UAA | University Art Analysis — A steel sculpture helps students visualize engineering methods

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

For over 30 years, “Steel Sculptures” from the American Institute of Steel Construction, or AISC, have been erected on over 180 colleges and universities worldwide. The sculptures serve as teaching aids for students by modeling methods of steel framing and their connections, according to its website.

The AISC is a technical institute and trade association based in Chicago, Illinois that provides information to the steel design and construction community. The institute supports the ability of structural steel to be used in the worldwide construction market to create better, safer and more economical structures, according to its website.

In 2016, UAA’s College of Engineering celebrated the unveiling of the steel teaching sculpture. The installation of the AISC sculpture was made possible by UAA’s professor emeritus of civil engineering T. Bart Quimby. SteelFab, an AISC member and certified fabricator, donated the materials used for the sculpture, while UAA paid for the footing. Quimby and his wife paid SteelFab for the labor. 

“I sure wish I had this available when I was teaching structural engineering classes [at UAA],” Quimby said in a 2017 interview with The Alaska Professional Design Council.

UAA’s “Steel Sculpture” can be viewed outside of the Engineering and Industry Building near the Student Union. Photo courtesy of T. Bart Quimby.

UAA’s “Steel Sculpture” resides at the Engineering and Industry Building, giving engineering students easy access to the piece. The sculpture consists of numerous steel pieces covered in a vibrant Seawolf green. These sculptures are intended to show the many different techniques used in engineering and construction to connect steel parts together. 

Quimby’s gift continues to provide a hands-on learning experience for engineering students. The “Steel Sculpture” can be seen as a unique piece of art for non-engineering majors.

“[It’s] interesting that it looks like a big birdhouse,” Teeana Nicholai, a freshman political science major, said. “I’m not an engineering student, but I’m sure that the placements of the steel took a lot of work and well thought planning based on the irregular structure.”

- Advertisement -

The original “Steel Sculpture” was constructed in 1986 at the University of Florida’s campus in Gainesville. The university’s professor emeritus of civil engineering, Duane Ellifritt, created the sculpture. The sculpture is made from 25 steel beams, 43 connection elements, over 26 weld groups and over 144 bolts, according to

“The structure was envisioned to be a full-size 3D model that would provide engineering students with up-close, hands-on exposure to structural steel members and connections,” according to the AISC website.

AISC requested and received permission to promote a smaller version of the original sculpture as teaching aids. The AISC provides an electronic set of detailed drawings that can be used to fabricate the sculpture.

To begin the process of having an AISC “Steel Sculpture” placed on campus, the set of drawings can be downloaded from the AISC website. Local steel fabrication companies erect and fabricate the sculpture based on the drawings. 

Have you seen art at UAA you want to know more about? Contact Gabby Vance at [email protected].