“Pillar of Engineering” – a Sculpture in CITRIS

“Pillar of Engineering”, a gift from Paul Suciu, designed by Carlo Séquin

The striking sculpture on the terrace of the sixth floor in Sutardja Dai has a twisting, turning story, appropriate for a vision of connections rising into the air.

Paul Suciu and Carlo Séquin worked together briefly in1976 at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, but Séquin left shortly thereafter to join the faculty at UC Berkeley, where he taught courses in digital electronics, computer architecture, computer graphics, solid modeling, and rapid prototyping. He also maintained an active interest in art and in geometrical sculpture. Suciu eventually left Bell Labs to follow his love of semiconductor memories, first working at Advanced Micro Devices, and then at Atmel Corp., where he became Managing Director of the Serial Memory Group. In 2006, Suciu left Atmel to focus on, among other things, nature, philanthropy, and art.

Paul Suciu (left) and Carlo Séquin (right)

David Hodges, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley, served as Suciu’s doctoral advisor and as a friend to Séquin. In 2011 Hodges encouraged a meeting between the two, realizing that they might have shared interests in art and sculpture. Indeed, a couple of meetings in Séquin ‘s office, followed by intensive discussions, ranging from mathematical surfaces, to geometric sculpture, and to the quality of different types of stone, lead to a fruitful collaboration that resulted in a new sculpture placed in the College of Engineering.

The sculpture model in Séquin’s office that had caught Suciu’s interest was a five-story twisted Scherk Tower. This shape is derived from the central part of Scherk’s 2nd minimal surface. Instead of the simple biped saddles, five 3rd-order monkey saddles are stacked upon one another. The whole stack is then given a longitudinal twist of 90 degrees, and the top and bottom parts are flared out to give the sculpture a more dynamic presence.

For this project, the new medium of realization required a redesign of the geometrical shape of Séquin’s earlier model. The surface had to be thickened to two inches everywhere, and a suitable pedestal had to be chosen that would raise the center of the sculpture to eye level. Picking a specific stone was also not an easy choice, since there were so many beautiful stones to choose from. Green granite was chosen for the tower, and a deep black granite cylinder for the base. Both stones have a particularly dense and durable matrix.

This sculpture celebrates engineering; hence its name: “Pillar of Engineering.” Three main threads connect one saddle story to the next one. They represent three key ingredients of engineering: Mathematics, the Sciences, and Materials.