanity Check, And Best Helper
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