Arcadia’s fire-breathing spider inspires young engineers

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Categories: Technology

11 May 2018


Imagine that you’re in the middle of a festival crowd, dancing away to the most dynamic names in music. 50-foot fireballs are exploding into the air, audience members are being abducted by acrobatic performers, and luminescent creatures are swooping from the sky. Oh, and lastly: you’re looking up at a 50-tonne mechanical spider.

Arcadia is a performance art collective renowned for engineering mechanical monsters that they use as large-scale performance spaces. Perhaps the most recognisable of these is The Spider, a 360-degree structure built from recycled materials. Created by sculptors, engineers, painters and pyrotechnicians, the arachnid is an experiential dance stage for festival attendees.

The mechanical marvel has travelled the globe, inspiring budding engineers and artists at events around the world. Now, Arcadia are attempting a new hands-on approach to get children interested in engineering, performance and art through their new community interest branch, Arcadia Reach.

Arcadia Reach is a non-profit organisation designed to extend beyond the collective’s commercial boundaries. They plan to utilise the group’s skills and resources to run events in communities where they can make a difference. By highlighting less formal routes into engineering careers, their aim is to inspire the next generation of innovators.

At their first event last Friday, 200 young people of various backgrounds came together to discover a different side to engineering. The event began with inspiring talks from the Arcadia founders. Next, the young people took part in a hands-on activity designed to combine arts with engineering. They worked together to create insects using scrap materials such as tyres, metal rods and brake lights. The workshop showed the practical side of a career in the field, while also highlighting how it can tackle issues such as sustainability.

Two images side by side. The left image demonstrates a students drilling a nail into a metal 'helmet'; the right hand image is a miniature metal insect constructed by the students.

Arcadia is known for embedding the idea of reuse and sustainability into their work. Their Metamorphosis show is based around themes of transformation, to show how engineering can tackle the world’s waste problem. The giant structures they build are also made from recycled materials.

The giant spider at the heart of the festival is built from repurposed military hardware. Its legs are made from Customs and Excise scanning units, the claws are log grabbers and the eyes are engines from spy planes. The body of the arachnid is built from helicopter tails, and its DJ booth is engineered from jet engine blades. The pyrotechnics system has been converted to use recycled biofuels, running on chip fat sourced from local takeaways.

Another initiative looking to inspire the next generation of engineers is the Year of Engineering 2018, set up by the UK government. Throughout the year, young individuals and their parents will have the chance to take a closer look at engineering, with thousands of inspiring experiences on offer throughout the country.

The Royal Academy of Engineering also recently launched a campaign called This is Engineering, which aims to rebrand engineering for young people aged 13-18. Using powerful role models on social media, the campaign aims to introduce young people to alternative engineering routes.

There is still much to do to reduce entry barriers into engineering. Through showcasing the immense creativity of the industry, projects like Arcadia Reach are beginning to present it as a more accessible career path. Are there any other projects that you have come across that are presenting engineering in an alternative light? Are there any initiatives internationally that have caught your attention? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

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