Client: Montgomery Bell Academy
Location: Nashville, TN, United States
Completion date: 2021
Brenda Stein Art
Montgomery Bell Academy
Erik Lund AIA, LEED AP
Dillon Dunn NOMA, LEED Green Associate
3D Scanning and file generation
Mezalick Design Studio, LLC
Hawks bring harmony to Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy. The private school commissioned artist Brenda Stein to create a permanent suspended art installation as a central biophilic element of a new wellness center and fieldhouse. Designed specifically to employ nature to enhance the well-being of students, Soaring Together also pays homage to Red-tailed Hawks that frequent the campus. An integral part of the challenge incorporated wood from a 256-year-old Sycamore tree into the sculpture.
The resulting two-part installation represents a natural skyscape using both a kinetic and a static mobile. Lifelike hawks, the largest with a 45″ wingspan, float twenty-five feet up through the open stairwell atrium into the skylight, creating an awe-inspiring view. Gentle air movements create an ever-changing relationship between the birds in flight and the viewer.
The primary objective of the artwork balanced the energy of an all-male sports facility with the wonder of nature’s splendor, thereby promoting individual health and well-being and fostering interdependence, team building, and community. The other mission honored the hawks that frequent the campus and added historical meaning to the work by incorporating salvaged wood from an MBA heritage tree.
Brenda Stein’s Soaring Together easily achieved all of these goals. Hawks lift in columns of warm air, also known as thermals. They often share these currents with other raptors. Although not all hawks migrate, a Great Hawk Migration occurs in North America every spring and fall. The installation reaches viewers from multiple vantages, creating an ever-changing design. One grouping shifts slowly in space, while the others fly in formation tucked into the skylight, as if beginning migration. The artwork symbolizes beauty and strength in unity, underscoring the tenet of helping one another so all may succeed.
Soaring Together was a direct commission for Montgomery Bell Academy’s Frank Burkholder Wellness Center. The 200,000 square foot LEED-certified, state-of-the-art building also functions as a stadium fieldhouse. Stein worked with headmaster Brad Gioia to form the initial concept, with insights provided by David Tune, distinguished alumnus who gifted the artwork to the school. Working models refined the clients’ concept during the new building’s construction. Hastings Architecture provided Stein’s studio with superior support from building plans to virtual reality site visits and exceptional renderings.
Finding the best minds and skillful hands to bring the design to life underpinned the success of Soaring Together. Stein’s initial models utilized wood and wire. Consultations with naturalist Jean Buchanan informed the physical models of the Cooper’s and Red-Tailed Hawks. Wood bird models were 3D scanned for CNC and modified by Mezalick Design Studio. Nashville CNC refined the files for their wood fabrication. Post-fabrication, each hawk was detailed by hand by the artist. Aerial supports and connections were designed and assembled by Havill Metalworking, who also performed the installation, using only two points of attachment for the two mobiles on a thirty-seven foot beam.
The impact of the piece goes beyond the actual mobile as it is reflected in the surrounding glass and casts shadows on adjoining walls and main hall floor. The collaboration with the Headmaster Brad Gioia and alumnus, birder, and flight aficionado David Tune, delightfully explored birds and flight. Mr. Tune honors his mother Carolyn Tune, to whom the work is dedicated, “in recognition of the care, support, kindness, and sacrifices of all women who inspire us.” To engage students directly, Stein arranged a live hawk demonstration that captivated 810 students on the new stadium field. Professional falconers Alan Johnson and Rob Deegan shared insights on raptor behavior and habitat, and their experience as falconers.