AISC Steel Sculpture Turns 35

2021 isn’t only the 100th year of AISC -- it’s also the 35th birthday of the first AISC Steel Sculpture! On October 29th, 1986, the late Duane Ellifritt, PE, PhD, professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Florida (who earned the nickname “man of steel” from his colleagues) envisioned a full-scale steel sculpture on campus to help students better understand the practical applications of their studies. The Steel Sculpture gives students first-hand knowledge of steel framing, connections, members, and other important facets of designing with steel.

How the AISC Steel Sculpture was Born

The Steel Sculpture began as a real-world demonstration of concepts that may be difficult to explain in abstract terms.

"I was teaching steel and when we taught connections, many students had a hard time visualizing a 3D connection,” Ellifritt once told Modern Steel Construction. “You can show them two or three views of it, but to show them the whole thing in their mind, they had trouble doing that. I was trying to think of ways that I could help them with that. Field trips were good, but there's not always a field trip available when you want one. Contractors are not always happy about your coming onto a job site with a bunch of students. My best solution was to create a sculpture on campus with all the different connections and members commonly used, shown in full scale.”

A few years after Ellifritt installed the sculpture, AISC worked with him to develop a scaled-down version as a teaching aid that other institutions could use. Soon thereafter, the sculpture was constructed and still serves as a useful educational tool to this day.

The Steel Sculpture in 2021

Once a one-off project, the AISC Steel Sculpture was a great success that still endures today - and not just on the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus! In fact, since the first AISC Steel Sculpture was erected, there are now over 170 of them at higher learning institutions across North and South America. From Guatemala and Brazil to AISC’s hometown of Chicago, the likelihood of finding an AISC Steel Sculpture near you is much higher than you may think!

Even further proof of the Steel Sculpture’s success story lies in the fact that it’s not even the only one at the University of Florida! Modern Steel Construction spoke with UF Civil Engineering Professor David Prevatt about the sculpture. “Duane Ellifritt was an amazing person who combined his love of art with his practice of structural engineering," Prevatt said. "This was nowhere more evident than in his prototype Steel Teaching Sculpture, which has been used to teach steel design to steel design here at UF and has spread across the US and to other countries. Currently, UF boasts two of these sculptures, and the original (in bright ‘Gator orange’ colors) is proudly located outside of Weil Hall - the home of the civil and coastal engineering department.”

How do I get a Steel Sculpture at my school?

Do you want an AISC Steel Sculpture on your campus? If so, you may download an electronic set of detailed drawings that can be used to fabricate one of these sculptures. And because many schools have relationships with local steel fabrication companies, schools usually have their Steel Sculptures donated or have materials provided at reduced prices.

If you have any questions about how to begin your AISC Steel Sculpture journey or need help finding a fabricator to assist with your Steel Sculpture, don’t hesitate to reach out to our AISC University Programs team.