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Steel

Flower power

By Russ Olexa

September 2010 - Future Flower is a unique, 14-m-high, wind-powered metallic flower located on the banks of the River Mersey in Southern Widnes, Cheshire, United Kingdom. Architecture firm Tonkin Liu, London, designed the structure and sustainability engineers XCO2, structural engineers Eckersley O'Callaghan and art fabricators Mike Smith Studiobuilt it through a collaborative effort. The Future Flower was commissioned by an art program funded by the North West Development Agency, part of a wider Waterfront Regeneration Program that will clean up vacant, polluted riverfront land in Southern Widnes.

The program will create 1,100 jobs for the local economy through the development of a modern business park and leisure facilities, which will be built on more than 200 acres of former industrial land.

Future Flower was unveiled on April 1 and is intended to spur the repopulation of the waterfront and draw visitors from the nearby Catalyst Museum and Spike Island Visitor Center eastward onto the Trans Pennine Trail.

Modular structure
The steel structural frame was constructed from triangles and pentagons, which form an icosi-dodecahedron, and 120 perforated mild-steel petals are affixed to the structure. Within the petals, a central mast with branches holds 60 low-voltage LED lights that are powered by three small wind turbines attached to the stem.

"All the material was 355-grade steel in various thicknesses," says Mike Smith, director of Mike Smith Studio, London. "The base plate was the thickest at 30 mm, and the petals the thinnest at 5 mm. The circular hollow section, which forms the mast, is 16 mm thick. All the components were hot-dip galvanized, with the petals being sandblasted to increase the thickness of the coating."

Smith points out, "The flower head was modular so that they could remove or add components to increase or decrease the weight, according to the position of the crane and the ground conditions. It had been completely preassembled in the studio prior to installation. Everything was calculated based on the maximum dimension or weight possible to convey and assemble at the site, given the ground conditions, access and budget."

To build the fabrication, workers used laser cutting to cut the 120 petals and the main flower head supporting structure, along with ancillary connecting plates, says Smith. "These were then folded after cutting. The perforations in the flower were graded based on a Fibonacci sequence developed by Tonkin Liu. Welding was mainly done on the mast and supporting structure for the petals. The access apertures in the mast were cut using a manual plasma cutter. The tubes, which form the structural elements in the flower, were produced using a CNC rotary tube laser from CAD drawings, reducing the amount of work in cutting the 'cod mouths' where multiple tubes joined a central stem." The ground at the edge of the River Mersey is very soft, and installation logistics were a challenge. "The site flooded during the installation at high tide," Smith says. "It was also built at the maximum-capacity dimension for the equipment, which we could actually get on site. The spider crane and the cherry pickers were at maximum extension to install the flower head. We couldn't get larger-capacity lifting and access equipment to the very remote location."

In addition, the design was changed to build it properly. "The height was reduced from the original brief, where it was much taller," Smith says. "We realized that we could only construct it on site if we used a helicopter. This was not an option financially, so it was scaled down. Also, at one stage, the petals were to be produced in colored polycarbonate, but this was discounted as it was felt that it would weather badly and be more susceptible to vandalism."

The project was initiated in January 2008 when Smith had his first meetings with Tonkin Liu. It took 18 months for the project to be commissioned and another three months for the order. After Smith received an initial computer model from Tonkin Liu, it took approximately 14 weeks to complete the installation. FFJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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