Eight years after the first sketches took shape on an artist’s kitchen table, construction has finished on the mighty Kelpies – two towering 30-metre horse heads on the banks of the Forth & Clyde canal, in Falkirk, Scotland.
The official construction of the massive £5 million sculptures, each weighing more than 300 tonnes, has now finished. They are the largest equine sculptures in the world.
The sculptures, the work of Glasgow artist Andy Scott, are part of a £43m redevelopment of about 350 hectares of land between Falkirk and Grangemouth, known as the Helix Project.
They sit either side of a specially constructed lock and basin, part of the redeveloped Canal Hub.
The components of the artworks were produced by SH Structures at its North Yorkshire yard.
In all, 100 separate deliveries of parts were made to complete the artworks. There were 495 individual “skin” components that form each head, and 10,000 special fixings to hold them on. The project used 3000 metres of steel tubing and 17,000 component parts.
The foundations alone for the heads weigh 1600 tonnes.
Horses’ heads were envisaged for the site from the outset, because of the animal’s links to the the region’s industrial heritage and the Scots legend of water-based mythical horses, or kelpies.
Scott’s vision for The Kelpies follows the lineage of the heavy horse of industry and economy, pulling the wagons and ploughs, barges and coalships that shaped the structural layout of the area.
Scott said the the original concept of mythical water horses was a valid starting point for the artistic development of the structures.
“From the original sketches of 2006 I deliberately styled the sculptures as heavy horses. In early proposal documents I referred to Clydesdales, Shires and Percherons, of the fabled equus magnus of the northern countries.
“I wrote of working horses. Of their role in the progress of modern society, as the powerhouses of the early industrial revolution, the tractors of early agriculture and, of course, the first source of locomotion for barges on the Forth & Clyde canal.”
The materials in The Kelpies were deliberately chosen to be those of Scotland’s former industrial heartland – steel construction on an architectural scale.
It is hoped The Helix site will ultimately attract 350,000 tourists a year to the area to boost the local economy.
The Kelpies stand either side of a new canal extension which links the Forth & Clyde Canal to the North Sea, which is expected to increase boat traffic on the inland waterways of central Scotland.
The Helix project was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Falkirk Council and Scottish Canals.
Big Lottery Fund Scotland director Jackie Killeen said: “The construction of The Kelpies as well as the development of the wider Helix site has changed Falkirk’s landscape forever.”
Councillor Adrian Mahoney, Falkirk Council’s spokesman for culture, leisure and tourism, said: “The completion of the giant Kelpies – the world’s largest equine sculptures – is a major milestone. They have attracted international attention and really put the whole Helix project on the map.
“The wider Helix initiative, costing £43 million, will be fully finished next year. It will provide another major tourist attraction for central Scotland and further build the growing tourism economy of the Falkirk Council area.
“Experts are predicting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. The Kelpies – easily seen from the main M9 motorway and vantage points around Falkirk district – will be a key part of that attraction and look absolutely stunning. I’d like to congratulate artist Andy Scott and all the team involved in their creation.”
Scott said: “It is almost eight years since I did the first sketches of the project on the kitchen table of my then girlfriend and now wife’s kitchen table in Amsterdam, so to see them completed here today is both humbling and fantastic.
“I have always been fascinated with horses and the heavy horse was at one time the driving force in industry until after the Industrial revolution.
“There is an ancient and almost primal link between man and horse and The Kelpies you see here today are an outstanding exemplar of art and engineering coming together to deliver something really special for the people of Falkirk and Scotland.”
Construction work on The Kelpies structures began in June.
The steel was fabricated in Yorkshire and transported to Falkirk where the SH Structures team painstakingly pieced the structures using sophisticated 3D modelling software.
“We took our first phone call about this project in October 2008, when we were asked to provide some budget information for an ‘unusual’ project in Scotland,” said Tim Burton, from SH Structures.
“Now, just over five years later, we have completed the installation of The Kelpies.
“This has been a fantastic and challenging project to have been involved in and whilst we specialize in constructing complex structures, The Kelpies are unique and something we are delighted to be associated with.
“The delivery of this project has involved a mixture of traditional skills, technical innovation and the most up to date 3D modelling techniques and as well as being a stunning piece of public art it is also a fabulous piece of engineering.
“The successful delivery of the project has very much been a collaborative process involving a lot of talented individuals and organisations who have all helped to bring Andy’s original vision to life.”
Work on the site’s visitor and parking facilities is currently under way and the development will officially open to the public in the summer of 2014.