Art and Science

9 June 2021

Solaris Nexum by Alexandra Carr


Collaboration with artists is inherent in our work where art meets science.  The exchange of ideas, the development of concepts, and the offer of technical expertise enrich the extended design process resulting in art and artworks that are specific to place, and vice versa.

At the London Centre of Nanotechnology we worked with Jacqueline Poncelet to catalyse ideas. We became interested in moiré patterns that were generated by the combination of perforated and reflective steel surfaces on the exterior of the building. The scientists who occupy it use interference patterns to observe the behaviour of molecular structures.

More recently we were appointed to look at the transformation of Jodrell Bank into a centre for the discovery of the universe. The centre continues to provide a home for the scientists that have operated it for the last half-century, including its founder Sir Bernard Lovell, but it is also opened up to visitors.  Visitors are able to share and comprehend the extraordinary breadth of knowledge that has been developed through the use of the radio telescopes which form the raison d’être of the site.

Our brief is based on healing the rift between the ‘two cultures’ of Art and Science. The Lovell telescope, 78 metres in diameter, has already been turned into the largest cinema screen in the world with sound and light performance pieces by Jem Finer and Ansuman Biswas. Our task, working with Peter Higgins of Land Exhibition Design and the same team of landscape designers, services and structural engineers that we worked with at the Earth Centre, is to make manifest the extraordinary power of astronomy in our understanding of the infinity of space.

Our latest collaboration, commissioned by the Grangegorman Development Agency and its Public Art Working Group is with artist Alexandra Carr on her richly complex Solaris Nexum. This artwork will occupy the main six-storey atrium space of the TU Dublin Central Quad, with its celebratory explorations of science. sun and light.

Grangegorman has a rich and complex history as a piece of Dublin.  The site at Grangegorman. initially accommodated the House of Industry which was set up in the 1770s; the 'lunatic asylum' was then developed to transfer 'the curable lunatics' from the House of Industry in 1810. and then the penitentiary was opened in 1820. The institution evolved with its name, becoming Grangegorman Mental Hospital and more recently. St. Brendan's Hospital. Throughout its history, it has served the needs of the city accommodating those most disadvantaged and those who struggled most with the challenges that life presented.

Grangegorman is now a burgeoning new place in the city. The Central Quad building for TU Dublin forms the centrepiece and academic heart for the new campus and will transform the lives of the students who study there.

The Grangegorman Development Agency (GDA), has commissioned Alexandra Carr's Solaris Nexum for installation in the entrance atrium of the building.

To date, the GDA’s Public Art Working Group (PAWG) has commissioned three other major site-specific artworks. From its strategic position next to the Central Quad, Garrett Phelan's joyful, fully-functional THE GOLDEN BANDSTAND-Sculpture will serve the whole campus.

Walker and Walkers' Endless Play will enhance the public spaces of the West Quad. For the HSE Residential Care Neighbourhood, Fergus Martin’s work, The Blue of the Sky; The Green of the Grass, The Red of a Rose, is working to enliven the experience of those coming to live in these interconnected homes by making richly colourful works with blues. greens and reds referencing sky, grass and roses. This will complement the already completed works by Oisin Byrne Long Live The Weeds and The Wilderness Yet and Joy in the HSE's Phoenix Care Centre.  PAWG has also funded 27 community projects.

Art and architecture are frequently differentiated in terms of their relationship to ‘function’. Unlike architecture, art does not have to be functional in traditional terms, for example in responding to social needs, giving shelter when it rains or designing a room in which to study the sciences, but we could say that art is functional in providing certain kinds of tools for self-reflection, critical thinking and social change.

We are undoubtedly going through a period of huge change due to the pandemic.  The fundamental value of science in shaping our lives is now truly appreciated and Solaris Nexum gives us the chance to reflect on our ever-evolving relationship to science.

Solaris Nexum explores our changing connection to the sun through the technological shifts of various ages. Through the sculpture Alexandra considers celestial architecture, advances in optics and renewable energy as paradigm-shifting technologies, drawing together periods of human history with the hope of a sustainable future for humankind.

Sunlight is directed through the piece to transform a photochromic column of glass beads. This echoes the function of Neolithic sites such as Newgrange but with a contemporary slant utilising advances in material technology. Solaris Nexum formally references moire patterns and parallax to highlight the value of the truth contained within a multitude of perspectives.

The sculpture serves as a monument to solar connection through the technological ages. It encourages us to respect nature and intelligently live in harmony with its resources, moving towards a technologically symbiotic age. Alexandra invites us to look both inwards and outwards to embrace all spheres of being into one harmonious whole.

As architects, we are also interested in exploring our changing relationship with science and research. Many of our Science and Research projects explore the recent moves towards interdisciplinary research and the crossing of traditional scientific boundaries. The Central Quad is a new sciences teaching building that brings together disparate TU Dublin faculties from various parts of Dublin.  The sculpture will be located in the social heart of the building where all the different flavours of scientists will meet.

During design phases over the last two years, we worked very closely with Alexandra. Our conceptual thinking behind the building design influenced Alexandra’s concept.  Additionally, our interiors design developed to reflect the beauty and rationale of the sculpture.

The large atrium space in which Solaris Nexum will be placed is an unusual place to site a major piece of art.  It is not a conventional ‘Public’ space because it sits at the heart of the interior of the Central Quad teaching building.  But the space is not ‘Private’ because it has been designed to be totally accessible to visitors moving through the building to connect to the wider campus.

The delicate beauty of the suspended structure will form a counterpoint to the substantial structures and circulation spaces that surround it.  It will undoubtedly be a beautiful piece of art which fills the volume with a play of light, but the process of working with Alexandra and the GDA has also produced a meaningful social space at the heart of the Central Quad which explores a new approach to the teaching of science subjects.

Solaris Nexum breaks with the limits of art and architecture and engages with both the social and the aesthetic, the public and the private.

Watch Solaris Nexum in motion here giving us glimpses of its surroundings.

Simon Carter

Simon leads our Science & Innovation sector work and is a key part of our Higher Education sector team. He has recently delivered the Central Quad, a general and specialist teaching building on TU Dublin’s Grangegorman Campus.


Top: Solaris Nexum, installed at Central Quad, TU Dublin Grangegorman Campus (c) Alexandra Carr

1. London Centre for Nanotechnology (c) Timothy Soar

2. London Centre for Nanotechnology (c) Timothy Soar

3. The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank\,  during a sound and light performance piece by Jem Finer and Ansuman Biswas

4. Entrance to Central Quad\, TU Dublin

5. Solaris Nexum\, installed at Central Quad\, TU Dublin Grangegorman Campus (c) Alexandra Carr

6. Solaris Nexum\, installed at Central Quad\, TU Dublin Grangegorman Campus (c) Alexandra Carr

Solaris Nexum, 2021 by Alexandra Carr. Commissioned by Grangegorman Development Agency for TU Dublin, Ireland. Supported by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Colin Rennie, Consult Engineering Design Limited, Blended Management Group, Renée Pfister Art & Gallery Consultancy, London, Architectural Metalworkers Ltd, Ormiston Wire Ltd, Bay Plastics Ltd, Abseil Access, W.H.Scott and Son Engineers Ltd, Constantine Ltd. Music: Images/Video: Courtesy of the artist (c) Alexandra Carr. All rights reserved.