Ann Arbor Manhole Competition Semifinalist

This was my submission for the competition! Unfortunately for final online public polling I had to submit a low-res / flat black-and-white version, but the competition was still a lot of fun!

The Story
In Fall 2017 I glimpsed media coverage for the Ann Arbor Manhole Cover Art Installation Competition. The event was launched by the City with project manager the Ann Arbor Art Center. I’d previously created artwork for manholes on professional design projects, and had some immediate concepts for this competition. In January 2018 six semifinalists were selected by an internal panel from hundreds of submissions. I was happy to be one of them. Three finalists were voted to have their idea cast in iron + installed throughout the city. I will outline my approach below!

I began with an ArcGIS street grid of Ann Arbor. I wanted some type of gridded Ann Arbor map. If you have seen my homepage you know I like maps. I began playing with the grid at different scales in AutoCAD for the physical / dimensional constraints of a cast iron manhole. It seemed as the grid grew larger the iconic character was lost within a 14-inch circle.

Once the grid felt right I moved into Adobe Illustrator to try and pull in the broader community. Ann Arbor’s iconic neighborhoods felt like a natural approach, so I began placing names in geographic proximity to their area on the grid. However, this proved arbitrary for areas not shown, as it obscured the grid, which was why they were listed alphabetically around perimeter. I used several Ann Arbor map resources to identify neighborhood names, but if someone were left out, or conversely too many were listed, the design could be easily modified.

Next I moved into Photoshop. I took a picture of a manhole and used it to isolate actual colors of cast iron in situ, and replicated that in my final rendering (above) with some effects to give it an authentic looking metallic finish of cast iron sculptural relief.

As mentioned, while my submission was rendered, for the semifinalist online polling round I was requested to showcase it in flat black and white (below). It was also displayed as a low-res thumbnail that pixelated the details / text which legitimately pained me to watch and I don’t think helped my cause! Regardless, it was still an exciting experience and a lot of fun!