Public Art Design: From Artistic Vision to Reality

For specialist fabricators in the field of public art, the journey from an artist's conceptual vision to a physical reality can be a complex and rewarding process. However, viable public sculptures or art installations are as much an exercise in structural engineering as they are an artistic concept.

Working with an experienced structural engineer will make it easier to bring your artistic ideas to life, while simultaneously ensuring the structural stability, safety, and longevity of the art installation – making your structure buildable in a way that is pragmatic and safe while still respecting the artistic requirements.

This article explores the integral role of specialist structural engineers in public art design and implementation.

Balancing Aesthetics with Structural Stability

One of the primary challenges in public art design is balancing creative and aesthetic requirements with the need for structural stability and safety, an especially pressing need considering the complex geometries and materials used in many contemporary installations. A specialist structural engineer will work closely with the artists, architects, fabricators, and other stakeholders engaged in the project to bring creative visions to life while ensuring that the installation is structurally sound and safe for public interaction. This requires a deep understanding of materials, construction methods, and engineering principles.

Enhancing Buildability, Durability and Longevity

A structural engineer can help artists enhance the buildability, durability, and longevity of their creations in several ways:

1. Internal Substructures

One of the key ways to do this is for a structural engineer to design hidden internal substructures within a large sculpture so that it can stand up and support the weight of its constituent parts, and also withstand environmental factors such as wind pressure in an outdoor environment while remaining safe and stable.

2. Supporting Structures and Foundation

A structural engineer can also design a supporting structure for an art installation with the appropriate connections, e.g., when an installation is suspended from a ceiling or other structure. Special supports or foundations can also be designed to allow some adjustment for the installation of the artwork. Engineers often have to be very creative in this regard, in order to accommodate the specific artistic requirements for how the structure is to be perceived – e.g., a floating structure.

3. Rationalising Complex Geometries

In terms of buildability, an experienced structural engineer will be able to help rationalise complex geometries into structural components that are simpler to fabricate, install, and put together. This process can be facilitated through computational design tools and parametric design software, which are now frequently employed for the design and engineering of large artworks, to explore complex geometries and optimise the structure for improved buildability, stability and safety.

Attention to these factors at the design stage contributes significantly to preserving the artwork's integrity and prolonging its lifespan by making it safe and structurally robust, while also making the structure more practical, faster, and cheaper to build.

Guidance on Materials and Construction Methods

A structural engineer can also play a crucial supporting role in guiding artists on the most suitable materials and construction methods for their art installation, such as what sort of cables and connections can be used to suspend an artwork, or what type of internal substructures or foundations are best and how to resolve their interfaces with the artwork. Their expert knowledge and input can help artists make informed decisions that align with their creative intentions without compromising the practical aspects of the project. Working closely with a structural engineer thus allows artists and fabricators to push boundaries and explore new possibilities, knowing they have the technical support to realise their vision.

Contact us today

Take your art installations to the next level with bespoke structural engineering consultancy services for all public artworks. To find out more, speak to our Associate, Javier Gutierrez, by emailing him directly at

Talk to our Art Installations lead, Javier Gutierrez at Fenton Holloway