Client: City of Tianjin
Location: Tianjin, China
Completion date: 2014
Artwork budget: $3,500,000
Inspired by flowing flame-like filaments of oceanic plant life, “Phoenix-Oriflamme” is a 223-foot-high moving flame composed of graduated golden wings that turn and flow with shifting wind currents. This dance of perpetual movement is made possible by a system of embedded electromagnetic elements that simultaneously attract and repulse each other. The dynamic energy produced by the sculpture’s spinning rotors is stocked in internal dynamos that illuminate the sculpture by night.
Standing in the center of an urban thoroughfare in Tianjin, China, this monumental kinetic sculpture pays homage to the beauty of marine life and the immortality of nature.
The primary objective for this commission was to create an aesthetically powerful, instantly recognizable landmark in the dense urban metropolis of Tianjin, China. But the real challenge was to find visual and conceptual resonance with the city’s residents, so that they could feel the sculpture belonged to them as a people and a culture. This challenge was especially demanding for me as a French man in China – a cultural fish out of water.
Tianjin, a metropolitan hub constructed in less than thirty years, is the fifth largest ITECH city in China. It lies on the northeastern coast, on what was once the ancient marsh of TEDA. To preserve a remnant of the site’s environmental history with this monumental urban landmark, I found inspiration in the flowing flame-like filaments of aquatic plants to evoke oceanic life. The concept evolved into the bright, golden 223-foot-high moving flame which I entitled “Phoenix-Oriflamme” in reference to the immortal bird and the ancient French ceremonial flag used as a call to rally: a sign of homage to the immortality of nature. Appropriately enough, since its installation, local residents have affectionately nicknamed the sculpture “The Golden Kelp.”
I was responsible for all phases of the work: design to manufacture and final delivery, including structure and foundation evaluations and final installation. But the process was collaborative from start to finish. I relied heavily upon the intelligence, competence and hard work of my team at METAIS STUDIO as well as Jean-Michel Guittard and his structural engineers and constructors at BRUN FRERES, light engineer Erick Helaine / SOCIETE FEERICK and CHANG GROUP in Tianjin. Much credit and gratitude is due to these wonderful people. My partners in China were especially efficient in handling building authorizations and administrative coordination with Chinese commissioners and officials on all levels. As a French man who speaks no Chinese and limited English, this cross-cultural, ambitious project of truly monumental scale would not have been possible without the great commitment and positive energy of the entire team.
“Phoenix-Oriflamme” is 223 feet high and 33 feet in diameter, and is made of metal, enameled steel and light. Energetically autonomous, its lighting system uses the natural renewable source of kinetic energy that its movement generates in response to the environment.