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Kandi Sky — A Northern Gateway Sculpture

Kandi Sky     11 metres high x 22 metres wide     Painted steel     2008

Kandi Sky     11 metres high x 22 metres wide     Painted steel     2008

Pierre Diamantopoulo’s ‘stabile’ sculpture, ‘Kandi Sky’, fabricated in painted steel in the workshops of Art Fabrications, is 22 metres wide and weighs 10 tons — brightly coloured shapes and figures are improbably counterpoised almost 11 metres above the ground.

‘Kandi Sky’ stands in the “Land of Giants” at the Transporter Bridge Entrance of the new Middlesbrough College in Middlehaven, within view of the famous blue Bridge itself and a short distance from the site of Anish Kapoor’s and Cecil Balmond’s ‘Temenos’.

Click for Visitor's PDF Map of Temenos and position of Kandi Sky.

The idea of a gateway is central to this sculpture — a theme falling in line with the wider urban renaissance agenda of the ‘Northern Way’ with its concept of gateways to the North.

The new Middlehaven site is the main twenty-first century gateway to education and training in the Tees Valley. The sculpture addresses a need to demarcate the College’s entrance from a distance, inviting visitors to pass through its arch.

This work forms part of the first phase of the twenty-year, futuristic, Tees Valley Regeneration plan for the whole of the Tees Valley Corridor — with the controversial architect, Will Alsop, as the visionary force behind what is being described as a — “designer playground”.

The idea behind Kandi Sky

‘Kandi Sky’ alludes to Pierre’s primary inspiration in the works of Wassily Kandinsky, shown in ‘The Path to Abstraction’ exhibition (Tate Modern, 2006).

There is a quirky, bouncing abstraction at play; this is a sculpture of coloured forms and figurative elements tossed skywards with the musical randomness of improvisation and the control and calculation of a composition. The sculpture’s line describes the fun spirit of education and the arch is one of its many learning curves.

The sculpture is a metaphor for the processes of discovery and learning: the throwing of ideas in the air, balancing of thoughts; the leverage of knowledge and the roller-coaster ride of experience, then the bounding energy of physical education and the performing arts.

The sculpture is, therefore, ambitious in its scope and scale, bold and brilliant in its use of colour, with a central gateway arch at its focus and a dynamic tension throughout its span.


Designs for ‘Kandi Sky’ are integrated with an emerging, new building and that, invariably, presents a demanding project management task for the artist.

The contending requirements of contractors, architects, engineers, and landscapers — together with the surprises that lie deep beneath the ground, in the Tees Valley mud-rock, have all to be negotiated and met with design solutions in the eighteen months during which the Transporter Bridge Entrance takes shape.

In Pierre’s East Sussex studios, three stages of design are dovetailed into Laing O’Rourke’s design-and-build programme, as the sculpture is fine-tuned with a series of scaled-up studio maquettes, drawings and templates.

Stage One designs for ‘Kandi Sky’ are created with funding assistance from The Arts Council England, North East.

The sculpture is planned in conjunction with Art Fabrications in the Midlands, fabricated in their workshops, then erected on site in two days.
This is the story of these two days and almost two years in the planning.


Once the extensive foundations have been completed and when finished-ground-levels have been finally agreed, Art Fabrications have the go-ahead.

Only then do the first cuts to the massive steel supporting pillars begin at the Midlands workshops. By the spring of 2008, this is cutting it fine. Yet, this monumental fabrication and specialist paint programme is finished and installed in just under four months to meet the agreed completion date of 27th June 2008 — on time and on budget.

The highly skilled art-fabricators who are committed to working closely with sculptors and designers must receive the plaudits they richly deserve.

Nestling amongst farm buildings, Andy Langley’s Art Fabrication workshop in Fenny Drayton, Warwickshire, draws on a strong collective of associated industries in the Midlands hub, bringing a dedicated team and all the plant and expertise needed to the task. This comes with a no-nonsense, collaborative, practical and sensitive approach to metal sculpture.
Working from engineer’s drawings and Pierre’s 1:10 scale model, the mild steel sculpture is meticulously fabricated in 10 sections, spanning 11 by 22 metres.

Then, the monumental sections are all assembled at the dress rehearsal, in an elegant choreography of cranes and cherry pickers, in the yard that opens out onto the fields of Lodge Farm. Nothing is left to chance, as it is critical that all the components come together perfectly on the day.

Finishing touch

Kandi Sky’s high impact relies on a bold approach to colour. In turn, this demands a rigorous application of specialist surface preparations and finishes to the bare metal.

These are executed in industrial paint workshops to the independently tested, high specifications of the Highways Agency and Network Rail.

Both offer extremely tough, durable finishes, combining good anti-abrasive properties with exceptional weathering characteristics and excellent colour and UV resistance. An additional, anti-graffiti coat will provide the final treatment.

The sculpture is located in an industrial river valley, so a C5 (Aggressive/Urban Coastal Polluted) specification is applied complying with a Global Corrosion Standard for structural steel - ISO 12944.

All the fabricated parts are blasted down to clean metal and then thermally zinc-coated for superior protection. In the highly controlled atmospheric conditions of the Peterborough Blasting Workshops, the superficial rust that had once formed in the yard completely disappears as the metal is future-proofed.

The paint system is then applied to each masked element and after four coats, the finished sculpture is left to cure before being expertly packed, protected and delivered to the site for installing.


Ground surveys and site preparations, risk assessments and method statements are completed. Dock Street is closed off to the public.
The Art Fabrication lorries arrive with their flat-packed cargo. There are just two days in which to assemble ‘Kandi Sky’. The order in which the ten elements are manoeuvred into place and the precise alignment of the six supporting pillars are critical.

The slinger-signaler, the crane and self-propelled boom operators and the rest of the team — lift and lower, slot and bolt the assembly — piece-by-piece, until the main arch that joins the two sections of the sculpture across the Transporter Bridge Entrance meets its fixing point.

The four metre, bright, white figures are cradled across a lowering sky to find their marks on the balancing beams.
The last section, a beam balancing a red sphere and arc, is eased into place and bolted-on to form the highest point on the sculpture.

At the end of the second day, the bubble wrapping is peeled off. Then bubble-gum pinks, acid-drop yellows, lime-greens, turquoise, blue, orange, red and purple shapes — fill the air like an explosion in a candy shop. The team seals and retouches the fixing points and then clears the site whilst ‘Kandi Sky’ brings the first smile to a passer-by.