While the Engineering Centers Building is not officially open, what will perhaps be its most famous occupant has already taken up residence.
“Sixty Strut Tensegrity Sphere,” a soaring 9-foot-wide stainless steel and wire sculpture, was installed Aug. 6 in the building’s atrium. The 500-lb. work of art hangs overhead and is visible in the glass portion of the building’s Engineering Drive entrance, known as the “prow.”
The sculpture is the work of R. Buckminster Fuller, best known as the inventor of the geodesic dome — a structure able to cover more space without internal supports than other types of enclosures. He also devised tensional integrity, or tensegrity. Tensegrity describes a structural-relationship principle in which each component of an architectural system stabilizes the others by balancing forces of compression and tension. Tensegrities can be derived from all polyhedra and may be produced in any size.
“Sixty Strut Tensegrity Sphere” is considered one of the most spectacular of Fuller’s works in this concept. The structure consists of 20 three-strut tensegrity prisms in an icosahedral (having 20 faces) form. Sixty tubes radiate outward from the center of its complex arrangement in what seems to be a dynamic event rather than a static object.
Originally created for a Dayton, Ohio bank in 1979, the sculpture was eventually donated to a Dayton art museum and later placed in storage. UW-Madison alumnus Leah Temkin saw it at a Chicago art show and purchased it as a gift to the college in memory of her late husband, chemical engineering alumnus Blair “Bud” Temkin. He and his brother started Port Shell Molding, a successful foundry in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.
The sculpture is a fitting choice for the Engineering Centers Building, set to be a new center of student activity in the engineering college, says Dean Paul Peercy. The building will house engineering student organizations in a common area and features laboratories for hands-on student project work and presentations.
“I think engineering students will be greatly inspired by this artwork,” Peercy said. “Its presence in the atrium is nothing short of majestic — it’s as much a feat of engineering skill as it is art. I think Buckminster Fuller and Bud Temkin would both be very pleased that this work is the focal point of a place where young people are training to be the engineers and problem solvers of tomorrow.”
Fuller was a true Rennaissance man — known as an inventor, architect, engineer, artist, humanitarian, mathematician, poet and cosmologist. During the course of his life, he was awarded 25 U.S. patents, authored 28 books, received 47 honorary doctorates (including one from UW-Madison) and dozens of major architectural and design awards, and created work that was purchased for the permanent collections of museums around the world. He died in 1983.
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