Corbin & Merz Architects Go Steampunk!
Believe it, Corbin & Merz Architects have jumped whole-heartedly on the steampunk band wagon! No, we are not riding those strange cycles with one large front wheel and we are not wearing clothes with just buttons and buckles instead of zippers. But we have embraced the ethic of the steampunk phenomenon's concept of design for our work for the Oklahoma Museum Network. The Tinkering Exhibit sign for Leonardo's Children's Museum (pictured below) is the sign that started it all. The gears are the iconic symbol of the steampunk design ethic as they represent the mechanical age that gave us steam engines, hot air balloons and manual typewriters. The exposed structure of the old warehouse where Leonardo's is located and the exposed piping and ductwork only add to the look.
Steampunk is not just a design style, however. It is also a counter-culture and lifestyle that developed as a response the modern lifestyle of constant change in technology. Friends of ours encountered a convention of these folks on a cruise ship. They were wearing their 19th century retro costumes and having parties and meetings. There are also websites that showcase beautiful artifacts such as typewriters, kitchen sinks and other stuff that use the design principles of early mechanical design. This includes exposed piping and fitted joints, gears of all sizes, sometimes linked with pulleys, cogs and screws.
Back to the gears--if you have seen the Broadway musical "The Wiz," you have seen steampunk design. The backdrop set of the stage is a huge set of gears that slide back and forth with various lighting effects to create the background of the scenes. The musical's costumes are similar to the retro-style clothing that can be found on steampunk websites. Many items of steampunk clothing and accessories can be purchased online for costume parties or for one's alternate lifestyle as a steampunker.
This "EXPLORE" sign is located in the Museum of the Great Plains in Lawton, Oklahoma. Some of the gears will rotate when the little black handle that is located at a child's height at the bottom of the sign is cranked. The etched and distressed finish on the sign is an artistic effect of color and texture.
Simple machines and gears are a fun way for children to explore the basic mechanics of movement in cars, bicycles and machines of all kinds. As architects, we also appreciate the graphic design of the gear shapes. Obviously, we are not alone. The set designers of "Wiz" and those steampunk enthusiasts also recognize the graphic design potential of this iconic symbol of the dawn of the mechanical age. And despite the prevalence of the computers, with their chips and all that new-fangled stuff, gears are still relevant, useful and necessary in modern vehicles and appliances.
So, grab your kids and explore Leonardo's Discovery Warehouse in Enid and the Museum of the Great Plains in Lawton. Have fun and learn at the same time--it's a great concept to explore!