Monday, July 17, 2006

American Public Sculpture In The Early 21st Century ... (Or The Revenge Of Neptune)

"When architect James Ingo Freed set out to conceive a memorial for the Air Force, he faced a problem of weight and wisp: How to design a monumental structure that evokes that most structureless of mediums, the air itself?

Inspiration came while Freed was watching television. He happened upon footage of a team of Air Force jets performing the dramatic bomb-burst formation, in which several planes shoot skyward in unison and then peel off from each other, creating high-rising vapor trails that curl over at their tops.

Three years and more than $30 million later, stainless-steel versions of those tapering trails are rising on a promontory just west of the Pentagon. When the project is completed in September, three towering tendrils -- the tallest reaching almost 300 feet in the air -- will arc with spectacular grace into the wild blue yonder.

That these 17,000-ton fingers of glistening metal seem impervious to gravity is a tribute to Freed, who also designed Washington's Holocaust Museum. (He died in December.) But it is equally a tribute to a battalion of engineers who worked with the architect and his colleagues at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners to overcome not only gravity but also the treacherous forces of wind and vibration.

Early in the design process, it turns out, wind-tunnel tests revealed that those forces could send the silver spires into a series of oscillations that could lead to catastrophic failure. The solution involved an exotic trick of physics.

Hidden high inside those elegant metallic spires are 13 steel boxes." ...

Rick Weiss "Air Force Memorial a Tribute to Flight and Engineering" Washington Post July 17, 2006

Air Force Memorial, the Nation's Capital, as under construction, June 19, 2006.

Photo credit: (c) Air Force Memorial Foundation. With thanks.


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