3D UNIT III: Space Frames

Project IIIi

Kite Runner




To introduce the 3D elements of line, plane, and volume and their interaction.


To understand and apply basic structural design principles (e.g., tension, compression).


To attempt to reconcile physical and metaphysical domains

Project Overview

For this project you will use linear and planar materials to create a functional kite, designed to navigate between two distinct spatial realms, e.g., “heaven and earth.”

Project References


Stewart, Mary, Launching the Imagination: pages 178 - 193.

URLs on Kites and Kite building:

·        Afghani kites: http://www.asu.edu/cfa/wwwcourses/art/SOACore/kites_nytimes.htm

·        http://www.2020site.org/kite/

·        http://www.pbs.org/benfranklin/exp_kite.html

·        http://lifehacker.com/software/diy/weekend-project--build-your-own-kite-165602.php

URLS on structural design principles:

·       http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Architecture/4-440Basic-Structural-TheorySpring2003/LectureNotes/index.htm

Other References:

Shaping Space by Zelanski and Fisher: Wharton Esherik (1.20), Chartres Cathedral (1.33), Hiroshi Teshigahara (1.40), Helio Oiticica (2.3), Christo (2.4), Kenneth Snelson (2.7), John Matt (2.25), Jean Muller, Brottone Bridge (2.32), Max Bill (3.11), Michael Singer (3.12), Mark di Suvero (3.16), Naum Gabo (3.19), Sylvia Stone (4.3), Shiro Kuramata (4.8), Tournament Armor (4.9), Antoine Pevsner (4.25), George Ricky (5.4), Eero Saarinen (5.12, 5.13), Andrea Blum (5.14 and 8.18), Gebruder Thonet (6.2), Lynda Benglis (6.11), Joan Michaels Paque (6.14), Jesus Rafeal Soto (6.3), Alexander Calder (6.4 and 10.10), Pilobolus Dance Theater (6.5), David Hammon (6.20), Toshio Odate (6.21), Poul Henningsen (8.4), Frank Lloyd Wright (8.5), Larry Bell (8.6), Linda Howard (Plate 14 and 8.17), Aiko Miyawaki (8.20), Jose de Riviera (10.6), Simon Rodia (11.15), Norma Minkowitz (12.13), Joyce Scott (12.15), Hiltrud Schaefer (12.16), Edward Livingston (12.21), Carol Hepper (12.26), Georg Jensen (12.27), Liza Lou


line, plane, volume, negative space, positive space, implied line, implied plane, space, space frame, structural design, tension, compression, load


Flexible sticks (e.g., bamboo, bamboo skewers, fir, spruce, 1/8” x 36” dowels), planar material (e.g, tissue paper, butcher paper, mylar, lightweight plastic sheeting), tape (1”-2” wide clear packing tape), string, and?



Before coming to class, review the thematic concept of Spirit Worlds as found on the website. Also read the discussion Space Frames for Unit III. Review the Project References above.  Discuss with your instructor and fellow students how kites have been used in various cultural settings and historically.


a) Enter into your notebook at least four different sources for “kites” and their uses culturally and historically (NOT “how to” sites).

b) Make word lists and do a series of expressive or descriptive line drawings of kites in your sketchbook.  At this point, don’t worry about functionality. What kind of image would serve to bridge the gap between two disparate worlds?

c) What is the primary shape? Can you simplify the image(s) that you arrived at in #2 into something buildable—and flyable?? How can you balance the structural requirements with compositional ideas? 

d) Make at least 3 different scaled prototypes using plain white notebook paper and bamboo skewers.  You will use ONE of these prototypes to determine the materials you need to build the full-scale kite.

e) Explore the links above for practical guides to kite building.  Find your own resources in the library and online.  Try to find appropriate materials and methods that will serve your idea. Be open to modifying your initial design in order to solve the problem of making a functional kite.

f) Gather together all of the materials you need to build your kite. Many designs will require a long tail in order to fly in a stable manner.

g) Assemble your kite.

h) Decorate your kite (but remember, paint is heavy!).

i) Fly your kite!


Research and careful planning is essential. The most successful kites will be both beautiful and functional. Conduct tests of your materials—they must be both lightweight and strong.  Pay particular attention to points of intersection between the linear sticks and the planar surfaces.  Can the joints, struts, and sheeting withstand the stresses of flight?    

Timetable: 12-18 hours.

Critique Ideas


When you have completed your sculpture, divide into small groups and exchange artworks with another group from the class. Within your group, work together to respond to each sculpture in turn. Describe the techniques used to create the kites and explain how various problems were addressed: formal relationship of line, plane, and volume; technical solutions for making a structure both lightweight and strong; conceptual or compositional ideas that help effectively address the goal of “negotiating between disparate worlds.”

2. Point out any signature marks, patterns, or techniques the artist used to indicate a particular meaning or cultural allusion.

3. Discuss ideas the artwork seems to communicate. After some sharing of interpretations, attempt to state the "message" of the design in one sentence. (This artwork is about. . .)

4. Explain how the forms, techniques, or other elements of the design support its message.



Your notebook should include the following:

1. Evidence of your research (sources, print-outs from magazines, web searches, interviews, etc.).

2. Your design process (drawings, computer-printouts, photos).

3. Supplemental materials (receipts, notes about technique or materials)

4. Documentation of the final work.

This project developed by Dan Collins, 2007.

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