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Making the Silver End structure

When we were commissioned by Focal Point Gallery to create an installation for their first Radical Essex weekend, we quickly established that we wanted to make something of significant visible scale without using lots of materials or money to get there. We got interested in nodal, lightweight frame structures as well as the string sculptures of Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth, which created or suggested space and form while using minimal material to do so. We loved the idea of something that could be packed away into a kit of very little parts, and could be used again and again.

With very little time to develop the project, we worked iteratively between models and drawings, and full scale mock-ups to establish how best this could be realised. We would only have one day on site to erect the real thing so we knew nothing could go wrong. With our regular collaborator Thomas Goodey, and our local fabricators Wesbroom, we started with scale models and small mockups, then made an initial test mockup of a single tetrahedron, and finally erected the whole structure for a test run out in the fields by Thomas’s studio. We developed a multi-flanged connector and experimented with different kinds of shockcord to create a taut string effect, while being secure and easy to install.

The tetrahedral module was chosen for its inherent irregularity when tessellated – but this also meant irregular loading and stresses. While we got our lovely engineers Momentum to verify the structure as safe when up, the behavior of the structure while in the process of going up was another matter. Doing it ourselves in the dry run meant that we discovered the challenges in advance and had a smooth run on the day.