Saturday, April 14, 2007

"TECOTOSH:" Gateway to PSU's Maseeh School of Engineering and Computer Science

Installed: March 2006.
Dimensions: 130' x 40' x 40'.
Materials: Stainless steel truss, laminated dichroic glass, stainless steel cables and hardware. Aluminum light housings. Up and down lights.
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Engineers: Bob Grummel and Grant Davis.
Project Manager and Construction Drawings: Oanh Tran.
Project Administrator: Arleen Daugherty.
Lighting Consultant: Craig Marquardt.
Metal Fabrication: Albina Pipe Bending, Portland, OR.
Glass Fabrication: Haefker Studio, Portland, OR.
Architect: ZGF, Portland, OR.
Photography: Ed Carpenter, Bruce Forster.

Friday, June 30, 2006
Either close up or far away, Ed Carpenter's "Tecotosh" is a sight. The public artwork looks like a series of huge knitting needles poking through part of a roller-coaster track. Or the skeletal remains of a prehistoric dinosaur.
Made of stainless steel, glass, aluminum and other materials, the recently finished "Tecotosh" -- the title combines the first two letters from each of the four engineering principles, tension, compression, torsion and sheer -- is one long, bending chain buttressed by tripods that are separate poles assembled together.
There's a reason that Carpenter, 59, is Portland's most successful and perhaps busiest public artist, one who has made more than 130 public artworks around the world since 1973. In a plaza on the 1900 block of Southwest Fourth Avenue, "Tecotosh," like many of Carpenter's public works, isn't grandiose or attention seeking. It's a modest sculptural wonder that's a testament to working with the limits and ambitions of a space, not above them.
The initial plans for "Tecotosh" suggested something more ostentatious, however. The sculpture, which cost $240,000 and was administered by the Oregon Art Commission and Portland State University, was intended to be a regal entrance to the university's Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, as well as a gesture to nearby Lovejoy Fountain.
The pointed, sloping truss acknowledges the fountain but it's hardly a grand entrance for the college. Much of the campus' critical mass, for example, is two or three blocks west of Southwest Fourth Avenue, a thoroughfare for northbound traffic. While driving, it's easy to miss the sculpture and the engineering buildings on the east side of the street.
And though the buildings and the sculpture were intended to anchor life between the plaza's two buildings at 1900 and 1930 S.W. Fourth Ave., there isn't much to moor, except a Taco Del Mar outlet in the latter building. This is an enclave for the studious pursuit of engineering.
Still, the plaza's modest symbolic power doesn't fall on Carpenter. He's simply conceived a public artwork that fits into this unspectacular nest of buildings, a sculpture that doesn't attempt to eclipse its surroundings.
On those terms, the sculpture is yet another beautiful, collaborative design and engineering effort carried out by Carpenter and his dedicated administrative and installation teams, which include Oanh Tran, Arleen Daugherty, John Rogers, Hanns Haefker and Craig Marquardt.
"Scale is the most important thing," says Carpenter, who is working on a number of other projects, including a 45-meter-high steel sculpture of a flower in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "Everything else is wrong if you get the scale wrong."
At about 35 feet tall and 130 feet long, "Tecotosh" is impressive but doesn't dominate. The mostly stainless steel chain structure and cables punctured by tripods is a durable homage to engineering, made to weather the sun, rain and harsh elements. Different elements of the structure embody tension, compression, torsion and sheer -- but don't work too hard to figure out what happens where. You may have to be an engineering wonk to get that by just looking.
Carpenter has gone beyond making a nod to science and engineering. He's animated the plaza with the theme of wonder through playful, keen design. With its intersecting weave of chain and rods, "Tecotosh" looks like a tether that's about to unleash coiled force into either building.
Carpenter has also embedded bits of laminated dichroic glass and lightboxes beneath the truss. At night, the lightboxes transform the sculpture, offering a touch of mystery and majesty to an otherwise plain area.
The sculpture may not be the most brilliant work in a career full of artistic highs, such as his breathtaking glass atrium at the Justice Center in downtown Portland. But in its emphasis on modesty over individual daring, the work is testimony to Carpenter's enduring appeal and his willingness to suspend artistic ego and pre-conceived ideas about the public art process.
"One problem with public art is that it frequently is inductive, not deductive," says Carpenter. "It addresses an idea rather than a space. I'm trying to address a space and find meaning later in that journey."

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