On the design of Len Lye's Flaming Harmonic

DS 87-1 Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17) Vol 1: Resource Sensitive Design, Design Research Applications and Case Studies, Vancouver, Canada, 21-25.08.2017

Year: 2017
Editor: Anja Maier, Stanko Škec, Harrison Kim, Michael Kokkolaras, Josef Oehmen, Georges Fadel, Filippo Salustri, Mike Van der Loos
Author: McGregor, Angus; Gooch, Shayne; Webb, Evan
Series: ICED
Institution: 1: University of Canterbury, New Zealand; 2: Len Lye Foundation, New Zealand
Section: Resource Sensitive Design, Design Research Applications and Case Studies
Page(s): 539-548
ISBN: 978-1-904670-89-6
ISSN: 2220-4342


Len Lye (1901-1980) was an artist who wanted to build kinetic sculptures at a monumental size however he was constrained by the availability of resources and technology. This paper examines the structural design of a vertical cantilever beam which is a key element in the monumental version of Lye’s ‘Flaming Harmonic’. In ‘Flaming Harmonic’ the vertical cantilever vibrates at resonant bending and whirling frequencies due to a reciprocating harmonic ground movement which is provided by a mechanical drive. Lye produced a 1.3m tall model of a similar work called ‘Harmonic’. Design rules developed in this paper show that ‘Flaming Harmonic’ can be produced at a height of 14m. Similarity between ‘Harmonic’ and ‘Flaming Harmonic’ ensures that while the artwork is produced posthumously, artistic integrity for the larger work will be preserved. The vibratory mode shapes and corresponding stresses are established for ‘fixed’ and ‘pivot’ clamp designs. It is shown that while a slightly different vibrating shape is achieved using each method the ‘pivot’ clamp design results in a lower bending stress and hence a longer life for the vertical cantilever.

Keywords: Collaborative design, Design practice, Optimisation, Simulation


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