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allenring 07-30-2007 09:36 PM

Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
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Here are some pics of the new US Air Force Memorial in Arlington Virginia, next to the Pentagon and not far from Arlington Cemetery.

The Memorial itself is 270 feet high and appears to be soaring; its array of stainless steel arcs against the sky evokes the image of "contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as they peel back in a precision 'bomb burst' maneuver." Only three of the four contrails are depicted, as the absent fourth evokes the missing man formation traditionally used at Air Force funeral fly-overs

I love art that is site or client specific, this could not have done better. No one has to ask "But what does it mean", "Why did they do that", "Is that art?" It is also quite impressive since it is so tall and reaching. One could argue that the artist did not spend much time designing it. However the folks that built it faced quite an engineering challenge in not having a strong wind twist or blow down this piece.

The structure is formed with stainless steel plates. The bottom two thirds are filled with concrete for mass. The top third is hollow to reduce weight. Inside the piece, just above the concrete their is a square box that is lined with squishy stuff, the same material they make tennis shoes out of. Inside the box is a one ton led ball. When the wind moves the spire, the led ball moves in the opposite direction and bangs against the side of the box. It is Newtons equal an opposite reaction law of motion. The led ball dampens the motion, what ever it may be at whatever frequency.

A marvel of modern engineering? Hardly. Some observant folks back in the 70's or 80's noticed that ancient, 100's of years old, multi story Japanese temples still stood when modern buildings were getting knocked down during earthquakes. They found that the temples were built to be flexible, not ridged like modern buildings. So they moved with the moving earth. But even more clever was the fact that they had a massive log suspended in the center of them, the log moved opposite of the building, smacking it from the inside, creating a damper.

GlennT 07-30-2007 10:12 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
These shapes , though very simple, are pleasing, and gain a lot by their context, which when understood, makes it an extremely appropriate sculpture like you said.
A 27 story sculpture is not cake walk, so it is interesting to know how they solved the engineering.
Thanks for the post.


evaldart 07-30-2007 10:27 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
This type of work is a case where sculpture tries to play at architectures game. 270 feet? thats nothing. plenty of second-tier cities have a thousand foot building these days (Jersey City/Goldman Sachs). Sculpture likr this is given a pass. Just because its not carrying cars accross water or chasms - or because its not housing human triflings does not mean it should be excused of its responsibilities the skyline. If you need to find a way to make the structure pay civilation back then build rooms and elevators inside it - it can still look like anything you want it too. Tourists will come if its a REAL attraction.

I will always be more interested in what an artist is able to do when he can address his individual challenges (put forth by his own unique predicament) with his own two hands. The visual problems of modern man - his superfulous embelleshings - are usually solved with money, wit and whimsy, and these exist apart from creativity (which occurs at the highest levels anyway, regardless of circumsatnce).

Believe me, I would be delighted to get an eyeful of these arcing spikes...might even take a picture. But give me the Empire State Building or the Pulaski Skyway any day. They can move me to tears.

Merlion 07-30-2007 10:54 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
I find it an impressive piece of work. As an memorial, I think it conveys a lot of meaning to the US air force. And it requires a lot of good engineering to design and construct.

I notice it is is the last piece of work by the German-born American architect James Ingo Freed who died in 2005 before this memorial's construction was completed and dedicated.

Here are some more details of the memorial's design, taken from this Wikipedia site.

United States Air Force Memorial

The Memorial itself is 270 feet high and appears to be soaring; its array of stainless steel arcs against the sky evokes the image of "contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as they peel back in a precision 'bomb burst' maneuver." Only three of the four contrails are depicted, as the absent fourth evokes the missing man formation traditionally used at Air Force funeral fly-overs.

The spire structure consists of stainless steel plates with high-strength concrete filling the lower 2/3rds of each spire. The upper third is hollow stainless steel. At the transition between concrete and hollow steel portions, dampers are provided to dissipate wind sway energy and eliminate the risk of aerodynamic instability. Each damper consists of a lead ball weighing about a ton each, allowed to roll inside a steel box. The structural design of the memorial was completed by engineering consultancy Arup.

