The rail swings project in downtown Denver is really something to see. BSC Custom provided the technical design and fabrication for this unique public installation, located next to the impressive new Triangle Building. In this article we explain the scope of the project and some of the the design details that went into this creative addition to the Union Station neighborhood.
Creating Swings from Railroad Tracks for Tail Tracks Plaza
Tail Tracks Plaza is a public space located on the south side of the new Triangle Building on Wewatta Street. The plans for the plaza initially called for railway tracks to be used as posts for light fixtures. The designers were looking for something very special and unique. That initial idea evolved into using railroad tracks to support swings — a bold idea! The swings would be for everyone, not just children, and built so that two adults could sit side by side and relax for a few minutes. The designers also wanted some kind of hands-on element in the plaza. The rail swings idea fit their vision perfectly!
In this live Google Street View interactive image, you can see the plaza’s location to the right of the Triangle Building. Click and drag with your mouse within the image to change the view.
The Triangle Building is located very close to Union Station, so it made a lot of sense to have a railroad theme in the plaza. From the initial idea came sketches and discussions. But was it even possible to use railway tracks to support swings?
The plaza’s designer was Design Workshop, and they came to BSC Custom for some assistance on the project.
It’s a common question that comes up in creative architectural projects. We call itconstructability. In a simplified way, it means taking a hard look at a project and deciding how a design idea can actually be built within a specified budget and time period. Can it be built without disuptions, can potential problems be anticipated, are the materials readily available, and do team members have the necessary skills? BSC Custom has a lot of experience in this area, and our team worked with Design Workshop and the developers of the plaza on the rail swing project’s constructability.
Design and Fabrication of the Rail Swings
There were a lot of technical challenges to overcome, but it was decided to go ahead with testing. The design called for six swings, suspended on three pairs of posts, each made from welded and curved railway tracks, with a height of about twenty feet. Each seat would accommodate two people. Instead of rope, the swings would use strong metal rods. The entire project would be built with longevity and durability as a goal.
Doug Brown, the business development manager at BSC Custom, explained that a key part of the project’s development was putting up a test area for proof of concept, “You really have to build these mockups for something this complex because it’s never been done before.” So in the back lot of BSC Signs, a prototype was built that allowed the designers, engineers, and fabricators to test various ideas.
One of the challenges was safety. The swings were to be installed in a public plaza with a paving brick surface, so it was essential that the range of motion be limited. At the same time, there needed to be enough free movement to make it fun and interesting. This was accomplished with the use of tethers and parts that restrict the amount of movement in the swings.
A mechanical engineer was brought on board to help answer some of the structural questions, There was also very helpful input from the plaza project’s Landscape Architect, site developer and owner. They all came to the BSC Custom shop in Broomfield to see the progress and offer their assistance. This is the way we like to work at BSC Custom — we’re the hub of a project and we encourage participation and input from all involved. Our projects are often unique, “one off” creations that are built with deadlines in place, so clear communication is essential.
After much testing and tweaking, a final design was chosen, and our fabricators began work on the project.
Here’s a before and after comparison of the tracks as they arrived at BSC Custom, and installed at Tail Tracks Plaza. If you look closely you can see that each post is made from two railway tracks that have been welded together.
Installing the Rail Swings at Tail Tracks Plaza
BSC Custom organized the installation of the swings, which required a crane truck and an experienced crew. Here’s a short video that Doug Brown recorded, showing the installation of the uprights. There was a lot of work involved in the installation of the posts and fine-tuning of the hardware, with the goal of getting the swings working perfectly.
The Finished Swings — Ready For the Public
With the installation complete, it was time to step back and take a good look at the “swing forest”. The work that went into all the testing and prototyping really paid off. The swings look great and they’re a topic of conversation for visitors at the Triangle Building and Tail Tracks Plaza.
One of the design decisions was the type of material to be used for the seats. After a lot of discussion, it was decided to go with Sapele, which is an African hardwood. It’s durable and has a very attractive natural look.
For visitors to the plaza who try out the swings, the tethering system allows them to have a few feet of motion in either direction. It’s safe and makes for a pleasant experience.
Here are some more photos of the finished project.
You can read more about Tail Tracks Plaza in this article by Ken Schroeppel in Denver Urbanism.
We’d like to extend our appreciation and thanks to Denver’s Design Workshop and everyone who was involved in this project. It was a collaborative effort that involved a lot of cooperation from many people and companies. Without the combined efforts of a lot of individuals, this project would never have happened.
We think that the end result is a unique, memorable, and fun addition to the urban landscape in downtown Denver. There’s nothing like it in Denver, and quite possibly no where else! We like how it pays homage to Colorado’s rich railroad history.
About BSC Custom
BSC Custom Architectural and Lighting is based in Metro Denver and provides specialty fabrication services, UL Listed custom lighting, architectural etched glass signage, and specialty commercial signage. BSC Custom is a division of BSC Signs, Metro Denver’s premier full-service sign company. For more information visit the BSC Custom website, and follow us on Facebook.