Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 25–31, 2013: Shared vintage modern plastic design

Here are the items that were shared the week of March 25, 2013.  They included three lamps, an acrylic sculpture, a versatile clock, and two different types of storage.

Monday, March 25, 2013: Floor lamp with an acrylic shade and marble base.  The lamp stands 60-1/2” tall, 17” wide, and is 18” deep. The base is 8” wide by 13-3/4” deep.

Floor lamp with an acrylic shade and marble base     Floor lamp with an acrylic shade and marble base

Tuesday, March 26, 2013:  Mirrored acrylic fish sculpture.  Measures 7-1/2” by 4-1/2”

Mirrored acrylic fish sculpture

Wednesday, March 27, 2013:  Orange hanging lamp with plastic shade.

Orange hanging lamp with plastic shade

Orange hanging lamp with plastic shade

Thursday, March 28, 2013: Nectarine orange clock. Die Hausuhr (German for “the house clock”) was manufactured in Germany and sold through the chain of Tchibo coffee shops.  The face can be turned through 360 degrees on the U-shaped bracket and can either be used free-standing on a desk or table or mounted on a wall. The white clock face with a large modern typeface is clear and easy to read and is protected by a clear acrylic cover.  The hour and minute hands are in black, with an orange second hand that matches the color of the casing.  Signed “die Hausuhr” on the clock dial. The clock mechanism and battery housing is on the rear, with a built in wall hanger. Battery operated, it takes a standard C type battery.  The clock measures 6” in diameter and is 6-3/4” tall by 2” deep.

die Hausuhr orange wall or table clock

Friday, March 29, 2013: Herda table lamp.  Chromed metal base and double layered plastic shade that lights up beautifully when lit. The lamp has the same on and off mechanism as the Panthella by Verner Panton, which originally uses a bulb that gives two different degrees of light. Pulling the chained cable in the middle of the shade lets the bulb shine normal, pulling it twice lets the light shine brighter. A third pull lets the light go down again and a fourth pull turns the light off. These bulbs are on sale again as led bulbs but a normal bulb works as well only not with the different degrees. Two pulls is on and two more is off with a normal bulb. The shade measures 35cm (13.8”) in diameter and the lamp measures 57cm (22.4”) in height.

Herda table lamp with chromed metal base and double layered plastic shade

Herda table lamp with chromed metal base and double layered plastic shade

Saturday, March 30, 2013: Modernist blue and white cube that opens up for organizing compartments and mirror.  Measures 4 1/2” wide by 4” tall.  Great for makeup or jewelry.  Made in Hong Kong

Modernist blue and white cube that opens up for organizing compartments and mirror

Modernist blue and white cube that opens up for organizing compartments and mirror

Sunday, March 31, 2013: Set of 4 yellow nesting containers by André Morin. Made in Canada.

Andre Morin nesting containers

Andre Morin nesting containers2

Andre Morin nesting containers3

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Poly Plex Wall organizer | Long Island, New York

Here is a vintage orange plastic wall organizer that measures 18” by 9”.  This wall organizer is in the style of the UTEN.SILO and Wall-All by Dorothee Maurer-Becker.  Click to be taken to the UTEN.SILO I, UTEN.SILO II, or Wall-All III.

Poly Plex plastic wall organizer, orange

Poly Plex plastic wall organizer, orange

Front and back of the Poly Plex wall organizer.

Poly Plex plastic wall organizer, box

Poly Plex wall organizer box.

This wall organizer is clearly designed for the bathroom, and features a mirror, three identical pockets, and a towel bar. Interest was shown in the piece, with 3 bidders placing 19 bids.  The wall organizer sold for $302.99.  Domestic shipping added $8.00.

eBay item 221205813575 ended March 29, 2013 at 21:08:02 PDT (United States).

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Broakulla decorative object | Katarina Brieditis | Ikea, Sweden | 2002

Katarina BrieditisHere are some half-ball wall panels, a decorative object by Katarina Brieditis for Ikea.  Katarina Brieditis was born in 1967 in Uppsala, Sweden.  She has been a freelance designer since 1996.  While she mainly engages in textile design, freelancing allows Brieditis to also work in other fields.  Check out the online presence of Katarina Brieditis.

