Arup develops solar gate for Hull as UK City of Culture

05 December 2017 2 min. read
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As part of a £25 million spending spree during its stint as UK City of Culture 2017, Hull recently unveiled an innovative Solar Gate – a ten-metre-tall, 4 mm thin, perforated wall that lights up sixteen aspects of the city’s cultural history. The structure was designed and developed by Arup and architects Tonkin Liu, leveraging Shell Lace Structure techniques developed by the firm and its partner.

The Solar Gate was recently installed in the city’s Queen’s Gardens. The structure, which stands 10 metres tall, will use its position relative to the sun to mark specific times and dates in Hull’s history in the style of a traditional solar calendar, such as Stone Henge. Notable dates are engraved on disks in the ground surrounding the monolith – sixteen specific ‘reveal dates’ will be lit by the sun (weather permitting).

The new structure was developed in collaboration by engineering consultancy Arup, architects Tonkin Liu and local fabricator PearlGreen. At just 4mm thick, the structure is wafer thin, a feat made possible by new design and digital additive manufacturing techniques. Known as a ‘Shell Lace Structure’, the material was developed by Arup and Tonkin Liu, and mimics natural sea shells, combining thin material with a robust structural integrity.

Arup develops solar gate for Hull as UK City of Culture

Ed Clark, Director at Arup, said about the development of the structure, “Solar Gate is a synthesis of artistic and engineering endeavour, and the latest in a series of collaborations between Arup and Tonkin Liu exploring the use of geometry to create strength and stiffness in design. We are proud to have helped deliver this installation for Hull UK City of Culture 2017.”

The structure itself is, in addition to its thinness, also 54% perforated by holes through which the sun’s rays can pass. The various shapes also allow the wind to pass through, allowing the work to seem more delicate. Finally, the material and its shape are lit at night, giving the appearance of near-transparency to the gate.

Will Arnold, Senior Structural Engineer, Arup, reflected, “The engineered removal of material allows the visitor to see inside the artwork and understand how it works, whilst minimising stresses by allowing the wind to pass straight through the sculpture. Deriving the final arrangement of perforations was iterative – large holes meant lower forces, allowing for even larger holes.”

Earlier in the year, Arup was involved in more construction industry innovation. The consulting firm’s venture capital division backed construction experts Mabey to develop a new glass-fibre reinforced polymer modular bridge, which in the future will be used in areas in where traditional steel torsion bridges are unable to tread.