George W. Hart

STEAM is a sculpture that I designed to be assembled by a group of students at Brown University.  It is made of sixty laser-cut birch plywood components and is about thirty inches in diameter.  The term STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, all of which are involved in the design of the sculpture.

Here is the start of the construction, on the afternoon of March 6, 2014.  We're working in the Brown Design Workshop.  Three wooden components at a time are joined together to make twenty spiral modules.  They are held together with both wood glue and cable ties.  Then we put them aside for a while to allow the glue to dry.

Next, the first five modules are assembled together into a larger structure.  We are working in the air, with five people holding the modules and five others standing between them, making the connections.

I decorated the pieces with randomly generated laser-etched Voronoi patterns.  Each part has four small rectangular holes where it joins to four neighbors with cable ties.  The mating edges are beveled, so there is some face-to-face contact area where the glue is applied. They are finished with two coats of tung oil.

Using both glue and cable ties makes for a very rigid structure yet it can be built fairly quickly with a group of people working in parallel. It is intricate but highly regular, so the same types of connections are made all around in many places.  The cable ties hold the parts together while the glue is drying and adapt automatically to the angles between the planes.

After the first ten modules are connected together, we can turn it over and rest it on the end of a work bench.  It is half complete at this point, but still tricky to finish.

Many people can address it from all sides as they figure out where to place additional modules.  Each joint is glued as the structure grows.  Because of the many overs and unders, it is a challenging 3D jig-saw puzzle, even though all the parts are the same shape.

When all the parts are in place, we used wire clippers to cut the protruding ends of the cable ties, leaving a nicely finished appearance.  Again, it has to sit for a while for the glue to dry.

The result is very rigid, with a light, open feeling, simultaneously geometric and organic.  When seen in person, many people observe its inner and outer layers and think at first that it is two disconnected structures.  But because the layers connect alternately in cycles of five (and five is an odd number) a little study shows that it is all one connected component.

Later, the building folks hung it up high in the entryway of the Barus-Holley Engineering and Physics Building.

If you're ever in Providence, RI, go visit it and try to make sense of its unique structure.  I hope you enjoy it!

Watch a video of the construction to get a better sense of the design.

Thank you to all the students who participated in the assembly event, especially Lukas Winklerprins, who took care of many arrangements.  Thank you also to Elizabeth Love, who took many of the above photos.

Copyright 2014, George W. Hart