With their locations usually far off the coastline, it is hard to visualise the size and scale of a wind turbine blade but a temporary installation in the centre of Hull brought the reality closer to home.
The unexpected neighbour was a gift from Siemens, which had recently opened a factory in the vicinity, to mark both its arrival and the start of Hull’s tenure as the European City of Culture.
Overnight on 7 January, Siemens installed a 25 tonne, 75 metres long blade from a turbine in the city’s Queen Victoria Square. When dawn broke, residents were confronted with an installation, known simply as Blade, that weighed the same as four fully grown elephants and equalled three blue whales in length.
Such was the scale of the installation – which also sat on a specially commissioned stand that allowed a bus to travel under one end but positioned the other close enough to the ground that it could be touched by visitors – that observers looking at social media images were convinced it had been photoshopped. Indeed, scientists from the University of Lincoln University who examined photos of Blade determined that ‘a trick of the light’ was to blame for people thinking it was superimposed digitally. It really was a ‘seeing is believing’ initiative.
Siemens had been keen to sponsor Hull2017 after opening a new factory and creating 1,000 new jobs, 98 per cent of which were filled by people living within a 30 mile radius of the city. But its budget was limited, but a suggestion from the City of Culture committee that Siemens looked to showcase the exceptional engineering work that Hull has to offer led to a germ of an idea. Multimedia artist Nayan Kulkarni brought it to life.
Blade and its counterparts are the largest handmade fibreglass components to be cast as a single object in the world. They are 20 per cent lighter than traditionally built off shore blades, and are now only manufactured at Siemens new plant in Hull’s Alexandra Dock. Blade was one of the first to be made in the new premises.
‘Senior leadership looked at us like we were crazy but said if it’s doable, go for it,’ explains Anne Keogh, head of external relations at Siemen. 'There was a lot of risk attached, but she adds that the team of engineers working on the Blade responded ‘in typical engineer fashion’ with We’ll work on a solution to that.'
A total of 13 engineers worked on the project. Three were involved with the drawing and designs of the stands for Blade, from both Siemens and Arup, whilst nine engineers from Siemens were joined by another from heavy lifting company ALE in order to move Blade from the factory to its new home.
‘It went up very slowly,’ says Keogh. ‘I was there the night before. We went under the cover of darkness. We had a police escort.’ The BBC followed Blade’s progress from the moment it left the factory.
She said that engineers took extra care in making sure that local monuments remained untouched, though there were moments that it was close. More than 50 pieces of street furniture, including traffic lights and lamp posts, had to be removed to clear Blade’s route to the centre. ‘It was slightly more challenging than we thought but our engineers were prepared,’ she continues. ‘The city has undergone a lot of refurbishment; it was important that we didn’t damage any of Hull’s cobbles and we knew it had to come out again. It was a unique engineering challenge.’
The installation of Blade also had a big impact internally. Around 200 employees who had been involved in manufacturing Blade were bussed into the city centre at 6am on the day it went up. They applauded as it was gradually hoisted onto its stand, where it sat until 18 March.
Keogh adds: 'It was a proud day for our employees. It was a way of saying I helped make this blade and that’s what we’re doing every day. These things are out there and made in Britain but people don’t see them. It was an opportunity to connect the people of Hull and families of our employees with what we do.’
Kulkarni said the
installation divided Queen Victoria Square, forming a temporary impediment to a
Around 420,000 people interacted with the Blade in its temporary home and research from Hull2017 reported that it was seen by more than one million. This was in no doubt helped by the levels of coverage across the world. The story was picked up by The Guardian, The Economist and the BBC.
Blade has since been removed from the square. There is now planning permission in progress to allow Siemens to display it at the entrance of its Hull factory site so that people can continue to visit and experience its unique scale.