Our Team: Alberto Martínez

28 January, 2011

Alberto has been working as a Design Engineer for Aerotrope since 2006.

Originally trained in Mining Engineering in Southern Spain, he also holds a MSC in Railway System Engineering (U of Sheffield). This diverse background has stood him in good stead as over the years Alberto specialized in Aerotrope's projects with artists who propose very challenging installations, involving diverse materials such as fabric, soil, wax, steel or air and demanding precise attention to the diverse exhibition environments indoors and outdoors in galleries all over the world (Leviathan, Svayambh, Hive, Aeolus, Memory, Ascension, Shooting Into A Corner, Rice Pavilion).

Q: Alberto, what type of structures are you most enthusiastic about?

AM: I enjoy working with organic, irregular and cavernous structures. I grew up in Southern Spain where for centuries people dug caves into the chalky mountains, and I started my career as an engineer in a local open pit clay mine. I am fascinated by the architecture of caves, which led me to rebuild two chalk/ clay caves in Andalucía into modern living spaces. In collaboration with some architect friends we transformed what used to be a primitive shelter for local shepherds and their flocks into 21st century bright, modern housing. It is a very satisfying experience to be able to carve out an organically shaped living space to your own unique model.

Q: What is it that fascinates you in your work for Aerotrope?

AM: Call it coincidence but I have been working on some projects that played directly into my enthusiasm and background: There was Anish Kapoor's cavernous steel structure "Hive", as well as one of his other installations called "Svayambh", which required tons of paraffin wax to be transported on a kind of secret train track system. By their nature art works are one-off projects, so from an engineering point of view you meet totally different challenges every time. Also, as engineering consultants we are involved in not just one, but several stages of the process: Design, fabrication, and finally certification by the relevant authorities- all this makes working on art projects a very diverse, complete experience.

Q: What exactly is your contribution to these projects?

AM: I get involved right at the start, usually with a feasibility study for the artist, leading on to what we call reverse engineering and form development: The artist communicates their idea in 2D sketches or maquettes, and we translate this into 3D physical models or precise CAD drawings. We do a lot of so-called reverse engineering for the form of a sculpture. This means we create a mock-up or sketch and ensure the final piece is structurally sound, through detailed calculations and analysis. Reverse engineering for complex forms continually informs the structural design, ensuring that any changes along the way are always structurally sound. As well as the form itself its eventual location must be factored in, as there are always concerns such as temperature exposure and how it will be affected by the audience, maintenance staff or operators involved. This can become very complex as it involves complying with the requirements of each exhibition space and local health and safety laws, but it is a challenge we enjoy: At the end of the day we are there to help the artist realise their idea, even if initially there might be local resistance from health and safety and other municipal executives. Very often they are dealing with something that has never before been tried in their space, and as engineering consultants we sometimes have to put nervous minds at ease by proving that the project can be done safely. After all these obstacles are overcome it remains crucial that the visual aspect of the final product is as impeccable as the artist wants it. At Aerotrope we are proud to ensure we liaise with top specialists and fabricators, and we insist on personally checking the high standard of the finished surface at the point of fabrication and installation. Naturally I enjoy those trips to see the actual object in progress after months of computer modelling.

Q: You talked a lot about the importance of surface modelling- could you explain more?

AM: Ok, when we work on sculptures for artists it is on the one hand totally different to wind turbine blade design, but the similarity here is that turbine blades are essentially also an organic shape that is smooth and deceptively simple at first glance. This is what Aerotrope specialises in: We understand organically shaped complex surfaces very well and we pay great attention to modelling the surfaces to a high detail, achieving ultimate smoothness. Our aim is to make the engineering disappear, if you like- to arrive at a deceptively simple shape that presents itself without any lumps or bumps, be it steel, wax, tensile structures or even air (see Ascension).

Q: What are you looking forward to working on in future?

AM: I am looking forward to attending the opening of a grand new artwork I spent more than a year working on, but I am not able to tell you where, what and when yet..! Other than that I am keen to be more involved in Aerotrope's main business, our wind energy projects, for a change- we have some very interesting new developments lined up in the renewable energy sector and I am hoping to become more involved in the design of mechanical composite parts for those.

aerotrope image copyright: Aerotrope Ltd.

Tags: complex surface engineering, design engineer, structural engineering

Comments (0)