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Petalclouds pushing limits

August 29, 2018, ART+COM Studios

Changi Airport‘s Terminal 4 (T4), that has been operating since end of October 2017, was declared officially open on August 4th, 2018. Together with the Changi team, ART+COM studios’ Head of Design, Joachim Sauter, and Vice Creative Director, Jussi Ängeslevä, celebrated the official launch of our artwork Petalclouds. They were the leading designers of the installation, which is supposedly the largest kinetic artwork in the world.

“The project is pushing the limits in all directions”, Jussi said in an interview with National Geographic TV. Performing an algorithmic choreography, the hexamerous kinetic installation constantly and fluidly changes its appearance, similar to clouds. Here’s the project’s summary.

T4 has been curated as a theatre of experience with art made by local and international artists. Located at vantage points across the terminal, the collection encapsulates an array of traditional art forms, such as sculptures, as well as kinetic and multimedia installations that provide an interlude from the hustle and bustle of travel. The kinetic installation Petalclouds is the centerpiece of the Central Galleria of T4, visible from almost all positions as it floats above the travellers’ heads.

The beginnings
The Changi team overseeing the art program started their search five years ago, travelling to Italy, France, Germany and Thailand to meet with artists. Since ART+COM Studios created a well-received, large-scale kinetic artwork for Changi‘s Terminal 1 in 2012, the team invited us to compete for the design of another kinetic sculpture at T4. After winning the contest, the production of Petalclouds started in January 2015.

The prototype experience
“When you are designing these kinds of kinetic sculptures, the physical materiality is of huge importance,” Jussi explains. Therefore, prototyping plays an important role in the design process. For Petalcouds we tried a number of different shapes and materials, which eventually brought us to a combination of rounded triangles made of aluminum with integrated LED bands. A prototype was built and tested at MKT AG, with whom we have collaborated on kinetic artworks in the past. “Despite the many simulations and tests before, seeing the 1:1 prototype perform in Olching was breath-taking and revealed the artwork’s physical aura and poetic quality. After this experience, we knew the artwork would be to our and everybody else’s expectations”, Joachim looks back. See the video of a first test run in Olching.

Software framework
The authoring tool for Petalclouds was built in-house and enables manual, algorithmic, as well as music based authoring of the mechatronic system. With its help, a choreography was developed that is based on three basic forms: circle, wave and morph.

Mobile sound
Well-known Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds contributed the music to Petalclouds. His composition plays through speakers at multiple vantage points. Additionally, travellers in transit can listen to the music on their cell phones, with the use of the iChangi App (iOS, Android). If you are interested in the technical development of the mobile sound experience, see this github article.

Some facts about Petalclouds
The grand-scale kinetic installation spans across 200 metres. The installation encompasses 96 triangular elements made of aluminum, each about 3 metres in diameter and 40 kilograms in weight. All parts of the elements were custom made in Germany by MKT AG and flown to Singapore, where they were then assembled. 192 motors move these elements. Each element is attached to four thin steel cables. Because of its sheer size, the team had to assemble it on-site, spending six months fabricating and installing all six clouds in T4. There is no need to worry about safety: The moving petals grind to a halt immediately when the system detects a deviation from normal movement.

The team
ART+COM Studios was trusted with the project lead and design. With Joachim Sauter and Jussi Ängeslevä as the leading designers, the design and the programming of the choreography was led by Susanne Träger and Christian Riekoff. MKT AG developed the mechatronics and built the system on-site. We collaborated with Takenaka Corporation on the fixture of the art installation.

About T4
The terminal has the capacity to process 16 million passengers annually. It’s the hub for AirAsia, Cathay Pacific, Cebu Pacific, Korean Air, Spring Airlines and Vietnam Airlines. The latest technologies have been used to ensure passengers a smooth transition from curbside to cabin. These include automated check-ins, bag drop kiosks, facial and thumbprint biometric recognition immigration gates and automated boarding gates. In comparison to other terminals, T4 is quite “compact”, nevertheless the terminal’s size equates to the area that might be covered by 27 soccer fields. Its construction cost $985 M.