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Propellers of the City - Sunderland

In 2012 Broadbent Studio was commissioned by Sunderland City Council to create an integrated artwork, which celebrates the lives of those important men and women who helped create a world class shipping industry.

To create a square, we thought it would have to be impressive, inviting as well as meeting a number of practical requirements, but moreover it would also need to tell a story; it was shipbuilding that put Sunderland on that map.

The distance from the city square to the river is almost exactly the length of the longest ship ever built on the Wear (the Nordic Crusader, at 292m) and this landmark artwork aims to embed this scale into the landscape.

The Propellers of the City sculpture now sits at the end of the granite Keel line carved with the names of all the ships ever built on the Wear and illustrated by Bryan Talbot.

The artwork is 3m in diameter and can be turned by hand. This interactive element is really important and empowers the audience, as well as helping people find their personal photo within the glass design. The glass design showcases 500 shipbuilding photographs of men, women, alongside images the impressive shipyards, which give the context to the faces.

It has been a significant and emotional process collecting and organising the donated photos. For the glass design, I was drawn to the fibonacci sunflower pattern. I arranged the photographs in circles and allowed the fibonacci sequence to give some structure to what seemed a random pattern. It also allowed the images to have no hierarchy. Co-ordinates around the circumference help people navigate around the images. The glass printed interlayer also illustrates and reinforces the propeller and water textures.

The large engagement process was facilitated by Janette Hilton and Alan Cummings at Living History North East, who have managed this massive community project. The square was officially opened 31st August 2015.

Glass -

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