At The Holborn we first happened upon Matt Gilbert’s work many moons ago at The London Artisan Market in East London’s Truman Brewery. At the time we were taken aback by the Heath Robinson -esque ambition of Matt’s designs. Fast-forward to 2017 and Matt, now the founder of Animaro Studio, has refined and developed his designs even further and this process has all led to the launch of his Crane Lamp on crowdfunding site, Kickstarter. We caught up with Matt to find out about the build up to the launch and discover the inside story about this truly dynamic new design.
Tell us a little bit about the journey you’ve been on with the Crane Lamp and it’s launch on Kickstarter? What was the design concept that underpins it?
The Crane Lamp began life as a small prototype about six years ago during my architectural masters. For my final project I designed a moving theatre that would inhabit the derelict plots of land in Copenhagen for short periods of time. The small models I created to explain the expanding mechanisms proved captivating as objects in their own right; even without the architectural ideas behind them. The Crane Lamp was actually a development of the Foyer structure I made for the theatre! I decided to pursue several of the ideas on a scale larger than the initial prototypes but smaller than the proposed buildings- as pieces of furniture.
There are two design concepts behind the Crane Lamp. The moving form of the Crane Lamp is inspired by the neck of the crane bird when it catches prey. When the bird is cold it will sit with its neck tucked into its body. When it catches fish it will extend its neck to become long and arched. I wanted to try and capture the wonder of such natural forms in more humble everyday items such as lighting for the home. A more general idea that applies to all of my designs is the celebration of mechanical movements. We live in an age of digital interfaces and hidden technology, but this wasn’t always the case. Grandfather clocks required a key to wind a spring powered mechanism and gramophones required a record to be placed on a turntable and the needle lowered. Mechanical movements as opposed to digital have an honesty and clarity about how they work. They also encourage more meaningful interactions with their owners and I believe a greater sense of care and ownership. I would like to bring back these ideas through my furniture design and in particular the Crane Lamp.
What challenges did the design present in terms of engineering and how did you overcome them?
The main challenge I faced was how to keep the lamp from collapsing when raised to its highest position. Originally I solved this problem using friction in the moving joints. Each pin joint that connects the wooden parts was quite tight, so that it would not rotate freely and thus the lamp collapse. This worked, although the lamp was incredibly stiff to move! The Eureka moment was to have the joints be able to rotate freely and instead use a spring at the base of the lamp to hold the lamp upright. The spring continually tries to pull the lamp upright, while the weight of the lamp pushes down. The balancing out of these two forces means the lamp will stay in the position it has been left.
Why have you chosen the materials that you have? How do they make the product ‘well-made’?
I work with solid wood and metal, mostly brass. The wooden parts are cut by a CNC machine in London and then finished by hand in a workshop. The brass parts I have milled in a factory near Manchester. I like to use materials that are not too far from where they began life and have in my opinion have an honesty to them. Every part of the lamp has its own function and a beauty of its own. Kinetic structures we see in everyday life such as the small circular mirrors than extend from the wall tend to be made from thin metal or plastic. They are often quite flimsy and the expanding mechanism are used with a functional aim in mind. Working with a material that requires a thickness to it such as wood contributes to the look and feel of the lamp, but also to its stability. The pin joints have more material to grip and therefore the lamp is more balanced.
We will always, having launched in print ourselves through the process, be fans of crowdfunding. What drew you to it?
For a small business starting out crowdfunding offers a number of opportunities. It allows designers to meet manufacturer’s minimum order quantities and receive the money up front to purchase materials. For the designer this minimizes financial risk and allows an idea to be tested. For the consumer, crowdfunding represents an opportunity to buy unusual products which would not be otherwise available on the high street. Crowdfunding also offers an opportunity to market test and idea and see if it will work.
You trained as an architect; how has this informed both your approach to product design and to manufacturing?
Architects tend to think either in terms of structure and connections or in terms of the organisation of the space in between. I lean towards the former both in my architecture thinking and in my product design. I like to work with structural members and the connections between them. The structural members (the wooden parts) contribute to the overall look and feel of the furniture while the connections (brass parts) allow the furniture to expand and contract. I’m more interested in this way of working for example, than in using something like injection molding to create shell structures. It is the relationship between parts that I find interesting.
What have been your other chief influences in your work at Animaro?
I am very much inspired by old mechanisms and machines; of which Science Museum in London has an excellent collection. I am particularly drawn to objects such as Charles Babbage’s Difference engine. I love the idea that he created a machine that visually expresses mathematical operations. This was of course done out of necessity because there was no other way to achieve this at the time. Now such a machine appears slightly ridiculous and over the top, given that the calculations it makes can now be done on a smartphone app. But I still prefer the Difference engine. I am also inspired by Arthur Ganson’s kinetic sculptures. In particular the way mixes finely calibrated machinery with organic materials such as feathers and chicken wishbones. He has really developed the idea of anthropomorphic machines. The machines he creates appear to have a life of their own.
To find out more, watch the campaign video and help make the project happen visit Matt’s kickstarter page here.
Interview by Morgan Hamilton-Griffin