Constructed from 10,000 pounds of plastic waste pulled from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Skyscraper, also known as the Bruges Whale, is a temporary public installation designed by Brooklyn, N.Y.–based architecture firm StudioKCA for the 2018 Bruges Triennial in Belgium. As part of the Triennial—celebrating its second iteration this year—invited artists and architect are displaying 14 more installations across the historic center of Bruges through Sept. 16.
Measuring 38 feet high by 38 feet wide wide (fin to fin), and 12 feet in diameter, the giant sculpture is as tall as a four-story building and seems to be pushing out of one of the city's main canals, arching over the historic Jan Van Eyck Square in the city center.
According to the design team, the whale sculpture is "a reminder of the 150 million tons of plastic waste still swimming in our waters." Journalist Dominique Mosbergen wrote in a 2017 Huffington Post article that nearly 19 billion pounds of garbage ends up in the oceans each year. According to the article, that number is expected to double by 2025. In line with the Triennial's theme, "liquid city," and in response to this problem, StudioKCA founding principals Jason Klimoski, AIA, and Lesley Chang and their team worked with Hawaii Wildlife Fund and Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter to collect as much plastic as they could in four months from the oceans and transformed it into a giant sculpture.
“A whale, breaching from the water, is the first 'skyscraper of the sea,' and as the largest mammal in the water, it felt like the right form for our piece to take in order to show the scope and scale of the problem,” Klimoski said in a press release.
The studio worked with Robert Otani, a principal at New York City–based structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, and his team to engineer a stable structural system out of steel and aluminum. The result, according to Thornton Tomasetti, was "a single steel mast with five spaced steel rings that ... support[s] the load of the cantilevering sculpture. A total of 16 curved, interlocking aluminum panels create an armature for holding the plastic in place."
“The analysis model for the superstructure was set up parametrically using Karamba3D [a parametric structural engineering tool]. This allowed us to accommodate changes to the whale’s geometry during the design process,” Otani said in a news post on the firm's website. The challenge, according to the team, was to determine the amount of loads acting on the structure. “The large cantilevering fins in particular resulted in large moment forces, which had to be transferred to the steel mast,” according to Viktoria Henriksson, a structural engineer for Thornton Tomasetti. The structure's frame was then covered by a wire mesh to which each plastic piece was attached, and then tied to the aluminum panels.