About 10 years ago, Bala took on a unique project with Spencer Luckey, an architect and artist who leads the custom design-build firm Luckey, LLC. In 1985, Spencer began creating children’s climbing structures that are part artistic sculpture, part jungle gym. He has constructed over 80 unique structures worldwide, including some in Mexico, China and Russia, among others.
These play structures are not traditional playground configurations. They are works of art and public space sculptures that create unique environments for children to play, imagine and above all else, engage with others. The imaginative sculptures are made of bent plywood or rotationally molded plastic climbing platforms suspended by steel pipes and cables, each taking on a new life in its respective space. Spencer does not always plan what he wants each structure to look like and strives to keep them as simple and abstract as possible so that children can problem-solve and use their own imaginations.
Out of all the unique and exciting climbers around the world, the one located in Los Mochis, Mexico, is Bala’s standout favorite. This artistic climber ended up looking like a jellyfish swimming in the water – however, it wasn’t always meant to look that way. In fact, it took on an ocean-inspired theme after it was designed. Because of the location’s hot climate, the structure needed a roof – and rather than using helixes, the climber features curves instead. It’s purposely asymmetrical and tipped over to one side – creating an 18-degree vertical slope – to provide the maximum amount of shade. The structure is lyrical and features deep blues of varying shades to evoke the underwater sensation. Instead of the round platforms usually found on Luckey Climbers, this one uniquely features square ones. “It made it weirder,” Spencer laughed, “and that appealed to me!”
One of the biggest structural engineering challenges faced while creating this unique climber was sifting through the non-published design wind speeds for Los Mochis Mexico. Bala researched the area and charted climatic data over a 50-year time frame and drew comparisons from several locations to develop an appropriate design criteria wind speed for the structure
Finite element models showing member stresses
Bala used the data compiled from research and conservatively applied a 140-mph design wind speed, or approximately 40 pounds per square foot of wind pressure, on the climber structure. In order to mitigate movement of the 22’-10” tall structure to an h/400 design criterion, or 2/3 of an inch lateral displacement, the main structural pipes were designed and fabricated with 6” schedule 80 steel pipes. Additionally, the main structural pipes are welded to one another as they crisscross and pass by each other to stiffen the structure and help distribute the forces equally. The climber is rigidly anchored to a 3’-6” thick reinforced concrete mat foundation. This is used to give the climber a wide base to uniformly distribute pressures on the soil and prevent overturning.
Luckey Climbers are a departure from what many people think of when it comes to “structural engineering.” Our minds are often drawn to images of the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramids and modern skyscrapers. Instead, we should be pushing ourselves to imagine the discipline as it pertains to more original and unconventional pursuits, as Spencer has. The climbers offer a way to truly exercise the creativity of the structural engineer who is challenged to develop solutions for these atypical structures.
Each of these unique structures is elegant and metaphorical in its own way. Some grace children's and science museums with their presence, while others stand tall in malls, parks, and churches, and still others hang over atriums, seemingly floating in mid-air. From Hong Kong to Ireland to Boston, each artistic sculpture serves as the site for blossoming creativity and insightful play. Instead of dictating what the structure is, Spencer leaves it up to the children's imaginations – allowing for a distinctive and inventive experience for kids of all ages.
Here are some of our other favorite climbers around the world! To find a climber near you, go to Luckey's website https://www.luckeyclimbers.com/find-a-climber