Kinetic Sculpture


  • 1

    Here are some of the materials you can use

    • cardboard (corrugated, such as a shipping box, or chipboard, such as a cereal box)  
    • cardboard tubes
    • electric fan 
    • metal washers (various sizes) 
    • paint stirrers (found at paint supply or hardware stores)
    • paper cups (various sizes)
    • Pint-Pong balls
    • poster putty
    • scissors
    • string
    • strips of colored paper, fabric, or newspapers 
    • tape (duct or masking)
    • wooden skewers and dowels
  • 2

    Prepare ahead of time

    • Have paper and pencil ready to write down ideas and sketches as you design.
    • Think about things that move in the wind. Why do they move?
  • 3

    Think about the challenge

    • What are some ways the wind can move something?
    • How are things that move in the wind similar in material, weight, or size?
    • What do you need to think about when designing a stable, sturdy tower with moving parts?
    • TIP: The tower needs to be stable or secure enough to withstand the wind and to stay upright each time the parts move.  
    • TIP: Structural engineers think about different forces that can cause stress, or tension, on a structure when it is being designed. Natural forces, such as wind, earthquakes, and waves, and modern environmental forces, such as traffic and people, are all taken into account during the design process.
  • 4

    Think about and write down your ideas

    • List some different ways that wind can move something. 
    • What size base, or foundation, will support your tower?
    • How will you keep your tower from falling over as the moving parts change position?
    • TIP: A part moves in the wind in different ways, depending on the material it is made of or placement of the material on the structure. Some parts can move in circles, back and forth, flap, twirl, or sway.
    • TIP: Inventors’ and engineers’ first ideas rarely solve a problem. They brainstorm ideas, try different ideas, learn from mistakes, and try again––this is part of the design process.
  • 5

    Look at the materials

    • What materials do you have to build a sturdy tower?
    • What materials will you use for the moveable parts?
    • How will you attach the moving parts to the tower?
    • What materials will you use to draw attention to the moving parts as they move in the wind?
    • TIP: Paper is flexible, but it can be used to make a sturdy base. You can stiffen paper by changing its shape (for example, by rolling or folding it) or by reinforcing it (for example, by building up layers). 
    • TIP: String can stabilize a tower, like ropes on a tent. 
    • TIP: Moveable part materials need to be able to catch the wind while not adding too much weight to the tower. 
  • 6

    Design and build the tower base

    • Decide what size and how heavy your base (foundation) will need to be to support your tower. 
    • Choose your materials and build the base.
    • TIP: Engineers understand the importance of building a solid foundation, which is a wide base for a tall structure to sit on. If the base is too small or if it is not well anchored, the tower can tip over. 
  • 7

    Design and build the tower base (continued)

    • Decide if your base needs support for the moving parts. 
    • Choose the materials and build the supports. 
    • Attach supports if needed.
  • 8

    Design and build the moving parts 

    • Decide what materials you will use to make the moving parts.
    • Build the moving parts.
    • TIP: If you have designed swaying parts, make sure they’re wide enough to catch the wind.
    • TIP: If you have designed spinning parts, make sure the parts are centered on an axle, a rod that spins. 
  • 9

    Attach the moving parts

    • Decide how the moving parts will be attached to your tower.
    • Attach the moving parts.
  • 10

    Test the moving parts

    • Try turning the moving parts. 
    • Test the parts to see that they move freely.
    • TIP: If your parts don’t move freely, try moving them away from other parts or remove extra tape or materials that might be hitting them. 
    • TIP: If your parts slip off the rods when you turn them, try plugging a small piece of clay at the end of the rod to stop the parts from coming off.
  • 11

    Add features

    • Decide whether or not you will add any features to your sculpture to draw attention to it.
    • Build and attach the features.
  • 12

    Test your kinetic tower

    • Place your tower in front of an electric fan.
    • Turn on the fan and watch the sculpture move!
    • TIP: If the tower falls over in the wind, widen or add weight to the base. Also, check how the tower’s weight is distributed—if most of it is near the bottom, the tower will stay up better. 
    • TIP: If the moving parts don’t move smoothly, make sure they are not too heavy to move in the wind. 
  • 13

    Did you know?

    • Tower Power
      How can a tower stand tall in typhoon-strength winds (74 miles per hour or greater)? That’s something the engineers who built one of the tallest buildings in the world were worried about. The Taipei 101 Tower of Taiwan is 1,670 feet tall (509 m). Typhoons regularly hit Taiwan, so the engineers had to find a way to keep the building from being blown over. They solved the problem by making the skyscraper much wider at the bottom than at the top. They also used special materials, including strong, flexible steel, to make the building sturdy enough to withstand those storms. 
  • 14

    Try this next!

    • Add more movement. Modify your tower and add more moving parts to your tower.
    • Make it taller. Redesign your sculpture so it is twice as tall as your first design.
    • Change the amount of wind. Build a sculpture that could work in either more or less wind.