Volunteering allows engineer to explore her creative side
5 Dec 2017
Volunteering her skills to bring complex, larger-than-life sculptures to Christchurch’s public spaces is the kind of challenge structural engineer Helen Trappitt thrives on – and one that is bringing her constant rewards.
Helen volunteers her time to SCAPE Public Art to help install free-to-view contemporary art throughout the city. This is on top of the free sponsorship hours provided by the engineering firm where she is a director.
“Engineers are generally perceived as being unimaginative and frankly a bit boring. The reality is that the best engineers are those that are innovative and creative. What I love about SCAPE projects is the problem-solving,” says Helen.
In a city where engineers are scarce and in demand, Helen realised her spare time and skills were the most valuable things she could offer. She also knew that art made an important, often intangible, contribution to the city’s well-being.
“I think having access to art is helping the city to heal. There’s a real benefit from seeing and enjoying public art where you live. Volunteering my skills to make that happen helps me make a contribution to Christchurch,” says Helen.
New ways of thinking
Helen also enjoys working with artists because of the aesthetic way they think.
“Artists have a different way of seeing things so they expand your outlook. As well as thinking about the factors an engineer will always consider like: ‘How will it stand?’ ‘What are the load paths?’, you need to think ‘How will it look?’. If it doesn’t look how the artist intends people can miss the whole point of the work.”
One of the many rewarding projects Helen worked on in 2017 was SCAPE’s Re:ACTIVATE Kids and Teens, which was an open call for young people to design the sculptures they would like to see in their city.
With Helen’s help the two winning designs were installed in Hagley Park.
Ideas to reality
One design, Imprint, saw the installation of a 2.5 metre steel branch to replace a missing limb on one of the park’s larger trees. The 15-year-old creator Ruby Williams saw the new branch as a way of relating the story of Christchurch. After the severe destruction caused by the 2011 earthquake the city was being rebuilt and growing like a tree. The replacement branch was a memory or imprint of what had been before.
The job of installing the branch so it was safe, while also looking as if it should naturally be there, was a challenge for Helen, but worth the effort.
“Ruby had a clever idea that suited the proposed site perfectly. It was fantastic seeing the look on Ruby’s face when she saw the design she had sketched actually in place, at full scale,” says Helen.
Helen would encourage anyone who has an interest to volunteer.
“I have found volunteering in the arts to be personally and professionally rewarding because you get involved with interesting projects, meet inspiring people and at the same time contribute in a meaningful way to your community.”
SCAPE Public Art Executive Director Deborah McCormick says Helen was able to combine artistic inspiration with engineering expertise.
“She has worked tirelessly, with passion, to solve many tricky engineering conundrums so the ideas of the artist could become a reality. Now a specialist in the field, Helen is a highly sought after individual cherished by the arts community," says Deborah.
Helen is one of many engineers and other professionals who generously donate their time and skills to SCAPE Public Art.
About Helen Trappitt
Helen is a Director of Lewis Bradford Consulting Engineers. In addition to SCAPE Public Art she volunteers her time and skills to numerous other projects in Christchurch including FESTA (festival of transitional architecture), CoCA (Centre of Contemporary Art) and Gapfiller (a creative urban regeneration initiative), and has set up the Helen Trappitt Engineering Scholarship for Women. Helen has Bachelor of Civil Engineering (First Class Honours) from the University of Canterbury.
About SCAPE Public Art
Over the past 19 years SCAPE Public Art has become the largest producer of new contemporary public artwork in New Zealand. It runs a six week season of public arts in Christchurch’s central area showcasing leading national and international contemporary artists, and providing a springboard for emerging local talent. Works in the seasons are created as a result of close collaboration between art and business.