At the entrance from the west stands four eight-foot tall bronze statutes of the Memorialís Honor Guard, sculpted by Zenos Frudakis. This is linked by a bluestone path to the Glass Contemplation Wall, a glazed independent panel with the images of four F-16's flying in a Missing man formation engraved on both sides of the 5-ply panel, situated on the north side of the Memorial so that the north inscription wall is visible through it, and is the only part of the memorial that depicts aircraft.

The base of the Memorial is framed by two inscription walls located at each end of the central lawn. The walls are 56 feet in length, 10 feet in height and one foot thick. Both walls are made of polished, highly-reflective monolithic Jet Mist granite and both include a two and a half inch outer inscription panel made from Absolute Black granite. ....

This link shows a good picture taken during the memorial's construction. From this picture, one can visualize the size of these three curved spires.

ironman 07-31-2007 09:55 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Hi, Any 2 yr. old could figure out the con-trail, missing man connection and I guess from a "memorial" point of view it performs it's function well.
BUT, As a sculpture, I think it's inane and boring, bigger isn't necessarily better.
I'm with Evaldart, give me the Empire State Bldg. or the Chrysler Bldg. any day.
Have a great day,

allenring 07-31-2007 04:51 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
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As usual Ill take exception to ironman and even this time even our senior sage evaldart. I can't think of a higher calling for an artist than to create a work that invokes a great deal of emotion and expresses a part of an individuals life story.

I think we could argue the point about where lines fall between art and architecture. We all hardily agree that the Empire State building is esthetically, artistically, architecturally and emotionally a great piece of work. But it is just a building.

The Lincoln Memorial is also a building. However it is so much more. It bridges traumatic history, Americas core self image, a great individual and was the site of one of MLK's I have a dream speech, wow.

Consider the new US Marine Corp. Museum. Here is art expressed as architecture. The art is made large, 210 feet and incorporates the core concepts that define a Marine to the outside world.

The museum will be defined by a 210-foot element that soars at a 45-degree angle from the 160-foot-high glass atrium. This central component is symbolic of raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, Howitzer cannons, and the US Marine Corpsí raised swords.

This structure is designed to make a statement, you should see it at night, they have some serious megawatt lighting pointing straight up at the tip of the 210 foot element, a dramatic example of light sculpture.

This structure will evoke emotion, speaks to the soul of those that it honors, and is quite functional. I think that is a great calling for an artist. Someone that is not just thrusting their inner vision on the public but someone that can get at what moves and defines a slice of humanity and express that in three dimensions.

evaldart 07-31-2007 07:43 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Architects like to talk about "blurring" the lines between sculpture and architecture, but to sculptors its quite clear...not blurry at all...they are talking about architecture, not sculpture.

Allen, I do like that thing up there, even better than the previous arcing triplets. But since it was put forth by teams and commitees and organizations and benefactors and donators and officials of all fashion and all those cursed "designers", it doesn't address ME as an individual. Hell I probably can't even see any evidence of the laborers who actually had their paws on it. But perhaps Time will make it handsome, wear it away, let us know that IT too is riddled by demise; Then it might speak to me, both of us old and life-beaten - me in the grave and it a twisty ending to a Planet of the Apes movie.

fritchie 07-31-2007 08:55 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
I find all the pictures posted so far fail as images of the overall memorial. Here is a collection of images from an Air-Force related site, with several aerial views. Those are much better for the purpose.

This site also includes sculptures of individual AF personnel in uniform, and I don't think as highly of those pieces as the overall triple spire.

Overall, I disagree with evaldart on the relative merit of buildings for business and of memorials. Memorials serve a necessary purpose, and nothing else serves as well.

allenring 08-01-2007 08:02 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
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fritchie thanks for the better pics, the areal view helps.

evaldart seems to be stating that the mark of an artist is an individual pounding material into shape driven by vision, angst, or sometimes in my case as a form of therapy. A viewer should be able to see the hand work, the mark of the craftsman in the work.

I fully agree up to the point that it limits art and does recognize an aspect of our modern world.

I think that an artist that can convey a recognizable idea or emotion through his or her work is a highly skilled artist, even if they do not produce the work itself. Ill use the Vietnam War Memorial as another example, (sorry about the poor pic, got to get to the studio today, that plasma cutter is supposed to come in.)

