Role: Interactive and bunker design, material sourcing, 3D modelling, fabrication, electrical engineering, installation & testing
Each year, Beam Camp puts out a call for artists and designers to pitch a three-week project for their campers to build on site during the summer. Along with my studio, Floating Point and artist Allen Riley, we pitched the idea of an underwater LED sculpture in the shape of coral reefs.
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Since Beam Camp has over 200 kids working daily on this project, the process had to be modular. Each reef would be made up of five branches of coral, and a branch would consist of three coral “modules.” We wanted the lighting patterns to be interactive, so we also pitched the idea of a bunker on the shore with interfaces for controlling the lights.
None of us had any experience with embedding leds into silicone or resin, so we our preliminary tests were to determine that they wouldn’t overheat or discolor too much with the thickness of resin. Once the first test was successful, then we could work on the artistic-side of designing the textures and shape of the coral.
Our original idea was to 3D print the coral modules, but this proved to be both time-consuming and really not as fun for for 200 kids to build, so we switched to clay models. The plan was to make around ten clay models and have ten unique modules that could be combined in interesting ways to make the branches.
We decided to use a two part mold, because we wanted the silicone molds to be reusable to cast multiple modules. The LED strips needed to be soldered and placed in the mold before pouring the resin, and we covered the connections in hot glue to ensure nothing would short in the process.
To put multiple modules together, we first soldered the wires together and tested to make sure the signal flow worked. Then we wrapped the connection in fiberglass and painted resin on top. We’d later decide to drill holes in the fiberglass and fill the void with more resin to improve the structural integrity of the joint.
Our placeholder for the control booth was a lighthouse, which seemed like an odd thing to install next to a lake. Digging deep inside for our inner children we felt like something that felt like the ultimate fort with control stations would be closer to what our ’80s nostalgia wanted.
I designed the control booth to look like a military pillbox bunker. It was designed to have two tiers; a control room and an observation deck on top. My main challenge was to free up as much space on the interior as well as keep it somewhat clean looking. I spent the better part of a month designing a cantilevered 3-panel window that would support the weight of a roof full of people. I achieved this by designing steel window frame that would act similar to a rally-car’s roll cage. Despite offering to weld the cage, the design proved too daunting for the camp fabricators to take on, so they modified the design to put the columns back in.
Nonetheless the bunker was a fun and tough build for the team.
Inside of the bunker, an Arduino-controlled interface would control the lighting on each of the reefs. There was a ladder on the side of the bunker leading up to a lofted platform where the coral could be viewed from a better vantage point. The railings on the roof were designed by Mitchell Dose and modeled after the coral patterns.
Each of the five interfaces controlled a different reef. Two were capacitive touch sensors, using copper tape (designed by campers) to change the speed and color of the reefs. Two of the sensors used motion sensors and photo cells to play an analog audio circuit. The volume of this circuit controlled the lights. The last interface was an aenenometer, or a wind sensor.
To ensure a waterproof connection, the wires for each branch were run through a long conduit sheath, which was then sunk into the resin base. To conserve resin (and cut back on weight), a donut-shaped box was used to place branches around the perimeter with a hollow center. We hung the branches using rope and clamps while we poured the resin into the box.
Once the reefs were finished, they were tested one by one and brought down to Little Willy, the lake at Beam Camp, for their placement. On the evening of July 23, 2015, all of the campers were invited to the bunker for the unveiling so they could see the coral lit underwater for the first time.
Design: Floating Point:
Mike Kelberman – Design, 3D modelling, fabrication, electrical engineering, installation & testing
Mark Kleback – Design, fabrication, circuit design, code design, installation
Jack Kalish – Design, 3D rendering in proposal, code design
Gabriella Levine – Design, underwater interfacing, Arduino programming
Johann Diedrick – Fabrication, casting, code design
Mick Hondlik – Fabrication, installation
Catherine McCurry – Fabrication, casting
Charles Phillip – Project Management, fabrication
Allen Riley – Design, conceptualization, fabrication, sound design
Construction: Beam Camp
Camp Directors: Brian Cohen, Danny Kahn
Documentation: Sara Tandoi, David Golann