Solar Flair

George W. Hart

Solar Flair is a five-foot diameter outdoor sculpture in Topeka, Kansas. There are sixty identical flat pieces made of 3/16 inch thick stainless steel.  The parts are joined together with stainless steel bolts and brackets at twenty 3-fold and twelve 5-fold vertices.  Each part connects from one type of vertex to the other, passing through the interior en route.  It feels like they are linking arms---swinging their partners while dancing together.

In fact there are two different versions of the sculpture: one in downtown Topeka, a block from the Kansas state capital building, and a second in front of the Bartlett and West company's Topeka office.  This is the other one.  Can you see how the two are different? 

This rendering shows the difference.  They are congruent, but they differ in that they are mirror images of each other.  Notice how from the central 5-way vertex, the parts spiral out and clockwise in one version but counterclockwise in the other.  Study the top two images on this page to see which is which.

In both cases, sixty identical copies of this part shape are bolted together.  But for one of them, the part is always flipped over.  The small tab in the center is for bolting each piece to the neighbor that it "links elbows" with.  The design keeps the tabs largely hidden, but the cross-connections add enormous rigidity.

Assembly #1

The sculpture was assembled part-by-part, in place.  This is the one in downtown Topeka.  We started by attaching the lowest pieces to the threaded rod in the foundation.  Slanted spacers tilt the parts so they are positioned at the correct angle relative to horizontal.

There are two types of connecting bracket, each with its own dihedral angle.  Here, we are attaching two brackets to each piece before attaching the pieces to the growing sculpture.

When halfway done, it is a confusing jumble.  It is a constant puzzle to get each piece positioned, but they fit perfectly.  The hardest part is tracking down any loose nuts and making sure they are all tight. 

When done, it looks great.  I'm very happy with the result.  The base has lights installed and there is a button nearby which night-time passersby can push that causes it to cycle through a variety of colors.

Assembly #2

The next day, we built the second instance in a similar manner. Note that this is the opposite handedness.  Again we start at the bottom and work upward, adding one piece at a time, bolting the bottom pieces to the foundation and then each piece to its neighbors. 

Each piece has ten bolt holes, so there are 600 nuts, 600 bolts, and 1200 washers to deal with.  There are also 180 connecting brackets, sixty in each of three types.

Halfway done, it looks pretty good.  And yearns for completion while pointing in crazy directions.

Then there is a final frenzy to get all the nuts and bolts tight. We tap on it and listen for any rattling.

I don't generally recommend climbing on public sculpture, but as artist I felt entitled to celebrate its completion (while checking it for rigidity...)

Watch the video of its assembly.

Thank you to everyone at Bartlett and West who worked with me on every aspect of this project including the many hours of assembly work.  Thank you to Joe Pennington for fabricating the components.  Thank you also to Elisabeth Heathfield and Joe Pennington for photography.

Copyright 2016, George W. Hart