A Warm, Wooded Welcome to The Northwest Trolls

Seattle’s known for many things – Starbucks, the Seahawks, the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and for those in the know, it’s also home to a few trolls! The iconic Fremont Troll sits under the Aurora Bridge, while the blue-haired, hockey-stick-wielding mascot, Buoy, graces the ice at Climate Pledge Arena every Kraken game. Danish environmental artist, Thomas Dambo, added to the Pacific Northwest troll population this summer by introducing us all to Pia the Peacekeeper on Bainbridge Island, Bruun Idun in West Seattle, Jakob Two Trees in Issaquah, Frankie Feetsplinters in Ballard, Oscar the Bird King on Vashon Island, and Ole Bolle in Portland.

“Northwest Trolls: Way of the Bird King” is an imaginative and ambitious public art project presented by Scan Design Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to “advance Danish-American relations through the exchange of people, ideas and cultural experiences.” Located in various locations across the Pacific Northwest, the six sculptures each tells their own environmental story. “The project celebrates the human experience of art by amplifying the connections of cultural heritage between Coast Salish tribal communities and Scandinavian traditions.” This exhibition is the culmination of Thomas Dambo’s U.S. tour where he has added 10 troll sculptures to a collection of more than 100 across the globe.

As engineers who strive to choose projects that require imagination and ingenuity, we were thrilled to help bring the exhibition to life.

Courtesy of Thomas Dambo

The Anatomy of a Troll

“It was so fun to take early, simple renderings of the trolls and figure out how to put a supporting skeleton within them, kind of like drawing an x-ray,” shares Bryan Zagers, Structural Principal.

Made from recycled and found materials and standing between 12 and 20 feet tall, we knew the trolls would require unique engineering to maintain their original design.

We designed the hidden, inner framework and foundations otherwise known as the troll’s “skeleton” similarly to the way we would design a building’s structure to be clad to its final form. In the troll’s case, it was just on a different scale, and with a more unique shape. And we made sure to use simple materials and connections that could be easily assembled by those on site.

From Sketch to Sculpture

Referred to Scan Design Foundation by our friends at Mithun, our collaboration story started in March 2023. Leaning on our previous art installation experience with Vulcan on their projects, and large-scale outdoor wood sculptor, John Grade, whose art we’ve assisted with at both the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) and a large Eastside office campus, our team was prepared and excited to take on this new challenge.

Working on an accelerated timeline, we were first given preliminary sketches. Our work then began in late April with a four-week timeline to design the first two installations, and the next two installations two weeks after that, with the final two installations delivered in another two weeks.

Image courtesy of Thomas Dambo

Visiting the Trolls

Each sculpture will stay standing in its current place for a minimum of three years, at which point each city will have the option to keep it for longer (which we hope they do!). You can locate these trolls on the Northwest Trolls: Way of The Bird King project website.

We’re honored to have played a part in bringing this incredible exhibition to the Pacific Northwest. “A truly gratifying experience, it’s been great to hear the community’s response to the trolls and know that we helped make it happen!” Bryan Zagers, Structural Principal.

Additional Photography Credits:
Jakob Two Trees (cover/ending image), Bruun Idun, and Frankie Feetsplinters: Erik Davidson
Oscar the Bird King: Allison Tourville
Ole Bolle: Explore Tualatin Valley