Future Flower by Tonkin Liu

London-based architect Tonkin Liu has completed the Future Flower, a 14 metre high wind-powered metallic flower, that was commissioned as part of an environmental uplift and public art programme for the banks of the River Mersey in Widnes, Cheshire, UK.

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Photos © Anna Liu, Mike Tonkin, and Fritz Fitton

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Future Flower by Tonkin Liu

The 14 metre high wind-powered metallic flower was commissioned as part of the wider Widnes Waterfront environmental uplift and public art programme, following an international competition held in 2007.

The project is funded by the North West Development Agency as part of a wider Waterfront Regeneration Programme to the clean up of the vacant, polluted riverfront land of Southern Widnes, Cheshire. The programme will transform over 200 acres of former industrial land on the banks of the River Mersey creating 1,100 jobs for the local economy with the development of a modern business park environment and associated leisure facilities. The arrival of the flower signals the beginning of this transformation. It is intended to spur the repopulation of the waterfront by nature, and by people, drawing visitors from the neighbouring Catalyst Museum and Spike Island Visitor Centre eastward on to the trans Pennine Trail.

The site for the Future Flower, near the working chimneys of a power plant, past the swing bridge across the disused section of the St Helens Canal, expands in view with the open sky of the River Mersey, with a beautiful light that reflects off the water and the reeds. The inspiration for the Future Flower was drawn from this meeting of industry and nature.

The Future Flower is 4.5 metres in diameter and 14 metres above ground, marking a point at the grand scale of the River Mersey’s horizon. Collaboration with sustainability engineers XCO2, structural engineers Eckersley O’Callaghan, and art fabricators Mike Smith Studio have enabled the precision engineering of the Future Flower.

Constructed out of triangles and pentagons, the steel structural frame is in the form of an icosi-dodecahedron, onto which 120 perforate galvanised mild steel petals are fixed. Within the volume of the flower, a central stalk with branches holds 60 low voltage LED lights, directed to different clusters of petals.

The lights are powered by three mini wind turbines attached to the stem, which operate offgrid. At 5 miles per hour the wind will trigger the lights, activating incrementally as the wind increases. The lights create different intensities of red, depending on the wind speed, resulting in an ever-changing and dynamic flower. Without the wind, the perforate galvanised metal petals reflect the changing colours of the sky and the sun, as the wind picks up they become saturated with the red LED lights, and in the mist or rain they emit a halo of captured and reflected light.

As a universal symbol the flower embodies the optimism for the future of Widnes, while its performance embraces the future of renewable energy.

Halton Borough Council Leader Cllr Tony McDermott said:

“It is an amazing piece of artwork. We are proud to see how quickly the Widnes Waterfront area is developing and expect thousands of people to enjoy the Future Flower over the coming months.”

Visit Tonkin Liu’s website – here.

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