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Dynamic Sculpture Caps Renovation at University

Contemporary art sculpture called, 'SubDivision'
Those who scale the staircase can get a closer view of the new sculpture in Fenton Hall at the University of Oregon. Photograph by Brooks Dierdorff

A new sculpture encapsulates the past, present, and future of the renovated 107-year-old Fenton Hall at the University of Oregon.

February 19, 2013—In 2011 the University of Oregon completed an impressive renovation of the school’s 107-year-old Fenton Hall, transforming its stark, antiquated interior into an inviting space awash in colorful tiles and modern fixtures. But the highlight of the redesign didn’t come until the end of 2012, when hall’s atrium was fitted with a massive new art installation.

The 14 ft high, 10 ft long, and 5 ft wide contemporary sculpture SubDivision is suspended over an entryway, where it immediately leads the eye up through the levels of the 20,000 sq ft building, providing an up-close look at its 500 individually cut and curved tessellated anodized aluminum components and the more than 5,000 aluminum rivets that hold those pieces together. Volkan Alkanoglu, RA (AKNW), LEED-AP, the founding principal of the Atlanta-based architecture firm Volkan Alkanoglu Design LLC, was commissioned to create the sculpture following a request for qualification process.

The University of Oregon in conjunction with the Oregon Arts Commission and the Percent for Art initiative—a program that mandates that 1 percent of the construction funds for new or remodeled state buildings with construction budgets of $100,000 or more be set aside for the acquisition of artwork—held a two-stage search process for an artist who could design an installation that would reflect the history of Fenton Hall. In its early years, the hall housed the school’s library and later its law school. But for the past 35 years, it has held the mathematics department. 

A committee comprising members of the Fenton Hall math department, local artists, University of Oregon officials, and Oregon Arts Commission representatives selected Alkanoglu on the basis of his written application and design proposal for a sculpture featuring three distinct ellipses, one for each of the departments that have been housed in Fenton Hall. “The ellipses merge into a continuous loop, connecting the past to the present and the future,” Alkanoglu said in written responses to Civil Engineering online. Moreover, he said, “the contemporary artwork is developed as a contrast to the architecture of the building, introducing a synthetic balance.”

Alkanoglu designed the sculpture using the Catmull-Clark algorithm, which is most commonly used in computer graphics to create smooth surfaces through subdivision modeling. “Catmull-Clark surfaces are defined recursively,” Alkanoglu explained. “The pattern allows for multiple readings and a playful ambiguity between surface, aperture, and transparency.” Once the sculpture’s primary geometry was established, Alkanoglu delivered a digital three-dimensional model to the project engineers at Buro Happold, an international engineering firm headquartered in Bath, United Kingdom.

Another angle of the aluminum 'Subdivision' sculpture

The sculpture's aluminum pieces are held together with more than
5,000 aluminum rivets. Photograph by Brooks Dierdorff

Buro Happold was responsible for devising a method for hanging the sculpture that would be safe and relate well to the geometry and aesthetics of the artwork, said Derrick Roorda, S.E., LEED AP, an associate principal of Buro Happold, in response to written questions from Civil Engineering online. The team determined that galvanized steel cables would best meet those needs. A finite element analysis ensured that the team used a gauge of wire that was sufficient to limit distortions at the connection points, and a separate analysis determined the optimum orientation of the sculpture within the atrium, Roorda said.

On the basis of the analyses, the team determined that the sculpture required the support of five cables. Three of the cables extend from the ceiling to carry the 60 lb load of the sculpture and balance it in space while the other two connect to the atrium walls to keep the sculpture stable in the event of an earthquake, Alkanoglu said. The Buro Happold team was pleased to help devise a safe hanging method that complements the beauty of the sculpture, Roorda said. “When we get to work on an art project, it means that the art has arrived at the scale where engineering is required,” he said. “Every artist and every piece is unique by nature, so there is always something new to learn on every one.”

In addition to the hanging mechanism, one of the greatest challenges of the project was installing the sculpture within the narrow atrium space, Alkanoglu said. A large scaffold was used to erect the sculpture in four sections, which were temporarily supported and then connected to form an almost monocoque, self-supporting structure, he said.

Following nearly a year of work, the sculpture was completed in December 2012. Alkanoglu said he hopes the piece excites viewers and generates greater interest in public art. “The changing reflections and patterns created by the new sculpture during the day and night within the atrium space will not just link all levels [of the building] but [will] also allow for continuously new visual experiences for its occupants,” Alkanoglu said, adding that the installation is a “visually pleasing addition to the identity of Fenton Hall and the University of Oregon.”  



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