The historic Powell Avenue steam plant is currently undergoing a major renovation and conversion into a major dining, retail, and entertainmemt hub on the Southside of Birmingham, AL. A large plaza is planned to replace the exisitng parking lot at the front of the development, and in alignment with the existing Railraod Park which has itself served to revitalize this district. It is on this site that I, along with local artist Deedee Morrison, was commissioned to create a sculptural installation to commemorate the history of the place while looking to the future of Birmingham.

Drawing on the history of the site as a source of electricity for the city, we conceptualized the sculptures as massive electrical insulators. The shape of the insulators have historically been purely functional, as increased surface area allows easy dissipation of excess heat. Our conceptualization sees these insulators stacked atop each other and illuminated from within to serve as beacons to the site.

Numerous iterations of the concept were explored, taking into account the fabrication, cost, and appearance. Historic insulators were ceramic for their heat eliminating properties, but the scale of these sculptures demanded a steel materiality. In the end, somewhat simplified shapes were selected which would retain the visual image, would permit a cost-effective fabrication process, and would permit the surface penetrations for light emission.

The surface coating of the steel was explored with various glazes to mimic the porcelain of historic insulators. In addition, surface cutouts to allow light to emit from within the towers were designed to cast the shape of various Alabama-native animal species. The pattern was worked to become an abstract pattern across the surface, and each sculpture had a specific animal pattern.

Full CAD drawings of each insulator type were generated, and fabrication on the spun steel shapes is beginning. The animal-pattern cutouts will be created with a 6-axis laser CNC machine.