Janet echelman`s braided earthtime sculpture in riyadh is a visual echo of tsunami ripples

Designboom_ American sculptor Janet Echelman, jointly with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), introduced her Earthtime series to Saudi Arabia as part of the country’s national public initiative, Riyadh Art. Installed on December 2023 amid the Wadi Namar water park, Earthtime 1.26 Riyadh is an ode to the rippling power of earthquakes and tsunamis, to the union of sky and earth, to human strength and adaptability, bridging opposites with bold colors and soft textile curves. ‘The sculpture serves as a symbol of interconnectedness, composed of countless intertwined fibers. Each time a single knot moves in the wind, the location of every other knot in the sculpture’s surface is changed in an ever unfolding dance of human-made creation with the forces of nature beyond our control,’ shares Echelman.

Hovering over Wadi Namar, Earthtime 1.26 Riyadh by Janet Echelman is also the latest in a decade of collaboration with SOM, forming an external team of aeronautical and structural engineers, computer scientists, lighting designers, landscape architects, and a fabrication team to complete her artwork. Echelman’s studio used digital modeling to create the structure, drawing inspiration from scientific data detailing a specific geological event: the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile, causing ripples globally and accelerating the Earth’s daily rotation. The title, ‘1.26,’ signifies how the Earth’s day was shortened by 1.26 microseconds as a result of this unforgettable natural disaster.

Material-wise, the team resorted to centuries-old techniques, intricately knotting by loom and hand custom engineered fibers with nylon and UHMWPE, which are fifteen times stronger than steel by weight. The resulting installation comprised ‘1,675 feet of rope and 92 spliced connections anchored to four supporting metal structures‘, writes SOM on instagram. By bridging history with the present, the piece magnifies ancient methods on an urban scale, Janet Echelman argues. She goes on to reflect on the experience at Wadi Namar, where her creation, set against desert rock formations, invites contemplation on contemplation on comfortable majlis sofas under the open sky—a singular experience unmatched anywhere in the world.