• Skylom / Skylon

The best flagpole design, from the summer camp I help out on each year, is the Skylom. It’s pictured below.

Skylom - Skylon inspired flagpole

We have a rotating cast of designs, and it’s up to the older kids which one gets made each year. Last year we went for an hourglass with a built in platform. The year before an austere single pole. The Skylom far exceeds them all.

It’s two tripods joined at the centre, with the flagpole floating down the middle. That levitating central pole feels a bit like a magic trick. Especially on a windy day.

I’ve never known why it’s called the Skylom.

Last week I happened on an answer. Whilst researching tensile structures I came across the Skylon - a ‘futuristic-looking, slender, vertical, cigar-shaped steel tensegrity structure located by the Thames in London, that gave the illusion of ‘floating’ above the ground, built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain.’ [From wikipedia]

The Skylon at the Festival of Britain, 1951

They’re like long lost brothers. The same principles, in different materials. The Skylon was dismantled and destroyed in 1952. Roughly the same time that the group I help with started going away on summer camps. No one has ever told the origin story of the Skylom (which I now assume I’ve either been mis-hearing or is a bastardisation through 70 years of repetition). I wonder if anyone who helped put it together the last time knew the origin - or if we were all just going on the memory of the last time the flagpole took this form.

A 2011 Radio 4 documentary discovered that the original sculpture had been mostly sold as scrap. That’s a pretty sad end for such a beautiful thing. It was around for less than a year. Maybe there’ll come a time when our flag bearing imitations, when added together, will have been up for longer than the real thing.

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