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Shaking up London

Features | March 1, 2014 | By:

An air-filled tensile snow globe showcases— and protects—a Piccadilly Circus icon.

In Greek mythology, Eros may be the mythological god of love and Anteros the god of requited love, but there is no love for vandals who deface the popular London statue.

The delicate aluminum Anteros statue (more commonly called Eros), located in the center of Piccadilly Circus, is a common target for mischief during the Christmas holiday season. In the recent past, the solution was to shroud it under advertising billboards. That method was effective, but not exactly festive. The Westminster City Council wanted a better way to showcase—and protect—the area’s icon.

Two London-based companies—Wildstone, an outdoor marketing company, and Architen Landrell, a company specializing in air-filled tensile structures—developed a concept of sealing Eros in a transparent tensile orb. They called it the “World’s Largest Snow Globe.”

“A snow globe of this scale had never been done before,” says Jason Smith, business development manager for Architen Landrell. “With that in mind, there was a lot of consideration before saying yes. We had to ensure that it could technically be achieved. This is a very complex project with many elements, including inflation fans, snow blowers, lighting, video screens and all of the technology behind it making it happen.”

There was another key factor to consider: the high-profile nature of the project in one of the busiest parts of central London. The success or failure of the project would be visible to everyone. “The pressure was on,” Smith says, “no pun intended.”

In September 2013, Architen Landrell received the contract to design and create the globe. Wildstone worked to sell advertising to pay for it. The project was put on the fast track and was installed over the statue in mid-November, and the #ErosSnowGlobe hash tag started to spread.

Concept to installation

With a short time frame and a serious deadline, Architen Landrell got to work. From contract date, the company had 59 days to design, manufacture and install the project. The globe would be officially presented to the public on November 18 at 6 p.m.

The company created a 13-foot-tall, 40-foot-wide steel base to support the 7,373 square feet (685 square meters) of clear PVC. The fabric alone weighed a half ton and was nearly 50 feet (15 meters) in diameter. The complete structure was 62 feet (19 meters) tall—about five stories. London-based structural engineering company David Dexter Associates also lent expertise.

Due to its prominent location, the octagon base of the snow globe housed eight of some of Europe’s highest resolution LED video screens. The screens were a part of an outdoor advertising campaign created by Wildstone, which paid for part of the project.

PVC was chosen for several reasons, Smith says. “It’s clear, has excellent tensile strength and we knew it would do the job.” And, since this was a multi-year project, PVC can be folded and stored for future use. “From a design and engineering standpoint, we handled this project like we would any other large inflatable structure,” Smith says. “The biggest challenge for us was making the snow work in the very controlled and pressurized environment of the fabric globe.”

Two fans, running alternately, kept the globe inflated and properly pressurized at .029 psi. Eight snow-blowing machines, strategically installed around the base, moved enough artificial snow to create a blizzard around the statue.

“Installation was logistically challenging, as we had to deal with road closures in a very restricted and busy part of London,” Smith says. “Crane planning, the lift sequence of the components, the fitting of the globe to the framework and the inflatable scaffolding that was installed inside the globe to protect the statue of Eros were all equally important—as was the anchoring of the structure to the ballast.”

To make installation go smoothly, Architen Landrell did a dry-run installation in the company’s parking lot. In the week leading up to the official unveiling, site operatives worked around the clock to meet the deadline.

Building attention

The structure wasn’t the only thing Architen Landrell was working to build: it was also building hype. The company, which tweets prolifically on everything from its ISO certifications to tensile fabric videos, started promoting its “Mystery Project” on November 1 on Twitter, the company blog and to the media.

Architen’s blog post called the effort “Extreme Fabric Installation” and published a photo of a curious pile of PVC.

In the time up to installation, it revealed a photo of the crane used in the dry run and other teasers to its followers and the public. On November 18, the company tweeted about it more than 25 times, including “3 hours until all 8 snow blowers are switched on! Excitement is building.”

“We sent out press releases, which were picked up by local media, online publications, magazines and newspapers,” Smith says. He has tracked stories in the U.S., England, Wales, France, Spain and New Zealand.

“Everyone loves the globe,” he says. “It has become one of the most photographed holiday attractions in London.”

A vandal named Aeolus

On December 23, an unexpected vandal played a role in puncturing the snow globe, deflating it and spreading plastic snow around Piccadilly Circus. Eros met Aeolus, the Greek god of wind.

According to newspaper reports with eyewitness accounts, high winds battered the globe. As it swayed, one witness says the PVC was punctured by Eros’ bow. The globe collapsed around the statue.

“In light of the high winds expected that day and night, we sent a site team to the Eros snow globe in London,” Smith says. “The team checked that the structure was functioning correctly and reported that the snow globe was behaving well within its design allowances.” Aeolus had other plans.

“Late that afternoon, just after the team had carried out a final inspection and the remote monitoring data had been reviewed and seen to be normal, the snow globe failed,” Smith says. “Failure occurred within one minute despite back-up fans being activated.” The area was cordoned off and the globe was removed. Since the snow globe was set to be dismantled on January 2, there was inadequate time to repair and re-install the structure, Smith says.

“A full review and testing of all the components which might have played a part in the failure is being carried out in order to determine the likely cause of deflation,” Smith says. “At present, there is no identifiable cause.”

Lynn Keillor is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minn.

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