The Pandrol Clip: Art vs Engineering

I bet most people just walk, drive or cycle by this object at the corner of 9th St and 4th Ave SW thinking that is just another piece of contemporary art. In fact, it is a huge Pandrol Clip that I have enjoyed for years as I walk over the Louise Bridge that connects downtown to Kensington Village.

A What? You ask?

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A Pandrol Clip?

The information panel next to the object says it is “an important component in keeping Calgary’s CTrain system together. The Pandrol Clip is part of a railway fastening system developed in 1959 by Norwegian railway engineer Per Pande Rolfsen.

Physically the clip weights less than two pounds and has a diameter of approximately 20 mm. However, this unique system offers a lightweight, low-cost rail fastener where spring and torsion works together to provide a high clamping force - each clip exerts a force of approximately two tonnes on the foot of the rail. This holds the rail foot in place, keeping the rail fastened to the underlying base-plate.

The proven benefits of the Pandrol Clip include a very long and virtually maintenance free life. It is safe, secure, can be inserted and removed manually and will continue to grip the rail under vibration. It is now used by hundreds of railways systems around the world.

But, can it also be considered art….

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Clip vs Figure vs Gate vs Frozen River vs Blue Ring vs Bloom

It has all the ingredients of sculpture - shape, space, form, line, texture. In fact it reminds me of bit of a Henry Moore reclining figure, as well as Kosso Eloul’s “Nova Gate” at the entrance to the old Nova Building downtown.

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

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Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads,  “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads, “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Last Word

I wonder how many other engineering objects there are like the Pandrol Clip that blur the boundary between form and function, object and art. Calgary is often called “The City of Engineers” as it has one of the highest per capital number of engineers in Canada, maybe the world.

Perhaps it is fitting that our public art and engineering communities are linked.

Sometimes Calgary’s urban design and arts communities refer to Calgary as a “city built by engineers” when frustrated by the City’s inability to embrace the arts, creativity and experimentation. Indeed, Calgary has a reputation (nationally and perhaps internationally) of being a bastion for pragmatic prairie conservatism.

Perhaps instead, we should be embracing our engineering culture and working together to create something unique. The Beakerhead festival that combines art, engineering and science was a great first step. We need to take few more steps….

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Beakerhead Festival

Confessions of a public art juror

Do we need all of this public art?