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CROSS Safety Report

Public art structures

Report ID: 136 Published: 1 April 2009 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

Engineers have noticed a trend and raise concerns over more works of ‘Public Art’ being placed near to highways and in cities.

The works may be large and warrant a significant engineering input but may be driven forward by persons without sufficient appreciation of the technical issues involved. Three examples are given.

Key Learning Outcomes

For planning authorities:

  • Prior to a ‘Public Art’ project proceeding, consider carrying out a complete risk assessment, covering not only hard technical matters but softer issues such as public reaction to an unusual object

  • Where the design is non standard, the maintaining organisation should understand how to do its work and procure any necessary spare parts. In this respect, an up to date and accurate Health & Safety File can greatly assist.

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A report has been received from two engineers who have noticed a trend for more works of ‘Public Art’ being placed near to highways and in cities. The works may be large and warrant a significant engineering input but may be driven forward by persons without sufficient appreciation of the technical issues involved.

Complying with codes and standards

On occasions due to the, often complicated, contracts and agreements that are in place – especially on larger regeneration projects – the procurers of the art have no contact with those who will be responsible for its long term inspection and maintenance. By their very nature public art tends to be one off and may, for example, be conceived and created by – say a sculptor.

For public art structures the familiar codes and standards for highway situations from the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges may not be directly applicable. The reporters give several examples including three that are particularly relevant.

Lighting scheme – example 1

This is of a spectacular lighting scheme with unusually shaped steel columns that was developed for a square in a city centre. It was felt necessary by the reporters to have a structural engineer modify the proposals to improve basic stability and to facilitate fabrication of the complicated shapes, and to redesign the foundations.

The lighting has been in use for a few years and there are issues as to the long term maintenance - for example changing the lamp or the special casings. Vibration is a significant consideration as it is unpredictable how such features will oscillate under wind loading and the magnitudes of the deflections.

Life size animal - example 2

This is a sculpture of a larger than life size animal in a busy city centre street. The original design did not have a structural frame, and by virtue of its shape would have been unstable. Engineers from the reporters’ organisation had to design an internal space frame and devise unobtrusive ways of tying down the sculpture to resist loads, including those from persons who might want to climb on the animal. The reporters believe that designers of art works may fail to foresee how their creation may be misused by some members of the public.

The reporters believe that designers of art works may fail to foresee how their creation may be misused by some members of the public

Tall landmark feature - example 3

This was a tall landmark feature adjacent to a major road and was intended to sway in the wind. Unfortunately, the amplitudes were so large that, even at relatively low wind velocities, the authorities were worried about motorists being distracted and there were structural safety concerns. The feature had to be dismantled. Aerodynamic modelling was then carried out and significant modifications were made to the structure before re-erection in a different location.

Reporters’ conclusions

Engineers should be more proactive in using their authority and expertise in explaining to others the necessity for appropriate technical input. Cantilevers and complex or slender shapes with unusual load paths may lead to dynamic problems, vibration and fatigue. Also, in general these types of structure will be much more difficult to erect, the part erected components becoming stable only in the completed situation.

Meaningful dialogue is required between designer and erector. Planning authorities (as well as other local authority departments) need to be more aware of the potential pitfalls when issuing permissions for works of art on and adjacent to the public highway. Prior to a project proceeding too far, a complete risk assessment needs to be carried out, covering not only hard technical matters but softer issues such as public reaction to an unusual object.

At this stage the basic concepts may need to be amended. An approval in principle should then be agreed between the designer and the approving authority, making clear which standards of design and control apply.

Inspection regimes

Proper inspection regimes need to be set up and funded. Where the design is non standard, it is vital that the maintaining organisation understands how to do its work and procure any necessary spare parts. In this respect, an up to date and accurate Health & Safety File can greatly assist. In practice, it is often the experience of the reporters that those who would most benefit from seeing the Health & Safety file do not have ready access to it. Funds may not have been allocated for the file’s upkeep or storage due to a lack of recognition of its importance by decision makers.

Durability and fixing details are often overlooked and need to be carefully thought through at design stage. There should not be features that are difficult to uncover and inspect. Corrosion protection and behaviour in the event of vehicle impact and fatigue are difficult to predict in these one off structures. Assumptions as to design life and frequency of inspection and maintenance need to be discussed and agreed in advance between the Designer and Adopting Authority.

Durability and fixing details are often overlooked and need to be carefully thought through at design stage. There should not be features that are difficult to uncover and inspect

Expert Panel Comments

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There are of course numerous successful and well loved large public works of art, many of which have been on display for a great number of years. Some are not on the highway but on private land where there are no controls, and even on the highway, the Highways Authority would not necessarily have the expertise to check on structural stability. Planning Authorities generally have no control over the structures for works of art and the building regulations do not apply.

In practice there may not be any secondary checking and a local authority may only take action when it becomes aware that the work is a potentially dangerous structure. Structural engineers add value when consulted in connection with such works because, in addition to considering the structures, they have an overall knowledge of the design and procurement process.

Notwithstanding the inapplicability of highway or building standards, those involved have obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act to have regard to the safety of those who may be affected. This was visibly demonstrated by the recent conviction of the artist, the events management company and the local authority in respect of the deaths resulting from the failure of the Dreamscape inflatable sculpture at Chester le Street in 2006.

A giant white horse has been chosen as a new £2m art commission for south east England dubbed ‘Angel of the South’. The horse standing on all four hooves will be about 50m (164ft). From Los Angeles it is reported that there is to be another 50m tall work comprising a crane with a steam locomotive suspended from it at a cost of $25m.These will require major structural engineering input and the reporters are to be thanked for their advice to those involved in such monumental works.

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