October 2, 2020

Learn How Sunburst by RE:site Studio was Designed for ASU SkySong

Render of Sunburst | Rendering provided by RE:site Studio

This week, Sunburst by Shane Allbritton and Norman Lee of RE:site Studio is being installed at Arizona State University’s SkySong Scottsdale Innovation Center. We asked them to write about it, and here’s what they had to say:

We are excited to install Sunburst for ASU’s SkySong Innovation Center, a place where innovators come together to use data and technology to navigate the complexities of global information, commerce, and
the public sphere. As artists, we took inspiration from the spherical astrolabe, an astronomical computer used throughout history for navigation and predicting the positions of the sun and stars. Sunburst,
reinterprets the rings of an astrolabe as sunburst diagrams, a type of data visualization used in diverse fields to show meaningful relationships in complex data.

Panels of dichroic glass for Sunburst laid out. Photo: RE:site Studio.

This sculptural form features three stainless steel framework rings that are embedded with color-changing dichroic glass panels. The three rings are connected in a relative three-axis relationship, inspired by the form of a spherical astrolabe. Suspended by steel columns, the resulting form is a
dramatic, radiant gesture that celebrates the convergence of data, technology, and the global economy. Reflected and transmitted patterns of color from the dichroic glass panels move with the sun across the
plaza below. This artwork provides viewers an up-close, intimate experience, while also functioning as a gateway element marking the main entry into SkySong.

Steel frames for Sunburst with dichroic glass installed. Photo: RE:site Studio.

For us, the astrolabe is an ancestor of contemporary data visualization: a beautiful form that illuminates hidden patterns, guides the traveler, and predicts future movement. As the rate of data generation exploded in the digital age, data visualization emerged as both an art and a science, a blending of descriptive statistics and grounded theory development.

The title of the artwork, Sunburst, has multiple layers of meaning. The sun is central to ASU symbolism and the natural environment of Arizona. As the bright Arizona sun travels overhead, the sculpture’s dichroic glass panels change color, transparency, and reflectivity. The artwork changes continually with the movement of the sun and the viewer, poetically evoking that technologically-driven data is continually changing in real time. Like the sun, data visualization makes the invisible visible. At night, the sculpture is dramatically up-lit, providing a very different experience of reflected and transparent color.

Assembly of steel frame for Sunburst. Photo: RE:site Studio.

Just as Sunburst was conceived as the convergence of light and material with data and technology, the sculpture was developed and made with the computational tools that we employ to realize our artwork. Through the use of parametric design and digital fabrication, the project was constructed with a rigorous interplay of structural analysis and optimization of the visual impact. Very high tolerances were achieved between the stainless steel frame assembly and glass panels. In the structural design phase, special attention was taken to attach the suspension cables to the “nucleus” of the astrolabe assembly to conceal those connections and allow the form to float over the plaza.

All components were custom-fabricated from sheet materials to the exact specifications provided in our model. Once the form and scale of the design was selected, the team engaged in material testing and prototyping to verify the quality and longevity of the project. Stainless steel and laminated glass were selected to withstand the harsh climate conditions in Arizona and tested in Houston. A rubber gasket was introduced at the interface between the steel and glass to help prevent breakage.

In aggregate, we are feel this project is a beautiful expression of technology in the service of art.

Check out more of RE:site’s work here!

Read more about this history of public art at SkySong:

Part 1: SkySong and Scottsdale’s Mood Ring
Part 2: SkySong and New Public Art Proposals

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