I'll go further, I think that the groups or comities of individuals that produced the Apple Ipod, a real work of art, are true and highly skilled artists in every sense even though they created a mass produced product, remain anonymous, and are drawing a salary.

ironman 08-02-2007 08:38 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Uhh, You don't see the difference between the WALL and those two inane memorials?

allenring 08-02-2007 07:18 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
What is the difference? Is it the art, is it the visual elements, the sculpture. Or is it the emotion that a viewer brings to the art based on the event, the Viet Nam war and all that represents to America?

evaldart 08-02-2007 09:04 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Tributaries, monuments, memorials...the bigger and more expensive they are the less a sculptor has to do with their coming into being. But thats okay, they're necessary objects, markers of current interpretations of history. When those figity little events from the past change, as they do, the memorials must change too. Lots of busy people arranging meetings and pouring concrete.
But a real sculpture, now thats a treat. It might be a little bigger than you and a good one will let you know that. It is a challenging and hardheaded will address it as "Sir" or "Ma'am", lest you suffer a whipping. It will tell you tales about when you were a child and only occupied a little, itty bitty bit of space and it will remind you that now you are big and you can get your arms around so very much if you really try. You will learn to respect the sculpture and even be so kind as to wipe-away some pigeon-shit from its forehead on occasion.

ironman 08-03-2007 08:57 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
What the difference is, is the whole creative concept brought to fruition beautifully. Ms. Lin had to know that people would come to that wall, look up the names and connect in an emotional way with their friends, relatives and brothers in arms. No dry eye leaves that place. When you find the name you're looking for, see it, touch it, the connection and emotions are almost immediate.
The AF and Marine memorial in contrast are merely banal stylizations of occurances in the abstract that couldn't bring a tear to anyones eyes without a lot of thinking and visualization which would have nothing to do with the memorials.
It's the creative concept and the visual elements (the names) that makes it work. One key ingredient though is having living relatives/friends/vets (people who know what those names mean) who bring the physical connection to the wall. 100 years from now, when anyone who has any association with Vietnam is long dead and buried, the strong emotional connection will also die and the impact that it has today will be lessened.
The beauty of the Wall is that it is a direct emotional connection for everyone, whereas those other memorials add another layer to the thought process and don't directly relate to all but a few (the families of those Marines and Sailors on Suribachi, for instance).
Have a great day,

allenring 08-03-2007 11:13 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
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The Wall makes quite a statement, especially at night. One walks down into it, it is below grade. It is dimly lit, very subdued, serene, every one speaks in whispers. Then their is the black granite with the names.

Much of the power of this piece is what the viewer brings and as you say that will fade with time. It points to the temporal element in art and architecture. It also speaks of the power of the observer to make real.

Just down the road a piece is the WWII Memorial. This is a much bigger installation, lots of stone, bronze, and water. It just is not very moving. Their are four thousand gold stars over a pool of water. Each represents 100 killed. No impact, why, no specific names or wasn't there, didn't do that?

heath 08-08-2007 04:25 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Anyone else bothered by how clunky/chunky the surface is? One of the main things with minimalist sculpture is the purity of the form. This piece seems to have all sorts of oil-canning disturbing the grace of the form, which totally kills it for me, especially in the night view.

My eye is not drawn upward to the sky, it stops at every one of those clunky ridges.

While the St. Louis Arch has a texture to it, it's much finer and doesn't disturb the overall curvature like I see in this piece. I can only assume the chunkiness was unintentional, which means as impressive as the engineering is, it's a miserable failure in the overall craftsmanship. And poor craftsmanship is always a major distraction from the intention of a work of art.

My guess is they bit off a bit more than they could chew...

Here's a blurry but HUGE night photo that really shows how bad the surface is:

ironman 08-08-2007 09:35 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Hi Heath, Thanks for the photos. The craftsmanship is AWFUL on that piece. Who in the hell made that shoddy piece of crap and is trying to pass it off as a sculpture and besmirch our good name?
Have a great day,

heath 08-08-2007 10:19 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Well, I wouldn't begin to suggest I could have pulled it off better using the same technique... I'm sure the guys building it did the best they could with what they were required to work with. As far as I understand, the outer skin is the actual structure.

The point is, though... if I was set up to do a project of that scale and you had asked me to build something like that, I would have said "um, that's going to look like crap, we need to come up with something else." That's the key... my gut feeling is not that the construction crew were uncaring morons... it's just that they tried to accomplish something that couldn't be done well.

