The Helix Trust
Falkirk Council
Scottish Canals

The Helix Park, Falkirk, Scotland

Artist: Andy Scott
Structural Engineers: Atkins Global / SKM
Principal Contractor: SH Structures

The Kelpies, Falkirk

The 360 hectare Helix Park sits alongside Scotland’s M9 motorway near Falkirk and Grangemouth and provides locals and visitors alike with 27 kilometres of footpaths and cycle ways, a water sport lagoon, children’s play areas and the worlds’ largest equine sculpture, the Kelpies. The existing Forth & Clyde Canal which runs through the Helix Park once provided a navigable route between Scotland’s east and west coasts; silted up over the years Scottish Canals made the decision to build an additional kilometre of canal and once again open up the access from the east. It was felt that the entrance to the canal needed a dramatic feature to welcome visitors and the idea of the Kelpies was born. Designed by Scottish sculptor Andy Scott the Kelpies are inspired by the working heavy horses such as Clydesdales who played a key role in Scotland’s industrial heritage. After producing some initial concept sketches Andy went on to produce a pair of tenth scale models or maquettes which brought his idea to life and were instrumental in the project being awarded much needed funding from the Big Lottery. Turning the 3m high maquettes into the full size creatures would become a major engineering challenge. The initial structural design was developed by Atkins who digitally scanned the maquettes to create a virtual 3D model of the two structures. Working from the outside inwards Atkins developed a structural solution for a frame to support the external cladding which was to form the ‘skin’ of the two heads. After a lengthy and onerous pre-qualification process we finally submitted a compliant bid for the work in January 2012. Whilst reviewing the various tender documents we felt that there was potentially a different approach that could be taken to the structural support frame which would be more economical solution whilst still retaining the external aesthetic. After the various bids were found to be over budget we were invited to submit a proposal based upon our alternative design. Working closely with our engineers SKM we put together a detailed proposal based upon a revised tubular steel frame.

In spring 2012 SH Structures were awarded the contract to provide the Kelpies as Principle Contractor on a design and build basis after having demonstrated savings in excess of £750,000 to the project. From our initial discussions about the project in late 2006 we were very keen to engage with the artist Andy Scott. An arts project differs slightly to a more conventional construction scheme where it is usually the brainchild of a single artist or sculptor rather than an architects’ practice which may involve many architects and technicians. Our approach, however, is very much the same and we try and engage with the artist as soon as possible. We found Andy Scott to be a delight to work with. Humble yet clearly passionate about his creations Andy soon became a regular visitor to our works throughout the fabrication and assembly process and eventually to our operational site in Falkirk.

Modelling of the two horses heads was an enormous undertaking and would challenge the skills of our drawing office. Working from the outside surface model we gradually of a period of months built up the incredibly complex model that would become the hub of all our work on the project. The distinctive surface of Andy Scotts’ maquettes were created from the welding together of hundreds of individual steel plates to form almost a monocoque shell structure. Recreating this on something that was eventually going to be 30m high was clearly impractical. The solution was to replicate the skin by representing a number of plates with one single uniquely profiled plate. These were to be made from 6mm thick mill finish stainless steel plates which would create a surface that looked like the maquettes but that would also give the completed structure a finish that would be weather resistant and last for many years to come.

Soon material was being ordered and tubes were being sent off for bending and gradually assemblies started to take shape on the shop floor. Despite being two horses heads there was in fact very little that resembled a piece of a horse with the only piece of anatomy being just about recognisable were the ears. Each individual assembly was dimensionally checked and match fitted to its adjacent assembly to ensure a perfect fit when they were installed on site.

In July 2013 we started the installation work at the site within the Helix Park. Steel erection progressed quickly and our attention to detail during the fabrication process paid dividends making the site quick and above all safer. The total number of individual components exceeds 34,000 and less than a dozen items needed corrective action on site.

Opened in April 2014 the project has gone on to be a major success and has received over 1 million visitors in its first year. Now one of the most recognised and photographed visitor attractions in Scotland the Kelpies demonstrate what collaboration between a visionary client, a talented artist and skilled engineers can produce and showcases the skills that make SH Structures one of the UK’s leading specialist contractors. If you would like to learn even more about the story behind the Kelpies then please get in touch and we can arrange a presentation. These have already been very well received by the Institution of Structural Engineers and the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineers as well as numerous professional practices throughout the UK.