Sculpture
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Solar Gate

Sundial sculpture, 2017

Location: Hull, UK
Architect: Tonkin Liu
Size: 10m x 4m
Engineer: Arup
Steelwork: Pearlgreen

Solar Gate is a sundial that uses solar alignment to mark significant times and dates in Hull. The super-light innovative two-shell structure is place-specific, responding to pivotal historic events and to the cultural context of its location in Hull’s Queens Gardens adjacent to the ancient site of Beverley Gate.

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Line Drawing

The sculpture stands at 10 metres high, 4m wide and 1m deep (tapering to 100mm at the two open edges) but is made from miraculously thin 4mm plates. From these edges visitors can see how the structure is formed. Two curving and corrugated surfaces join, without the aid of any additional supporting internal structures. All of the structural strength is inherent in the sculpture’s shell form, which utilises Tonkin Liu's Shell Lace technique.

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Solar Gate becomes an illuminated timepiece at night, with a controlled in-ground lighting system installed inside and outside the sculpture. Designed by Tonkin Liu, the lighting sequence has been programmed to alternate between outside and inside, transforming the sculpture into near-transparency. Around the sculpture a ring of perimeter lighting turns on and off in a clockwise direction, to herald forthcoming events and festivals, including a Hull-wide art event referred to as the “Golden Hour.”


458 1 Elevations Plan

Seen afar like a mast, boat-like in plan
Close up gate-like, a secret in its skin
Two thin shells of steel undulate upwards
Perforated to ultra-lightness, circles in two skins align to sun angles

Historical events animated,
Shafts of light emitted
to a singular circle in the ground
A landmark that marks precise moments in time
The future of Hull propelled out of its past through the solar gate

458 0 Solar Alignment Copy
458 2 Unrolled

Solar Gate uses advanced digital tools to align exact sun angles from particular times and dates to pairs of large apertures on its surfaces. When a beam of sunlight passes through an aligned pair of apertures, it lands on a corresponding disc on the ground, a disc that reveals a significant event for the set of time and date. 16 reveal dates have been selected to celebrate Hull’s history and world events.

The artwork’s theme of “time” was inspired by events that took place at Beverley Gate in Hull in 1642. On the 23rd of April at 11.00, 17:00, and 18:00, King Charles I was denied entry into Hull three times, by the governor Sir John Hotham. Hull’s act of defiance was regarded as a key event in the English Civil War that lead to the fall of the monarchy.

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