Public Art Through the Eyes of a Structural Engineer
Sanja Buncic is an Associate and Structural Engineer based out of our London, UK office. She is involved in many public art projects throughout the UK and abroad. Recently, we sat down with Sanja to hear how these types of projects differ from other types of structural works.
Sanja, thank you for sitting down with us today. Can you tell us what you love about working on public art projects?
Thanks. I have to say that while I like working on all my projects and love being an engineer, what’s lovable about art projects is that they’re really challenging. I like to be challenged both at work and in life.
For engineers, art projects are challenging because we need to be creative and adaptable to ensure that we’re able to bring the artistic vision to life. So, working on these types of projects is rewarding because they’re dynamic and engaging. Also, because these pieces are inspiring, they really serve to pull the best out of the people who work on them as well as the people who view the finished piece.
That’s so beautiful. Are there any recent standout art projects that you can share with us?
I really love all my art projects and they all have a special place in my heart, but I’ll talk about the most recent one I completed, since the details are fresh.
This was a pavilion designed to be used as a Visitor Information Centre for the Oman Across Ages Museum in Manah, Oman.
We designed a 17m x 8m x 4m shape made from 50mm diameter tubes, which is extremely ambitious for the span and loading that the shape would have to resist.
We used digital and modern methods of design, including Grasshopper, to run many scenarios before deciding on the final design.
I’m excited to share visuals once the museum is open but for now it’s top secret!
Wow, that sounds so unique! Speaking of unique, what is a project you’ve worked on that provided really unique challenges or required a new approach to problem solving?
Hm, well I can think of two, actually. Both are unique because they required us to accommodate some sort of movement, which is something you don’t often see with structural engineering. Often, structural engineers are concerned with beams and boxes and grids, rather than mechanisms that allow for safe movement.
The first project I can think of are the Victoria Nova Pavilions in London, UK. These are a series of three kiosks, one of which has the best donuts in town, by the way.
Anyhow, one of the kiosks has these huge doors that are 2.5m high by 2m wide, which pivot at high level. The doors also, when fully opened, provide a cantilevered roof over the entrance into the kiosk. Because of their position and orientation, we couldn’t use a simple hydraulic press to open the doors. If we did, they would push to a certain point and then shut, so you wouldn’t be able to open it fully. So, we developed a solution with 2D_3D, the fabricators, to create a hidden motor with a tube that moves up and down and pushes the doors open.
Designing the safety lock for the mechanism to ensure it works safely was key – we included a safety lip/pin that mechanically slots into place on a spring. When you close the door, you push a button to release the pin.
The other project that comes to mind is flock, which is an installation of 750 hanging birds in a commercial building. The building is in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, which is a seismic zone.
Safety was an important consideration here – it was crucial to allow the birds to move in all directions, without hitting the interior structure.
To do this, we played with the positions of the diagonal stainless-steel wires, grouped in threes, holding the flock. This created a huge pendulum with a limited horizontal displacement. The entire flock could move in all directions but was not allowed to hit the interior. We also had to develop a connection between the birds with security cables that loop around every bird. The purpose of this was to hold the builds in the air in case of a failure of the connections.
That’s one of my favourite projects of yours, it’s so beautiful. Tell me, do you find there are differences between working with architects and artists?
There’s actually a very thin line between a good architect and a good artist and this line can sometimes get blurred.
What is true for both is that in order for the process to be successful, engineers have to be brought into the project early. It’s important to have a creative exchange at the concept stage to allow for a creative process that will enable the vision to become a reality.
So, I think collaboration is key, but that’s true for any project.
Absolutely true! One final question – why is public art important to you?
I love working on these projects because they provide a way to express myself as an engineer. These types of projects show that engineers are not just about beams and columns and grids – we are playful, and we want to create something beautiful.
Thanks for sitting down with us today, Sanja. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you.
To view more of Sanja’s and Entuitive’s public art works, watch the video below.