Located at the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet in Vancouver BC, Artist Michael Yahgulanaas’ sculpture SEI breaches through the courtyard ground into the imagination of onlookers. Composed of mirror polished marine grade 316 stainless steel, the 12,000lbs (5440kg) sculpture stands 15.5’ (4.7m) tall out of a stone base, freely cantilevering 20’ (6.1m) in a dramatic arc characteristic of a Baleen whale that the sculpture was named after.
With a 5-month time frame from when initial work began with the artist to installation, time pressure was on from the start and we knew we had our challenges ahead of us. We knew that in order to meet this timeline with the scale, complexity, and dynamic shape of the sculpture, we would have to radically innovate our design and production process.
This innovation came through the streamlining of our design/production process, focusing on utilizing the combination of 3D modelling, design for manufacture and assembly, CNC (Computer Numeric Control) cutting/forming, and extremely close communication between vendors, design, and the fabricators in our shop.
In the early stages of the project, while fleshing out the details with the Artist, we constantly reviewed the concepts with various stakeholders: the fabricators in our shop to ensure the manufacturability and ease of construction, engineering to ensure the structure would be adequate, and our suppliers and vendors to ensure that they were on board for the quick turn arounds we would require on parts.
In the later stages of the project, we deployed a concurrent design/fabrication effort where we would design and CNC cut parts, sometimes the day before they were required, to be installed on the sculpture. This allowed us to correct any design errors or adjust parts for tolerance deviations when required.
The fabrication of the sculpture mimicked an aircraft wing; internal structures, ribs, and then cosmetic skins welded in place. With the amount of welding and polishing for the cosmetics of the sculpture there were times when we had 10 fabricators crawling all over the sculpture.
In the closing days of the project in the shop, emotions ran high and some tears were shed as the last component of the whale (the fin) gracefully slid into place atop the sculpture, and the last seam was welded and polished.
There were many high fives passed around as we completed what is now one of our most ambitions and successful projects to date that helped us re-invent our process.