21st Century Birmingham

by Space_Play

A guide to the creation of this artwork by the makers

Picture of one of the exhibits in the Roundhouse showing the 21st Century Birmingham The Postmodern Era build in wood in 3D.
Our Initial Thoughts

When approaching the 21st century map, we aimed to visually celebrate the Birmingham we know and love today. Initial conversations about what makes modern Birmingham special gave us lots of ideas to start with. With so much to talk about, we chose to focus on characteristics which distinguish the 21st century Birmingham from the Birmingham of the past.

Postmodern architecture is emblematic of the 21st century. Love them or hate them, the curvy shapes, shiny surfaces and experimental materials have put Birmingham on the map as a city looking towards to the future. That said, modern times have also seen a rising consciousness around conservation; that buildings such as St Martin in the Bullring, Edgbaston campus and the Roundhouse are prominent landmarks in the city.

Architecture aside, we aimed to portray 21st Century Birmingham as a fast-moving melting pot of culture and creativity.

Consider the shift towards green transport with the return of tram networks, the bustling creative industries, the rich diversity, and the dynamic cosmopolitan outlook. Most of all, we wanted to reflect the sense of optimism pulsing through Birmingham today.

Picture of a laptop screen with a sketch design on

Creating and Producing the Design

Just like with the Victorian and modernist maps, we started by separating the postmodern map into nine squares with an invisible grid. However, this time we were somewhat less strict about staying within geographical boundaries as we wanted to emphasise the interconnected nature of the modern world. In general, we were not overly concerned with absolute geographical accuracy but rather wanted to create a map which evoked the feeling of walking around the city.

To achieve this, we often positioned the viewer inside the action when sketching the landmarks and characters featured in the map. Elsewhere we used dramatic perspective to give a 3D effect which would be further accentuated when the sketches were turned into sculptures.

Our sketches were initially produced on an iPad and then transferred to a computer for further editing. We made these computerised line drawings 3D by selecting certain elements to be used later as separate layers. These layers were 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 layers were then glued together by hand to create the mastermould.

Picture of one of the 3D Multi layered Maps of Birmingham Eras before being painted
Multi-layered Era Map in progress

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 marble Jesmonite. We chose this material as a nod to the 21th Century urban places portrayed in this map.

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.

What Do You Think?
Does our relief map portray 21st century Birmingham in the way you imagine it?
Share a photo of the post-modern artwork on social media, tagging @bhamroundhouse and let us know who you think are the key characters and people in Birmingham today.

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