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Giant new sculpture from Charlie Whinney Associates unveiled!

Specialist steam-bender Charlie Whinney has just installed his 30m steam-bent wooden sculpture of DNA as the centre-piece for Cambridge University's new Physics of Medicine building. True to traditional stereotypes, the science comes from Cambridge and the art from Oxford - Charlie is Oxford-born and a current resident of the city.

"The original idea was to create a piece of art or sculpture that formed a relationship to the famous Cavendish Laboratory and the new Centre for the Physics of Medicine building, both complimenting the architecture and inspiring the scientists within. With the double helix being identified within the Cavendish by Crick and Watson in 1953, we felt it was the ideal starting point, this was then simply adjusted to ensure it formed a relationship with the building form," said Giles Blight, from BDP, the architects of the new building.
BDP's sketched design intent based on a DNA double helix was made into reality by Charlie Whinney Associates. The engineer involved was Ramboll Whitby Bird.

The choice of steam-bent Oak as the material and method of creation resulted from David Peet, Administrative Secretary of the Physics Dept at Cambridge, seeing Charlie's 'Together' sculpture at the Chelsea flower show on Andy Sturgeon's gold medal-winning garden in 2007. In its simplest form steam-bending wood is an old art, used for manufacturing cartwheels and boats. In its most complicated, it is a very new art and technology, and the DNA sculpture pushes the boundaries of what is possible. The sculpture was constructed in 4m segments of steam-bent local Oak, in Charlie's Kings Sutton workshop, and bolted together on site while simultaneously being suspended from the ceiling. The Oak helixes are attached to one another with twisted Oak batons, 40mm thick - an arm's thickness.

And David Peet is delighted with his choice: 'The sculpture makes a wonderful statement, with impact both internally and externally. The DNA theme links the past of the Laboratory (Crick and Watson) with the present, and makes great use of what otherwise would be a void; the natural timber is a further link to the natural world which the scientists will investigate.'

Besides being a spectacular emblem of what the building stands for, the DNA sculpture poses interesting questions about the nature of human existence, according to creator Charlie Whinney: 'The building, and installation process tested the ingenuity and stamina of everyone involved to the limit, for three sleepless days and nights. At the same time, over in Beijing athletes took their physical achievement to new, unbelievable levels, while in South Ossetia Russia and Georgia vied for control. Outside the Cavendish Laboratory the horses in the field grazed quietly in the sunshine for the duration. Where is our DNA taking humans that involves finding more and more complicated and contrived ways of surviving? Closer to god, closer to extinction, closer to enlightenment?'

Maybe the scientists in the new Physics of Medicine building will discover the answer - with the giant wooden icon above to inspire them.

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Find out more about steam-bent wooden sculptures and products at


Notes for editors

About DNA and Cambridge University

The new Physics of Medicine building has been created to continue the work that was kick-started with the discovery of DNA at the Cavendish Laboratory in 1953. It will open for students at the start of Michaelmas Term in October. The Cambridge scientist Francis Crick, who died in July 2004 aged 88, identified the shape of DNA with Dr James Watson in 1953, and his wife Odile Crick did the first ever drawing of the double-helix. Crick famously celebrated by going to a local pub and telling regulars that he and Dr Watson had "found the secret of life". The breakthrough, which helped to earn the pair the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, heralded a new era of genetic science.

About Charlie Whinney Associates

Charlie Whinney is the leading exponent of the art of steam-bending wood to create beautiful, unusual curvead furniture and sculptures. His work and projects are among the most challenging and ambitious in the UK currently, each taking the art (and science)-form further along an unbeaten track of innovation. His most recent projects this summer include the 30m Oak sculpture of DNA for Cambridge University, and a collaboration with Metropolitan Workshop for the London Architecture Festival - a piece entitled Road Trip to the Moon. Future architectural projects include a sculpture for a major new London hotel; a piece to go in Leicester Square, and a Manchester warehouse conversion.

Leaving sixixis(the popular Laurent Perrier Award-winning company he founded three years ago) has enabled him to focus on bigger products and projects, and to work with leading architects and garden designers, starting with winning Gold at Chelsea with Andy Sturgeon last year.

His current products include the Rolling Summer House, the CurlyShade (new designs to be shown this week during London Design Week at Tent London), two sculptural benches called the Coral Arbour and the Fountain Bench which are selling at Sotheby's this Autumn, and the GallopyGallopy Bed. Many are based on natural or microscopic life forms and he works with a strong environmental ethos using only locally sourced wood. Right now he is travelling, researching a new manufacturing concept called Fragmented Factories which involves fulfilling local needs using local resources.

More pictures can be downloaded from

About BDP

BDP is Europe's largest and most progressive interdisciplinary design practice. Founded in 1961, we now employ more than 1200 architects, designers, engineers, urbanists, sustainability experts, lighting designers and acoustics specialists in 15 studios across the UK, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands. BDP has a leading track record in all major sectors including health, education, workplace, retail, urbanism, heritage, housing, transport and leisure.

They combine expertise across disciplines, locations, sectors and all major building types to deliver a truly integrated way of working -- resulting in high quality, effective and inspiring built spaces.

For more information, please contact:-

Alison Ireland

Crazy Ties PR

Tel +44 (0)7973 404560


Skype: alison.ireland

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