Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Faux Bois Commission
"Children's Nature Discovery Area"
Baytown Nature Center


What follows are some images and text describing the current development of a fairly large scale Faux Bois commission I am executing for The Baytown Nature Center in Baytown, Texas.
It began as the sketch below and will be crafted in welded steel with layers of hand applied concrete, mortar and neat cement paste into which wood grain, textures and features will be sculpted. I will try to update the images here as often as possible.

Please note that changes were made that required the addition of the word "Nature" resulting in the need to enlarge the piece to twelve-feet instead of the ten indicated in the sketch. My revised estimate for the finished weight is about 3,600 pounds

Click Any Image for a Larger View

Base plates resting on a heavy duty, custom built work cart

"Legs" added to armature. 8 inch, Schedule 40 pipe will be covered in about three inches of cement-based media all around.

Given that the steel armature and cement media of the upper portion will weigh in around 1400 pounds, a hydraulic hoist is necessary to position the top element onto the base so that they can be welded together. This procedure will be both tricky and hazardous.

This might be a good time to point out that the park in which this piece will be installed is located on a small peninsula at the North end of Galveston Bay. During Hurricane Ike, an estimated 12+ feet of storm surge completely covered the peninsula. The only things left in the park after the seawater receded were a couple of large concrete items. Everything else washed away in the storm.

This piece is engineered to withstand the next "100-Year Storm" and remain functional for many, many generations to come.

The upper element of the steel armature.

Ring segments of rebar will provide the basic shape while the tack-welded galvanized lath provides a mechanical base for the cement-based media to adhere to. In this image, the unit is turned upside down.

The top portion is now complete and ready for the first layers of concrete to be hand applied.

This is a portion of the "stamp" I created to impress the wording into the final neat paste layer. I hand drafted this original type font then had it scanned and converted to vector art. That was then used by a friend's sign company to drive a cad/cam router system and create the backwards, positive letters seen above. Once impressed into the wet cement media it will produce the right-reading title for this area of the park. After that, the entire surface will then be carved and textured to achieve the appearance of an old, weathered log. All of this must be accomplished in a single pass before the cement-based media sets solid. I am estimating this portion of the project will require about 24-30 hours of non-stop work.

The completed top segment now with a rust preventative applied.

Close up of the treated metal.

Large "log" encased in hand applied cement media. This is the "scratch coat" upon which the final sculpting mix will be built up.

This is is the ironwork for the base and two vertical "logs" that will support the large horizontal element.

In this image you see the casting tubes placed around the iron legs. These will be filled with standard "1-2-3" concrete, then covered in hand applied neat paste and sculpted to mimic wood.

A leg with the concrete in place. It is wrapped in stucco lath and tied with stainless steel wire to help hold its' shape while it cures.

Above is the design for the front face of the main horizontal element. I created and drafted an original type font for this project since I couldn't find one that seemed appropriate to an Art Deco period, National Park sign.

Here is a test sample of the finish material with a trial run using the big "stamp" to impress the lettering and a little sculpting & coloring to see how the final will look.

The top portion has been sculpted and has the lettering in place. Here, it is tented to retain moisture while curing.

A crane truck was brought in through a side overhead door to hoist the "big log" into position for welding onto the base.

Not very good lighting, but the top is now attached to the base which is finally resting on the floor instead of the cart that was built to make it mobile.

Still fresh, the sculpted cement is wrapped in stretchy, cling plastic to hold in moisture for curing while the upright "legs" are being worked on.

The completed work with sealer & wax applied.

Crane operator Mike Davis took it out a small overhead door and positioned it over the movers' truck.

It takes a really good touch to set 3600 pounds of steel & concrete as gently as he did.

Out at Baytown Nature Center, Mr. Davis did an equally great job of flying it onto the subgrade foundation poured the day before by the Baytown Parks & Recreation Service.

A little measuring & nudging...and it is in position.

Covered in plastic to minimize splatter, another full yard of concrete is poured over the base, locking it in place with the subgrade slab. The base totals about 10,000 pounds of concrete below grade to help withstand the effects of any future storms.

With a little troweling, the concrete gets settled in and a fairly smooth surface is created.

Of course, anytime you leave smooth, freshly poured concrete unattended for even a minute...some jerk is going to scratch something into it!

Ta-Daaaaah ! It's in its' new home at last!

With a little area clean-up and a layer of crushed, decomposed granite, it should look almost like it belongs there. I just hope it serves the park and the kids this area was created to inspire for many generations to come.

Many thanks to the hard working volunteers who are the "Friends of Baytown Nature Center". Both for this opportunity and for all the hard work they do year-round to make a positive difference in this old world. Thank you all.

Update to pix...
Here is a shot with the base now fully covered:

And here is the actual piece of weathered cypress wood I used as a color sample for this piece next to the finished work. It was found on the grounds of the park.