Welding - the good, the bad, the ugly

I visited Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass yesterday at LACMA and was dismayed by the sloppy welds holding up the 340-ton rock.

I've seen amazing welds (or at least fillets that were nicely ground smooth) in architectural metalwork and sculpture, so here's a thread to share the best and worst examples of  welding for those that have a fetish for that art. Perhaps we can also get into specifying welds for those in IDP

One more pic of the brackets showing the lack of welding skills (it's not like they are welding exotic alloys together - it's just structural steel):

 Some nice beads (notice no spatter):

Jun 25, 12 2:07 pm

All welding is to be specified to American Welding Society (AWS) standards. Ask for welding samples that will be used as control samples. Use the following designations (AESS: architecturally exposes structural steel):

  • Category 1 AESS: AESS that is within 96 inches (2400 mm) vertically and 36 inches (900 mm) horizontally of a walking surface and is visible to a person standing on that walking surface or is designated as "Category 1 architecturally exposed structural steel" or "AESS-1" in the Contract Documents.
  • Category 2 AESS: AESS that is within 20 feet (6 m) vertically and horizontally of a walking surface and is visible to a person standing on that walking surface or is designated as "Category 2 architecturally exposed structural steel" or "AESS-2" in the Contract Documents.
  • Category 3 AESS: AESS that is not defined as Category 1 or Category 2 or that is designated as "Category 3 architecturally exposed structural steel" or "AESS-3" in the Contract Documents.

Poor welding is just an indication of poor quality control. Quality control is 100% responsibility of the architect.

Jun 25, 12 2:31 pm  · 
1  · 

You would be surprised how many people don't know about AESS. I had to explain to my structural engineer. And yes, if you want to try for Mies-grade welds or Louis Kahn quality concrete, you will spend an enormous amount of time on quality control and explaining to the builders what is expected.


Thanks Rusty! My guess is that Heizer's team didn't get welding samples or have good specs as the welds certainly don't conform to AESS-1 as they should have.

Jun 25, 12 2:47 pm  · 

I'm not sure what you are complaining about here Barry. You don't like those welds because they don't look like they were done by a guy with a hot glue gun? The first two photos look like the kind of level and even bead that only a really good welder can manage. The second two have an oxidization corona around the entire weld because the bond surface isn't clean. Sure, you could take a grinder to either one, but the former would stillbe better than the latter.

Jun 26, 12 3:21 am  · 

Heizer's project is fully of disappointing compromises, but the welds don't bother me since they are part of the brackets which don't belong there at all.  Despite what the security guard is telling everyone, when your rock is bearing visibly on bridge steel, it is not levitating, no matter where the sun is.  Additionally:

I can't believe they shaved the rock to regularize the base to accomodate the connection - WTF?

Although I'm sure the DG landscape was intended to bring a bit of desert moonscape to the LACMA back lawn, the absence of nearby stuff to give the sculpture scale ends up making it seem... small?

Jun 26, 12 11:49 am  · 

Those continuous welds around corners are guaranteed to crack under stress. Also, never weld across the axis of loading. That's a seriously bad idea.

Jun 26, 12 4:09 pm  · 

Janosh have you always been in LA or just visiting? I never thought so for some reason....

also i wonder if Heizer intended it to be about a rock "levitating" it would seem he would have made all the support tech less obvious, then.

Jun 27, 12 5:53 pm  · 
Justin Ather Maud

Could we see some of your welding attempts?  It takes years to be really good, and mostly the parties involved are just concerned with structural integrity, not the quality you see in Mies' Barcelona chair, or the Farnsworth House. 

Granted, I assume the rock is at least semi permanent, so the details should be important, but just hauling that stone there cost a few quid, heh?

Jun 27, 12 8:18 pm  · 

I can definitely see the difference in quality and i also can see that the look of the weld makes a difference in the finished look from the pictures. I was always told that welding is'nt apart of the architect's need to know basis, but just to know what a welding symbol looks like on a set of blueprints. I can see now that if you want a building built correctly the welds must be put into consideration.

Jun 27, 12 11:08 pm  · 

Hey Nam,

Apart from some mercenary academic and professional work elsewhere, I've been in and around LA since 2001.  It's getting hard to imagine living anywhere else!

As for how much Heizer intended it to appear levitating, I haven't seen any quotes from him and I guess we are left with just a suggestive title.  From the literal naming of some of the other works (Double Negative, This Equals That, City) I assumed he meant it, but that wouldn't be the sculpture's only flaw.  As Barry points out, there is something really incongruous between the neolithic "bringing it here makes it significant" and the intentional (and clunky) tectonics of the bearing structure.  Still... I like it better than the big back yard that preceded it, and it's a nice companion to the Mastodon in front of the Tar Pits.

Jun 28, 12 12:22 am  · 

OK so I've recently worked on a project that involved holding a heavy and irregularly-shaped thing above people's heads.  According to my brilliant structural engineer, structural codes have become pretty much astoundingly overly safe, to the point that many attenuated, visually elegant solutions are simply not allowed by code any longer.  Thus the additional brackets and whatnot to make sure the damn rock is really "safe".

Add our ridiculously litigious society, and we've got a world of too-fat built objects. Seems to suit us, no?

Jun 28, 12 12:57 am  · 

It's tough to judge the strength of a weld by the way the bead looks because the strength of it lies in the penetration, which is not clearly visible.  Vice versa, a nice, fat-looking bead might not have enough penetration.  Reason why x-ray is used to truly test a weld.  Grinding welds smooth might look nicer but it's actually weakening the weld since you are removing material.  There's also more room for accidentally grinding too much.   Plus, it'll drive the cost of labor up to have to grind the welds.  Presumably, the engineers have made a prototype of this bracket beforehand and loaded it 'til it failed.   

Jun 28, 12 3:20 am  · 

Guy Horton wrote this very fantastic piece on the rock. I love his writing.

Jul 7, 12 12:01 am  · 

i don't always pay attention to horton, but that is a good piece. i'm sure this is his intention: i like his art - in this context - much better than heizer's.

"if you are lucky enough to have lived in l.a. as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for l.a. has a moveable gneiss."

Jul 7, 12 8:56 am  · 

Can we aim for something like this?  But maybe on a Friday?

Mar 2, 21 3:44 am  · 

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