Continuum - Laser Cut and Enameled Steel with Solar Powered, Choreographed LED Lighting
Alabama Power - Powell Steam Plant Redevelopment Project - Birmingham, AL
Continuum Towers - 17’ Towers (3)
Laser Cut and Enameled Steel with Solar Powered, Choreographed LED Lighting
The historic Powell Avenue steam plant is currently undergoing a major renovation and conversion into a major dining, retail, and entertainment hub on the Southside of Birmingham, AL. A large plaza is planned to replace the existing parking lot at the front of the development, and in alignment with the existing Railroad Park which has itself served to revitalize this district. Deedee Morrison, was commissioned to create a sculptural installation to commemorate the history of the place while looking to the future of Birmingham.
The Continuum towers stand as a legacy of Birmingham’s industrial heritage, Alabama’s extraordinary, if imperiled, biodiversity and the continued need for our collective environmental stewardship initiatives. The historic Powell Avenue Steam Plant in Birmingham, Alabama originated in 1896 as a coal powered steam plant, creating energy for Birmingham’s growth and development until it’s final days of operation in February 2013. Powell Avenue’s unmistakable smokestack silhouettes are a symbol of an age of industry, innovation and progress and Alabama Power’s adaptive reuse project creates tremendous opportunity to further the redevelopment of the downtown district and foster continued economic growth for the region.
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.
The historic insulator shapes for the Continuum towers have been re-imagined and oversized; formed from single sheets of metal, using the seemingly obsolete method of spinning metal from wooden molds. A 5-axis robotic laser is programed in CAD to cut intricate patterns into the facades of the Continuum towers. The unique mandala patterns are drawn using select species from the flora and fauna that tell the rich biodiversity story of the Black Warrior and Cahaba River Watershed basins that surround Birmingham.
The Continuum towers are porcelain enameled revitalizing a craft that was historically used to make insulators. The impressive towering forms are coated with molten glass on top of steel, ensuring their glossy luster for generations. Porcelain enamel is a remarkable material with a long history and reputation for durability and vibrant color fastness. The Continuum towers have a strong visual presence during the day with their compelling scale, laser cut surfaces and polished finish. But at night the towering lanterns come alive with added dimension, interacting with each other in a cacophony of light. The orchestrated LED light shows simulate the bloom cycles of the seasons in Alabama, as well as hosting programed light shows for specific celebrations and times of the year. For Alabama Power’s Powell Ave. Steam Plant redevelopment, I worked with regional biologist to catalog endemic, native, protected and endangered species of the Cahaba Rive Watershed. Three seventeen foot tall towers were inspired by the shape of historical porcelain insulators. The towers were laser cut with the art patterns developed from the species list. The oversized LED light towers engagingly tell the story of energy’s past, present and future.
Public art containing renewable energy themes, allows us to re-think the way that we live with and learn from art. The Continuum towers’ energy source is solar, which connects the project to the evolving story of energy, and the narrative of our ecosystems being directly tied to our relationship with the environment and our environmental stewardship initiatives. By creatively demonstrating the power of innovation, solar powered light sculptures enrich the experience of public art and encourage participation and curiosity about our environment and energy solutions.Community engagement included solar art projects with schools, coloring books created from the art pattern to identify regional plant and animal species.