McKnelly Megalith

Carving starting around 1100 A.D., the Moai of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) weigh up to 82 tons apiece. When Dutch explorers discovered this pacific island in 1722, they wondered at these megalithic figures, asking the inhabitants how their ancestors possibly moved the statues from quarry to site. The Rapa Nui explained that their ancestors didn’t move the Moai; rather, the Moai walked themselves. It wasn’t until 2012 that Anthropologist Carl Lipo discovered and proved that the Moai were indeed transported upright, bringing new meaning to the assumed folklore that the statues ‘walked themselves’.

Megalithic civilizations held tremendous knowledge surrounding the deceivingly simple task of moving heavy objects. Much of this knowledge has been lost to us from the past. What if we could learn from this past knowledge to inform contemporary practice with the tool of gravity? This project mines, extracts, and experiments with this knowledge to test what applications and resonance it holds with contemporary digital practice. As an experiment, a sixteen-foot tall megalith is designed, computed, and constructed to walk horizontally and stand vertically with little effort.

In dedication to Steve & Rendy McKnelly.


year: 2015
loca­tion: Cambridge, MA
site: MIT Killian Court
size: 6" X 8" X 16"
mate­r­ial: Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete
course: Megalithic Robotics | Graduate Options Studio
professors: Brandon Clifford + Mark Jarzombek
teaching assistant: Carrie Lee McKnelly
students: Sam Ghantous \ Anastasia Hiller \ Karen Kitayama \ Dan Li \ Hui Li \ Patrick Evan Little \ Tengjia Liu \ Ryan McLaughlin \ Kaining Peng \ Alexis Sablone \ Luisel Zayas