Bottom line is that they needed a different kind of structure with a different finish (a finer overall texture like the St. Louis Arch), or an entirely different form if they couldn't pull off that shape any other way. As it is... I'm sure it's impressive to the average viewer, but as fine art, it sucks.

Aaron Schroeder 08-08-2007 04:22 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Heath....I'm certain that if they had asked you to come up with a way to depict and fabricate this sculptural would have done a better job. I checked out your web page, looked at your work and was just amazed. You're an awesome sculptor. I spent my day working on pattern pieces for a horse head to be made out of sheet metal and seeing your Denver Zoo Animals was truly inspirational. Please post more often......I'd really like to hear your point of view.

fritchie 08-08-2007 06:54 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Heath - You're right about the nighttime appearance of the piece. On at least one of the shafts, each individual sheet of metal identifies itself by straight-line joins to the next piece. An odd series of smallish spots runs down the surface of another shaft.

I'm sure you're right about the surface "being the piece", as weight requires the piece be hollow - hence the triangular cross section. I don't want to fault architects in general, but this work really is not a sculpture, but a piece of architecture with a sculptural "feel", and quality control pretty clearly was lax.

ironman 08-09-2007 09:46 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Hi, The last couple of Saturdays I've been helping a friend, working on a large public commission (33 ft. high). It's predominantly welded bronze plate, 1/4" at the bottom and up above about 10-12', it goes down to 1/8" plate. You CANNOT see the welded seams in any of it! He's done this piece in his home studio, no less, and if he could accomplish that, why can't they?
Have a great day,

heath 08-09-2007 03:31 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Aaron, got your private email and just responded, thanks again for all the compliments. (By the way, Aaron is my middle name)

As for if they had asked me about this job, certainly my first response as soon as the engineers came back and said "welded stainless skin for the structure" -- I would have said, "you are smoking crack, that will look like hell."

Look at the mirror-finish "bean" in Chicago (Anish Kapoor's amazing "Cloud Gate" piece) -- THAT is freakin' amazing. But they had the budget to do it right, they hired the right people, and they used a boatload of internal structure to keep everything perfectly aligned to tolerances of, literally, 0.0015". Amazing. It can be done, but it ain't easy.

fritchie -- all good points. I wouldn't even mind the visible lines so much if they were at least *regular* in some way... if they created a nice rhythm. The distance between them, and the amount of distortion, though, is visually random. Whenever I've known some structural element would be visible, I integrate that rhythm.

Take this example (granted, it's on a relatively small scale):

I was trying to not blow the budget on seam welding, grinding and cleaning the edges of these, so I chose to do a pattern of 1" long seam welds about 6" apart, instead of a continuous seam. Since they are plant forms, it just adds to the natural feel of the work. If I had randomly placed these stitches, it would look like crap.

heath 08-09-2007 03:35 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
ironman... to be fair, bronze is 1000% times easier to weld without distortion, it transfers heat readily, which means less distortion. Stainless is far worse than even mild steel for transferring heat, it builds up locally at the weld area, meaning much more distortion. Stick three bars of the same size of bronze, steel, and stainless in a forge and touch the ends (the ones not in the fire, of course) every now and then, and you'll feel the heat in the bronze almost instantly, the steel a little later, and the stainless will take much longer.

This doesn't let the air force memorial fabricators off the hook... if they are qualified to do something that of size, they know this information as well or better than I. They *knew* it would get distorted, and decided it would be ok. It's not ok.

fritchie 08-09-2007 07:03 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Re 21: You're right, Heath. Those welds work very well, sort of tucked inside the forms.

What are the streaks across the various planes? I expect those were added for visual interest and to minimize the visual effect of dirt and random aging processes in a vegetative area like this.

heath 08-09-2007 07:42 PM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Yes the streaks are intentional -- they are grind marks in the stainless created with flap discs (some people call them "mop discs") on a grinder. The discs that look like this:

ironman 08-10-2007 09:25 AM

Re: Air Force Memorial, Art and Engineering
Hi, Yeah Heath, I know SS warps easily but like you said, that's no excuse!
Those flap discs can be used to make a nice swirl pattern on SS.
Have a great day,

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