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Skylon, site of
Festival of Britain site, South Bank, London
associated engineer
Felix Samuely
date  1951
era  Modern  |  category  Sculpture/Installation  |  reference  TQ306800
The organisers of the 1951 Festival of Britain wanted a vertical feature as a landmark for the South Bank event site and a held a competition for its design. The winners, Powell & Moya, designed a reflective luminescent cigar-shaped mast — Skylon.
The main body of Skylon was nearly 80m long, including the pointed sections at each end. But the finished mast was even higher (91m) as it was suspended 12m above the ground from three lattice steel pylons, positioned equi-distantly and angled upwards and outwards. The mast's only function was sculptural.
Although the main part of the 'cigar' appeared to be cylindrical, Skylon actually had a twelve-sided steel framework, made in 3.6m sections stacked vertically. The whole was clad in aluminium louvred panels, giving it a reflective sheen.
Its engineer, Felix Samuely — Hidalgo Moya's tutor at the Architectural Association — helped devise the post-tensioned steel structure that held the mast in position. Three sets of twin cables anchored to the ground were directed to the tips of the angled pylons. Here the cables split, with one supporting the base of the mast and the other connecting to the mast half way up. The unsupported upper part of Skylon was therefore cantilevered upwards from its midpoint. Samuely’s ingeniuty was evident in his use of jacks below each of the three pylons. Adjustment of these jacks provided the method of post-tensioning the cables, stabilising the structure.
Tungsten lamps within the steel frame illuminated the louvred cladding and made Skylon glow at night. The mast's supporting tension structure couldn't be seen at a distance, gaving the impression that Skylon floated above the ground without any visible means of support.
It was an evocative image — perhaps an imaginary, as yet undesigned, space rocket. Skylon fired the imaginations of the British people, who were eagerly anticipating a future, science-fiction type world.
Architect: Powell & Moya
Main contractor: Painter Bros.
Cable supplier: BICC
Research: ND
"The 1951 Dome of Discovery" by Dan Cruickshank
Architectural Review, January 1995

Skylon, site of