#HPCMatters in Art

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series #HPCMatters

Janet Echelman is probably not a name many would recognize in HPC circles. She isn’t a research scientist or a HPC advocate. She doesn’t work for one of the industry vendors, nor is she a university professor leading one of the competitive student teams.

Janet Echelman is an artist.

More specifically, she is a sculptor. She builds and installs some of the most beautiful and permanent outdoor installations to be found anywhere. This is because her installations are made of a special netting that flows and billows with the wind, yet is strong and stable enough to weather the forces of nature year round.

In 2011, Janet explained her journey to creating such lovely sculptures in her TED talk, seen now by over 1.2 million people around the world. I invite you to become one of them.

To give some indication of the level of effort required, Janet told of her efforts and struggles:

For two years, I searched for a fiber that could survive ultraviolet rays, salt, air, pollution, and at the same time remain soft enough to move fluidly in the wind. We needed something to hold the net up out there in the middle of the traffic circle. So we raised this 45,000-pound steel ring. We had to engineer it to move gracefully in an average breeze and survive in hurricane winds. But there was no engineering software to model something porous and moving.

That got her through the first sculpture, but as she became more aggressive in her designs, the needs changed, as well.

I couldn’t build this with a steel ring, the way I knew. Its shape was too complex now. So I replaced the metal armature with a soft, fine mesh of a fiber 15 times stronger than steel. The sculpture could now be entirely soft, which made it so light it could tie in to existing buildings — literally becoming part of the fabric of the city. There was no software that could extrude these complex net forms and model them with gravity. So we had to create it.

So, what was this software that she and her team created?

I don’t know.

But, that doesn’t really matter for this discussion. Clearly, it was some form of CFD where not only was the airflow fluid, but also the structure itself is fluid. A perfect HPC problem, if I ever heard one. Here in the most unlikely of places, an HPC problem shows itself.

More commissions have followed. Earlier this year, one of her permanent sculptures was installed in Vancouver, Canada to welcome in the TED2014 conference. Below is a video of the rendered design.

More colorful pictures of the installed sculpture can be see on the Huffington Post. It was a perfect backdrop to this prestigious conference.

Giant Floating Jellyfish

“Her secret is patience”
Phoenix, Arizona

In conclusion, I’d just like to say that #HPCmatters. It really, truly does.

It matters in engineering.

It matters in chemistry.

It matters in physics.

And, it matters in art.


Photo courtesy of Irwin Scott, Licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0

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