Bending aluminum channel can be difficult. Under extreme conditions, it tends to crack. Bending aluminum channel into a helix is even more of a challenge. With the right tooling, machine, machine operator and process, however, some impressive bends can be achieved.
The new Manning Family Science Building, designed by architects Bartzen & Ball, recently went up at Woodberry Forest School in Madison County, Virginia (a private boarding school for boys, grades 9-12). Centered in the front vestibule of the building will hang a sculptural light fixture, the “Double Helix Chandelier”, meant to represent human DNA. 4″ aluminum channel was rolled in a right-hand helix at an extreme pitch of 48 degrees to represent the sugar-phosphate backbone of the human DNA. These helical rails will be assembled, with their respective cross braces, and installed by Gropen Company. The cross braces, that will represent the adenine/thymine & guanine/cytosine bases, will be made of LED media tubes, manufactured by Traxon Technologies. DOT XL LED lighting will also be affixed to the outside of the helical rails. Once combined, the LED media tubes and the DOT XL LED lighting will be programmed to emit a pattern of colors that represent the components of the DNA strand.
Other projects involving curved steel sections have been inspired by the DNA helix. The monumental, circular staircase at the Drexel University Integrated Sciences Building mimics this design by using curved plate.
And a sculpture at the Laboratory Corporation of America in Burlington, Vermont, one of the nation’s largest in stainless steel, is comprised of pipe bent into a helix.
Artists, engineers, steel fabricators, and owners are attracted to these helical designs and turn to specialty steel fabricators, primarily benders and rollers, to see if they can turn their ideas into reality.