Can Structural Engineers Play a Role in Fine Art?


Or, even more of a stretch, can structural engineers help artists engage communities while improving the environment?

That’s exactly what the McColl Center for Art + Innovation is doing and I’m pleased that we at Little are their technical arm, providing engineering and permitting services.

The McColl Center’s Environmental Artist-in-Residency program creates an avenue for artists to engage and enrich local communities through environmental art – unique art installations that improve the environment, with the help of the community. Many of their current artist residencies are directed towards Brightwalk in Charlotte (just north of town at the intersection of LaSalle and Statesville), “a new community in Charlotte’s North End that’s all about conserving precious resources – your time, energy and money – while fending off nature deficit disorder”.

This year McColl completed several art installations at Brightwalk, including a playground designed by Ugandan artist Ruganzu Bruno. He envisioned a play place for children that tells the story of a butterfly’s life. The installation features sculpted butterfly wings that stand 20 feet tall.

Another artist, Aurora Robson, creates remarkable sculptures of plastic intercepted from the waste stream.  What better way to engage the community than to literally intercept waste from the stream at Brightwalk! After participating in the stream clean-up effort, it was easy to see the backing of the local community, from those living right there in Brightwalk and the neighboring communities, to students taking Robson’s “Intercepting the Waste Stream” course at Central Piedmont Community College.

Construction was completed in May for the Love Motels for Insects, which are large lighted insect wings mounted in the median to attract night-time pollinators. Artist Brandon Ballengee has been installing these around the world and I’m excited to see him bring this concept to Charlotte. Check out the coverage and great photos in the Charlotte Observer.

The art installations even include a trellis constructed of cantilevered columns of hand-cast stone – designed, cast, and built by the art and design team Wowhaus.

Lisa Hoffman, Associate Director for the McColl Center recently complimented our involvement, “Without their (Little’s) support and ingenuity, we would not have been able to realize many of these projects”.

I think I speak for all of us engineers involved when I say that we’re thankful to the McColl Center and Brightwalk to allow us to be a part of accomplishing this remarkable vision;  it’s truly exciting to play a role in such an artistic project for our community.

September 30th, 2015 | Beyond Architecture
One Comment
  1. Braden Bills | June 7th, 2017 at 9:56 am

    It’s interesting that structural engineers can play a part in art! Certain modern art pieces can tend to be very top heavy. Not having a good enough structure could mean a loss of a lot of hard work!