Two-story aluminum relief map serves as centerpiece of newly renovated space
CINCINNATI (March 10, 2015) – When the elevator doors open to the fourth floor of 1203 Walnut Street in Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC)’s new office space, visitors are greeted with a two-story tall aluminum structure that is surely unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
Dubbed “The Aluminnati” by its creator, Jeff Welch, the eye-catching work of art is actually an aluminum topographical sculpture of the Ohio River basin, featuring 3CDC’s focus area, Cincinnati’s center city. Created in the spirit of the great historical map art seen in such optimistic edifices as Grand Central Station and Cincinnati’s own Union Terminal, the impressive structure took three months to build and install – and it’s been receiving non-stop compliments ever since.
Although it was inspired by a historic tradition, this project resides comfortably in the current age of information. It began with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data from the year 3CDC was founded and was designed and fabricated with sophisticated digital technology. At 22 feet tall by 15 feet wide, the massive relief map features over 1,200 individual pieces of plasma-cut aluminum, constructed into 22 structural panels that tessellate into the final composition. To achieve the topography without relying on glue or fasteners, a construction system was invented that utilized thousands of tiny hooks cut into the structure to “clip” the topographical surfaces in place. It was entirely designed by Welch, who last year founded his own design company, Modularem Ltd., and it was fabricated – with help from his family and friends – at Cincinnati’s premier maker space, The Manufactory. All of the design work was completed in Over-the-Rhine, which is something Welch prides himself on, as he hopes to build his new business in the city’s core.
The project itself was commissioned while 3CDC was in the process of renovating the former Pabst Bedding Warehouse to serve as its new headquarters. Plans called for 3CDC to take over the third and fourth floors of the 85-year-old building, and included the implementation of an open reception area on the fourth floor, with a large staircase in the center of the office leading to the organization’s workspace downstairs. This open concept left the building’s designers, MSA Architects, with a two-story high wall that could be filled with a unique piece of artwork to showcase the space.
Holding degrees from the University of Cincinnati in both Industrial Design and Architecture, Welch has always believed topography could be a beautiful art form, given the proper circumstance. So, when non-profit developer 3CDC, whose work in Cincinnati’s center city is intrinsically tied to the land, started looking for an attention-grabbing piece of art for its new office, he knew it was the perfect fit.
After looking over proposals from a few local artists and designers, 3CDC ultimately settled on Welch’s interesting concept, which combined creativity with a relatability to the work the organization does. Filling the large space, which Welch described as the “ultimate blank canvas scenario,” left the designer with some initial feelings of trepidation. However, in his line of work, Welch believes he must have some tolerance of the unknown, and an appreciation for the experience of the creative process.
Welch’s uncharted path gradually became more defined as he worked through the design, planning and testing phases, and by the time he had completed the first of what would be 22 panels, he was certain everything would work out. A few weeks later, his distinctive creation was in place and shortly thereafter it was not only grabbing attention, but also high praise.
Having already completed projects for various office spaces, including Amazon’s MyHabit photo studio, Welch says he relishes adding a sense of surprise in the workplace. As any visitor to 3CDC’s new office will tell you after exiting the elevator on the fourth floor, he’s definitely met that goal with this piece.
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