The year must have been 1990. I was in grade school, and it was one of those Friday afternoons where we got to play board games for one hour before going home. Games had been set up on desks across the room. I must have been distracted, because by the time I looked around the class, all the of good stations had been filled.
The only thing left was the stupid Spirograph station with a stupid boy and a stupid girl I’d never met. I had no idea how the stupid contraption worked or why anyone would want to make stupid spirals with stupid colored pencils. Then I tried it. These strange, stupid tools… they were amazing. My stubby fingers were deftly weaving intricate, nay, downright ornamental patterns of a beauty generally reserved for higher mathematics. It was a great, great day.
This memory had been buried for years before I came across the Para Clocks, a new Kickstarter-based project by the young collective LeeLABS. Based upon simple, radial geometry, these clocks seem born from some sort of concrete Spirograph, one that molds rock rather than shaping the shavings of graphite.
In reality, LeeLABS is building an online and app-backed tool for users to create their own parametric designs, which LeeLABS will carve into a plastic mold before casting the custom shape into a concrete clock. It’s a pretty cool riff on the idea of custom 3-D printing. Rather than producing some sort of cheap plastic product, LeeLABS’ Para Clocks are just starting with the inexpensive plastic prototyping, then using that to create an object that will have about as much physical permanence as physical objects can have.
The result is a bit of a dichotomy in the rapid prototyping space, but it’s just the sort of creative production that can support small scale customized product infrastructures. The consumer can receive a product that’s far more polished than anything they could make in-house (a gorgeous concrete lattice), but the manufacturer isn’t using equipment that’s anywhere near as expensive as a mass manufacture system (it’s appears to be a basic lathe). The deal works out for everyone.
As for me, after that one afternoon in class, I actually never picked up a Spirograph again, and I’ve long forgotten the names of those two new friends. I’m tempted to order a kit off Amazon, but the thought of a grown man playing Spirograph alone on his living room coffee table? I guess there are stupider choices I could make.