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Keeping tabs


Under the guidance of supporting philanthropists, artists and architects, a group of school children turned trash into a timeless memorial. Keeping Tabs holds six million soda tabs, each symbolizing a life lost decades ago. Molybdenum-alloyed stainless steel provides the corrosion resistance to keep this sculpture beautiful and untarnished through the deicing salt-laden winters of the midwestern United States.

© Karlee Williston

Embracing the weight

The memorial consists of 960 individual glass blocks, each filled with 6,250 tabs painstakingly counted and inserted into the glass blocks by the students. Each block weighs approximately 9.1 kilograms. They are stacked on a concrete base to form walls standing at varying dimensions between 2.1 meters and 2.7 meters in height.

To stabilize the nearly nine tonnes of glass block, a strong backbone was essential. The architect and fabricators chose Type 316L stainless steel for its strength and its ability to resist the local environment’s corrosion challenges. Pittsburgh heavily uses deicing salts, famous for staining and degrading outdoor metal. The memorial faces a moderately-busy intersection at the edge of the school grounds, so over time deicing salts accumulate on its lightly textured surface. However, the 2% molybdenum in Type 316L stainless steel help resist corrosion from this build up of chlorides. Indeed, the stainless steel remains flawless and stain-free after eight years in service.

Keeping Tabs appears to come to life as the changing light patterns strike the tab-filled glass blocks throughout the day. At night, the use of ornamental lighting provides another perspective. The sculpture is open for guided and self-guided tours. Visitors to the site can absorb its meaning by viewing the exterior or entering the chapel-like meditative space at its center. Its shimmering stainless steel draws the attention of passers-by, beckoning them to “keep tabs on our humanity” and be prepared to confront prejudice and injustice while making the world a better place.

Find out more about this timeless memorial.

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