Computer designed fiber art installed in Boston

CIO | May 4, 2015

Six cranes completed the installation of a sculpture that spans almost half an acre above a Boston park.

It took 50 people, six cranes and extensive computer modeling software to design and install a massive sculpture in downtown Boston.

Spanning almost half an acre, the 2,000 pound fiber net structure was created by local artist Janet Echelman and uses 100 miles of twine. Suspended above the city's Rose Kennedy Greenway, the mesh moves with the wind.

The installation of the structure was a feat in itself. It was attached to three buildings bordering the greenway, with its highest attachment point at 365 feet or 111 meters. The sculpture exerts about 100,000 pounds or 45,000 kg of force on each of the connections.

At four of the points, engineers have installed for load cells that can log real time data on the forces being exerted.

Patrick McCafferty
Associate Principal, Arup International
The data loggers that are collecting the force data for us are hardwired directly to the lighting control devices so what we're able to do is extract the forces in real time, see how the forces in the structure are evolving overtime and have that directly influence the way the sculpture will be lit at night.

Some work still needs to be done before the sculpture can be lit, but you can get the idea with other sculptures Echelman has installed, like this one in Vancouver.

The sculpture covers an area in Boston that used to be home to an elevated highway. The engineering megaproject called the Big Dig moved that elevated highway underground and turned the space into a mile and a half of parks.

Janet Echelman
I started thinking about how this place has been transformed over generations. That this was water with boats filled with tea in the 1700s. And then a dense city grew up because they cut down the tri mountains, think Beacon Hill and created land. So those three mountains I started with an empty voice

Echelman did extensive modeling in Maya design software in order to figure out how the sculpture would react to the elements.

We began to model these structure lines and then extruded nets that come down and the tool understands the constraints of my craft. Each element shows the twine diameter, it's weight, it's break strength and it helps us understand how it will drape with gravity.

The Boston sculpture, which will be on display until October follows installations in Vancouver, Seattle, Amsterdam, Sydney and other cities.

In Boston, Nick Barber, IDG News Service.