Borealis by artist Danny Lane, has recently been installed in Detroit, USA, and is believed to be the largest glass sculpture in existence.

Believed to be the largest glass sculpture in existence, Borealis by artist Danny Lane, has recently been installed in Detroit, USA and will set a precedent in architectural sculpture around the globe.

Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Borealis is made from 2,300 planks of 12mm glass, each 6.4 m in length but only 7.6 cm deep and the entire work weighs 60 metric tonnes (132,000 pounds). Its fluid elegance contradicts the complex engineering of its high performance structure.

Lane's work was inspired by Aurora Borealis, the ‘Northern Lights' that magically play across the northern skies in the depth of winter.

With Borealis, Lane has captured the essence of this unique phenomenon by creating two undulating curtains of green luminous glass. Track lighting behind the piece plays across the upper facetted surfaces, embracing and softening the solid state of the architecture.

Lane explains, ‘The industrial window glass from which the sculpture is made is normally used in a square or grid format without exploiting the qualities of edge transmitted light. Not only are they transparent, they kinetically modify the light and the images of the surroundings and people moving through the space.' Fisher Marantz Stone's lighting projects a kaleidoscope effect onto the ceiling of the foyer.

Art and architecture

Borealis seamlessly joins art and architecture and Lane's vision has been a challenge to realise. Along with General Motors' commitment to public art in the community, it was the inspiration of Adrian Smith at Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) to include the challenging and monumental sculptural work of Danny Lane as an integral part of this dramatic entrance to the GM Renaissance Center. Lane worked with the architectural firm to evolve the design. This working relationship was initiated during the successful commissioning of Parting of the Waves (2003) at Canary Wharf, London where SOM was also the lead architectural firm.

Most rewarding project

Antony Smith, Danny Lane's engineer on the project, says it has been one of the most rewarding projects of his career. ‘The finished project is a testament to the vision of the artist, the continued confidence of the client team in the project, the tenacity of the team on site and the months of work spent evolving even the smallest details. The project is totally unique in size and engineering challenges.'

Technical challenges

The oversize 6.4 metre glass planks making up Borealis were specially floated for the project for the major Austrian processor Eckelt. Each pieces weighs about 20kg. The pieces were cut, polished and annealed and an anti-shatter film was applied because toughening was not an option.

‘If the piece is too long and thin, when you quench it will bow and lift. ' says Anthony Smith. ‘1:10 is a typical width-to-length limit on tempering. The proportions of the Borealis pieces were 1:64.' The pieces were shipped to Detroit, and arranged in formation, and fixed to the mezzanine with Haran's bespoke metalwork. ‘There are areas of the sculpture where it's leaning out by seven degrees. You can look up and it's above you.' adds Anthony Smith.

‘The panes of glass are parallel. You get the curve by moving the centre point.' explains Smith. Plywood lining on the floor channel gave the leaning glass pieces something to ‘dig into'.

‘Union rules prevented us from taking our own installation team but we provided site management and technical support, says Anthony Smith.

The first half of Borealis took over 10 weeks to complete, while the second half took just nine days, which might lead some to suggest other forces were at work during the installation. ‘There is a burial ground under the site but we learnt a lot as we went along', he adds.