19th Century Birmingham

by Space_Play

A guide to this Birmingham inspired artwork from the designers.

Black and white sketch with some blue and red lines of the Victorian multi-layer map during planning stages
Our Initial Thoughts

Our 19th century map is a story of Birmingham becoming a city.

Thinking about Victorian Birmingham initially conjures up images of smoke and steam, dirt and grime, but we began our exploration of this map portrayal by thinking about the places and characters and objects that would best represent the complex layers of a rapidly growing industrial city.

We also wanted to emphasise the often untold stories of the city in order to champion the people of the city.

In the 19th century Birmingham was maturing politically and with the Civic Gospel implemented through Joseph Chamberlain’s governance, the quality of urban life was vastly improved. But this was underpinned by the industrious character of the population and the hard work of Birmingham families, and especially of women.

The Birmingham Corporation brought things like clean water, street lights, and waste collection to the city. But it was people like the lamplighters, market traders, and the people transporting goods who kept the city beating.

This energy was also down to the vast number of factory workers, including many women who offered highly skilled labour in trades such as pen nib manufacturing.

Birmingham was a city of nonconformity and so became an important place for migration and the transfer of skills across a diverse population.

Picture of someone designing the picture of lamp lighters gathered around a gas lamp on an interactive tablet screen
Picture of the tool used to design the different wooden elements of the multi-layered Era maps

Creating and Producing the Design

Once the sketches were completed and the overall composition of the map was designed we then had to develop the 3D form of the map.

We converted our sketches into a series of silhouette drawings that could be layered in order to build up a 3D relief.

This Victorian map has a fine-grain street plan with the canal and rail networks layered above to express these two networks as key transportation infrastructure.

Each sketch was split into two or three parts which were raised forward to create the relief form. Line drawings and textures were then added to the varying layers to bring definition to each image.

We designed five separate drawings that could be layered together to form the overall relief map. These five layers were then cut out of sheets of wood using laser cutting technology. The line drawings and textures were also engraved into the wood with the laser cutting machine and the five layers were then glued together by hand to create the master mould.

Picture of someone removing the moulding pattern from one of the multi-layered Era maps during production
Picture of someone pouring glue in one of the multi-layered Era maps- during production stage
Picture of one of the three multi layered Era maps during production with glue applied.

Moulding and Casting

Once the mastermould was fixed together and had dried it was used to create a casting mould. We used silicone rubber to create this mould by pouring a liquid mixture over the wooden map. The silicone sets as a firm rubber and after several hours can then be peeled away from the mastermould creating a perfect imprint of it.

The final map was then cast using clay-coloured Jesmonite which is a resin-based plaster designed to look like natural stone. We chose this material to represent the brick vernacular of 19th century Birmingham. A total of 6kg of Jesmonite was mixed by hand and cast into the silicone mould. After 24 hours the mould was peeled away leaving a solid cast relief of the artwork we had designed.

Picture of one of the 3 multi-layered Era maps left to set during production stage
Picture of someone removing the moulding pattern from one of the multi-layered Era maps during production
Picture of someone removing the moulding pattern from one of the multi-layered Era maps during production
What Do You Think?
Does our relief map portray 19th century Birmingham in the way you imagine it?
Share a photo of  the artwork on social media, tagging @bhamroundhouse and let us know what job you’d like to do in Victorian Birmingham.

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