Bottle Maze Crew Ryan Murphy Mckinley Burkhart 2016

Beakerhead 2016

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Message in a Bottle

Beakerhead is an annual program in Calgary that brings together arts, sciences and engineering to create works of art that are displayed around the city each September. In 2016, we had an opportunity to volunteer to help with one of the amazing installations, known as “Message in a Bottle.”

For decades, people have been directed into either technical or creative streams, yet it is precisely at their intersection where ingenuity lives. Solution
: Beakerhead.

The Message in a Bottle project was born from a collaboration between Calgary Can, Entuitive, and Mckinley Burkhart.

The Objective

Create a “smash-up” installation project combining elements of art and science. Many meetings and plenty of discussions later, the design and concept players arrived at a bottle maze installation made of recycled bottles.

The Players

What is the Message in a Bottle installation about? Let’s meet our collaborators.

Calgary Can

The artist of this project is a non-profit organization that works closely with the specific group of Calgarians known as bottle collectors. Their objective is to support and acknowledge this group of citizens who provide an informal recycling service to the city as valuable contributors to a greener Calgary.

Mckinley Burkhart

A Canadian architecture and design firm of an extensive team of esteemed individuals decorated by accomplishments locally and nationally. The group considers design an endeavour that is both artistic and cultural.


An engineering firm with a mission to ‘re-imagine the future by changing the way that buildings are conceived and constructed’ in close collaboration with designers, architects and other construction professionals–namely, their clients.

The Design

The design for this installation project consists of four quadrants, representing Calgary’s directionally appropriated neighborhoods: NE, SE, SW, and NW.

maze concept drawing designbeakerhead design module drawing

The Concept

  • The concept of the maze structure began with building several wooden frames.

And then painting the frames black.

  • Next, wire mesh panels were fastened on either side to house empty plastic bottles.

    Specific bottles within each six-foot tall panel either were then filled with tinted liquid and capped.  The effect was to imply a human shadow.

  • beakerhead wire mesh wall panel
  • One of the important messages from this exhibit is for us to recognize the longevity and invasive nature of plastic on the planet.

POLYETHLENE TEREPHTHALATE, aka PET, is the chemical compound that most plastic bottles are made from. While great for storing liquids, leftovers and carrying groceries, this material is not compost-friendly and can wreak havoc for all dwellers of land and sea.

  • On the ground, even though pieces of it can be buried, it will remain in the landfill sites for as long as 1000 years. In the rivers, seas and oceans, it takes less time to disintegrate because the sun’s collaborative energy with warm water does what is called photo degradation; but this produces some noxious chemical by-products and threatens the planet’s fragile marine life.

PET is virtually indestructible.

  • Fortunately, the efforts that go into recycle programs directly reduce this amount of plastic waste in our landfills and water basins.

The Load In

Trucks arrived early on a brisk September morning at the Eau Claire Market.

  • beakerhead before unloading panels
  • beakerhead unloading wall panels

Crews then worked to arrange and assemble the panels into what would be a labyrinth. Just how many bottles are packed into this entire system?

  • Lara Murphy, armed and ready for construction.
  • Each panel was fastened to the next one to secure the units of walls, and also to a board running on top of the entire system.
  • Behind the wall of panels, a lighting circuit was wired so that at sundown, the display would shine brightly.


  • The panels indicating directional poles are seen in the image below, with Beth Grady, RMC Project Manager, working with Mckinley Burkhart’s Team on this Beakerhead project. Hi Beth!
  • Beth waving with beakerhead panels before 

 Construction of the Bottle Maze Installation has been completed…

…time for a photo op.

Beakerhead 2017 is coming up again in September. Visit their website for more information on how you can participate or view the many installations around the city.

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