Feature Stories

Intersection of Art and Engineering

 photo of workers installing Nancy Rubins' sculpture of metal kayaks

Architectural engineering graduate Jaime Garza developed parameters for the structural support of Nancy Rubins' Monochrome for Austin, installed January 2015. (photo: UT Landmarks)

Mar. 3, 2015

A fascinating large-scale sculpture was recently installed near the engineering complex, assembled from vintage aluminum canoes and small boats. A sight to behold, it clearly requires innovative structural support. This is where the skills and talents of engineer and UT Austin alumna Jaime Garza (BSARE 2002) help carry out the artist’s vision.

Garza, Vice President at Nabih Youssef Structural Engineers, served as the managing structural engineer for the sculpture, Monochrome for Austin.  She worked closely with artist Nancy Rubins and her team to develop the parameters for the sculpture’s support based on the concept of the completed sculpture.

The installed work consists of a pedestal made out of stainless steel plates that supports an angled tube steel box truss that then supports a horn shaped triangular truss that cantilevers out laterally.  The pedestal sits on a three foot diameter concrete pier while the trusses carry up to 70 aluminum canoes and row boats tied together and anchored by a multitude of stainless steel cables. The aluminum boats transfer their own weight, live loads, and wind loading to the structural support through direct connection to the truss, T-shaped steel frames that jut out from the truss, adjacent boats, and through the stainless steel cables.

The entire sculpture, including the boats’ capacity, has been analyzed for the safe transfer of its own weight and applied loading from its environment. 

long-range photo of workers installing Nancy Rubins' sculpture of metal kayaks

Installation involved a large crane and miles of cable. (photo: UT Landmarks)

When Garza’s team developed the structural design of the sculpture, the artist requested that it be able to be placed anywhere in the world, prior to knowing that it was going to The University of Texas at Austin.  As a result, the sculpture was designed to be safely installed almost anywhere.

“My team and I developed worst case load conditions for the sculpture; a large earthquake, a hurricane, or heavy snow,” says Garza.  “After evaluating significant environmental loading, we found that fatigue is often a governing load case, since the sculpture moves constantly in the wind.  Although the constant movements of the sculpture will be imperceptible to people walking by, the movement will stress the joints significantly over the life of the sculpture.”

For the development of this sculpture, Garza managed a team of engineers and CAD designers to implement this project.  The project was also peer reviewed by another UT CAEE graduate, Jeremy Klahorst (BSARE 2002, MSCE 2004), Associate Principal at Datum Engineers.

Garza, who also received an MS in Structural Engineering Mechanics and Materials from UC Berkeley in 2013, has been involved with seismic evaluations, retrofits of existing buildings, exhibition designs for Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and designs for new buildings.  She led the design on the retrofit of the LAX Theme Building using a tuned mass damper at the top of the building to counteract earthquake loading, a first in the US. 

She is currently the lead engineer for the new Waldorf Astoria Hotel that has begun construction this year in Los Angeles.  She has also worked with Rubins on several of her large scale sculptures, including the Big Edge sculpture in front of the Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas. 

Garza is proud to be a part of this project, a visually compelling example of the intersection of art and engineering, located on the campus where she received her undergraduate degree.

“The architectural engineering program at The University of Texas at Austin was the perfect foundation for my current career in structural engineering,” she says.  “My education prepared me to tackle any problem and to communicate my solutions and ideas.”

photo of Nancy Rubins' sculpture fully installed

Completed sculpture (photo: UT Landmarks)

Located at the corner of 24th Street and Speedway in front of the Norman Hackerman Building, Monochrome for Austin will be unveiled by UT’s Landmarks public art program on March 5, 2015 with an artist talk and celebration open to the public.