#LifeatStewart / Stewart’s Structural Engineers Bring Giant Helix Sculpture to Life

September 13th / 2017

Stewart’s Structural Engineers Bring Giant Helix Sculpture to Life

Students entering the new Pharmacy and Health Sciences building at High Point University this fall will see a giant sculpture in the atrium that celebrates one of the smallest things found in nature: DNA.

At 51’ tall and 18’ in diameter, the 6-ton helix sculpture by Charlotte artist Stephen Smith fills up the space in a big way, and created a good brain workout for Stewart’s structural engineers.

When I asked project manager Mike Gardina, PE where the challenges lay in designing for such a large sculpture, he replied, “We modeled the structure in 3D software to understand performance under earthquake loading as well as the relaxation of the spring feature of the structure” noting that they were unable to apply any of the sculpture’s weight to the building’s roof by hanging it. He credits design engineer Kurt Villella, PE with most of the “heavy lifting” of the design.

The sheer size of the piece brought some logistical challenges as well. Gardina said only one bender in the US, located in Portland, Oregon, could do the work due to the compound curvature of the columns and the size of the members, so those pieces were fabricated on the other side of the country. In addition, the sculpture required a pretty robust connection at the base to help with rigidity. These pieces required three splices per column in order to even get them in the door.

The team also worked with the artist to find material choices that would bring the vision to life in a secure, stable way. The original design called for lighting the sculpture internally, but Stewart’s engineers knew they couldn’t allow large openings in the steel tubes that would weaken the structure, so another option had to be found. The solution came in the form of a plastic material that covers the steel tubes and allows the back lit glow the artist envisioned.

Believed to be the largest helix constructed in the US, the new sculpture at High Point University creates an impressive focal point in the new building’s atrium. Bringing this design to life involved creativity and engineering excellence. It’s a good thing our engineers have both in their DNA!



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