Monday, September 22, 2014

Shifting from Steel to Aluminum

Crucible_steel_button By Jlahorn
I chose to use steel for my sculptures for the Electra C. Doren library. But now they will be made from aluminum. Here's how I got there:

Aluminium_bar_surface_etched - by Heinrich Pniok  

I had two concerns and two goals when picking the metal. The concerns were theft, and the cost/size tradeoff. The goals were aesthetics and relevance.

Theft: Since this is an outdoor sculpture I didn't want to create a sculpture that was attractive to theft. The panels are big (about 2 feet by 4 feet) but not so big that their size would deter theft. At that size they look cartable (if you could get them out of the fence). So I didn't want to use copper, bronze, or brass since I was concerned that the value of those metals would be an invitation to theft. If I use steel, and leave it unpainted, it looks unattractive to steal. It's not worth the effort to steal it for scrap metal.

Cost / size tradeoff: The Dayton Metro Library set a budget for this project in the ReImagining Works initiative. As I chose metals I knew that the base costs are widely different. As the cost of the metal choice goes up the number of panels or the panel sizes I could create would go down. I felt that there needed to be a significant number of sculptures to complement the size of the reading terrace. I thought that one panel out of an expensive metal would not be sufficient - better to have more panels of a less-expensive metal.

Aesthetics: I wanted to use a metal that would look appropriate for the setting and steal would work well with the earthy-colored pavers, red brick of the library, and a dark colored fence. It would age well starting off bright and patina over time to a strong warm color. Plus it would not take much maintenance other than soft cleaning.

Relevance: Steel fits in with Dayton's manufacturing history perfectly. And it worked with the industrial theme of the Sheeler painting I used as inspiration.

However, in working with the Dayton Metro Library, their architects, construction company, fence installer, and fence fabricator an overriding concern became obvious. The library would get a 30-year warranty for the fence from their fence fabricator if that company was the one who fabricated and integrated my sculptures into the fence. I couldn't easily match that using my fabricator and negotiate a similar warranty with the other companies to join in a warranty - not in the time or budget allocated to me. As long as I could have artistic control and quality assurance on the fabrication it was the better decision to go with their fabricator.

Somewhere along the way as part of design changes the fence went from being a steel fence to being an aluminum fence. Plus when we considered how the panels would be attached we settled on welding. Since we're welding we didn't want to be joining dissimilar metals by welding a steel sculpture into an aluminum fence. When two dissimilar metals are connected they create an electro-chemical reaction which causes one of the metals to corrode faster. Steel and aluminum in combination outdoors are highly prone to corrosion.

So given the concerns about corrosion of dissimilar metals and the 30 year warranty we switched to making the panels out of aluminum. We lost the strong relevance to Dayton but aesthetically I've looked at the aluminum and, depending upon the finish that we use, it should be aesthetically pleasing. Cost and size still have to be worked out but they should be close. And aluminum will be no more tempting to steal than steel.

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