Antony Gormley Sculpture Fabrication & Installation
Cambridge, Mass.
Best Project

Owner Antony Gormley Studio
Lead Design Firm Antony Gormley Studio
Lead Design Engineer Simmonds Studio
General Contractor Summit Metal Fabricators
Structural Engineer Silman
Steel Supplier Penn Stainless Products Inc.
Welding Inspectors and Consultants Downeast Welding Consultants and Inspections

Fabricating a sculpture by British artist Antony Gormley for installation in a stairwell at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s mathematics building was no easy task for Summit Metal Fabricators (SMF). The 56-ft-tall sculpture, featuring 33 polyhedrons welded together, ascends four stories from the stairwell’s floor to the building’s skylight.

While light passing through the open sculpture reflects off its rods and nodes, giving it a delicate, airy form, the art piece, called “Chord,” is actually comprised of 1,700 lb of polished stainless steel.

Specialized jigging and computer numerical control manufactured templates allowed SMF to precisely assemble the large and winding form from within its fabrication shop—doing so in just one month.

“The solution was to fabricate the sculpture in six sections horizontally rather than vertically, providing a safer work environment and avoiding compression of the art during fabrication,” SMF wrote in its Best Projects submission.

Installing the six sections in the 12-ft by 12-ft stairwell required enclosing the space in reinforced poly during construction and assembly, thus keeping the worksite and surrounding staircases separated and helping to maintain a clean and safe environment for workers and students alike.

Additionally, contractors used a peg board to orient the six separate sections of sculpture precisely with each other. Crews also used a lift-and-frame system that allowed the sections to be assembled on the ground floor and then hoisted into position. “This approach eliminated a serious fall hazard and allowed the sculpture to be assembled in the narrow stairwell,” the contractor stated.

Gormley’s “cellular polyhedral sculptures” resemble abstract and geometric forms that occur in nature, such as a turtle shell and honeycombs. The hexagonal shapes are also the architectural frame used to assemble synthetic DNA.

The project “is truly a blend of art and structure,” according to SMF’s submission form, as it required engineering calculations for each weld to maintain the designed shape while the sculpture stood vertically. Gormley said in the form that Summit’s planning and execution “achieved the highest standards of a demanding engineering protocol and the aesthetics necessary for the piece makes them one of the best partners that the Antony Gormley Studio has worked with. I feel that we have made something extraordinary and am confident that we have got the best result possible.”

Gormley also credited SMF for its ability to successfully “grapple with methods and materials” they had never worked with before.

The installation marked the 100th anniversary of the MIT mathematics building, which was designed by architect William Welles Bosworth.

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