Tatlin’s Tower at the Royal Academy

17:55 Monday 23rd January 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Welcome to the studio now, Philip Cooper, who is a leading engineer and architect, and he has just built the unbuildable building. He’s based in Gwydir Street in Cambridge. Philip, good evening to you.
CHRIS MANN: Now this is a design from a long time ago that no-one’s actually built. But you have. Explain please.
PHILIP COOPER: Yes it is. Tatlin, who was an artist from the 1920s, a very famous man in Russia, proposed, just after the Revolution, when he took over all the art schools, he proposed to build an enormous monument, both to celebrate the new Communist regime, and to provide an office for their administration.
CHRIS MANN: It was going to dwarf the Eiffel Tower. This was the idea of the new USSR, that wanted to show off and be bigger than all the current Western powers. And why was it unbuildable?
PHILIP COOPER: Well at 400 metres high, some of the columns are about 100 metres tall, without any bracing. And so these columns would have buckled under the weight of that tower, had he tried to build it full size.
CHRIS MANN: So it would have been like the Tower of Pisa when it started, or worse.
PHILIP COOPER: Or worse. It would be bending outwards, and falling, because of the huge weight of such an enormous structure.
CHRIS MANN: So basically unbuildable. But you’ve built one, and it’s now at the Royal Academy of Arts.
PHILIP COOPER: We built a model, which is 40 times smaller than Tatlin’s original idea. So building a model, everything is much lighter, smaller, and much easier structurally. 40 times less high means 40 times 40 times 40, that’s 64,000 times less weighty. And that enables you to build small things much easier than large.
CHRIS MANN: And could you have built it any bigger than you have built it?
RICHARD COOPER: We could have. But there are limits to size.
CHRIS MANN: So actually size is what brought it down. Did he think it would be built?
RICHARD COOPER: He hoped so. But being an artist not an engineer, I think he was the eternal optimist.
CHRIS MANN: So are the Soviets interested in it, or the Russians now, are they interested in this?
RICHARD COOPER: Yes. And I believe that a Russian man has bought this model, and will perhaps take it from London to Russia, and we built it so that it can be taken apart and shipped, then re-erected at a new site.
CHRIS MANN: So after building the unbuildable building, what’s next?
RICHARD COOPER: Well in Cambridge Architectural Research, where I work, we deal with all kinds of research projects, from looking after people after an earthquake or tsunami, looking at aerial photographs. We look at urban growth. We look at trying to lower the carbon footprint of people and see how we can better insulate their houses. And we deal with structures and buildings as well.
CHRIS MANN: Well congratulations on being exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts. A great honour and a great achievement, to build the unbuildable. Philip Cooper, thank you for joining me.