On the “About” page of her website, Brieditis describes her design philosophy:

Much of my work develops through hands-on experiments with the material itself, where old craft techniques meet contemporary expressions in rhythm, scale or composition.

I’m interested in modern materials as well as all materials that can be recycled, and this has always been an important source of inspiration to me. I have a deep and sincere love for colours, materials and all types of techniques. They seem to constantly offer me new challenges.

For the Broakulla, each panel is made up of an array of 3 by 5 hemispheres. Each panel measures 13-3/4” by 22-1/2”.  When combined together, they make a very large art piece. The colors are much more indicative of a mid century piece than something contemporary by Ikea.

There was considerable interest in this particular auction on eBay, with 6 bidders placing 15 bids.  The 6 panels sold for $355.00, $60 for each panel.  Domestic shipping added $28.  Occasional past auctions have these selling individually for $10-15 per panel plus shipping.

eBay item 121083059452 ended March 24, 2013 at 21:54:30 PDT (United States).

Broakulla half-ball wall art decorative object by Katarina Brieditis

Four of the six panels together, size 55” by 90”.

Broakulla half-ball wall art decorative object by Katarina Brieditis, packaging

Broakulla half-ball wall art decorative object by Katarina Brieditis, front

Broakulla half-ball wall art decorative object by Katarina Brieditis, back

Packaging, front, and back of a single panel.  Each panel measures 22-1/2” by 13-3/4”.


Katarina Brieditis. Retrieved March 25, 2013 from http://brieditis.se/#/About.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

biomorphic lamps with acrylic shades and chrome accents

This pair of lamps was Sunday’s (March 24, 2013) Facebook share.  Interest in these lamps and their cool design warrant a special look at them.  Does anyone know who designed or made these lamps?  Please comment below!

There are no markings on either lamp.  The lamp is turned on and off by a chain with a ball at the end. The lamps have a unique flowing, biomorphic shape and crisp chrome accents.  The lamps measure 10-1/4” wide by 11-1/2” height by 13” deep with a base that is 7-1/2” by 9-1/8”.

eBay item 380601359571 ended March 24, 2013 at 18:01:28 PDT (Canada).  There were 7 bidders who placed 21 bids.  The pair of lamps realized $305.00.

Biomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accents  Biomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accentsBiomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accents  Biomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accentsBiomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accentsBiomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accents

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 18–24, 2013: Shared vintage modern plastic design

Here are the items that were shared the week of March 18, 2013.  These included a cup, a vase, lamps, a ball clock, serving bowls, and a toy.

Monday, March 18, 2013: Cup in light blue.  Mandy by Melaware, registered DESIGN N° 937238 Patents Pending Made in England.  Looks like the Smoke glass by Joe Colombo, only in plastic.

Mandy cup by Melaware

Joe Colombo Smoke glass illustration

Smoke Glass Series, Design sketch, 1964. Ignazia Favata, Studio Joe Colombo, Milan.  Image source:  wallpaper.com

Joe Colombo smoke glass

Image source:  yoox.com

Tuesday, March 19, 2013:  Pink plastic bubble vase, 8” tall.

Pink plastic bubble vase

Thursday, March 21, 2013: Vintage orange plastic (ABS) lamp similar in style to the Eclisse lamp by Vico Magistretti. By rotating the upper part, more or less light can be achieved.  This lamp is by Gagiplast.  The lamp measures approximately 8cm in diameter and 20cm in height.

Gagiplast Eclisse/Eclipse lamp

Gagiplast Eclisse/Eclipse lamp

Gagiplast Eclisse/Eclipse lamp, imprint

Marked on the bottom base of the lamp:


Thursday, March 21, 2013:  Vintage serving or display bowls in plastic. Orange and green color. Made in Hong Kong. The bowls make a flower or tree shape when mounted on the two parts that serve as the trunk. Four bowls on the bottom level and on perched on the top for a total of 5. Each bowl measures approximately 5.5” in diameter and 2” height.

Orange serving bowl tree

Orange serving bowl tree

Orange serving bowl tree

Friday, March 22, 2013:  Vintage plastic Hippo building toy by Peter Austin. A colorful Hippo is put together by stacking the plastic rings. He is still in his original box.  Made in Hong Kong. The box measures 8-3/4” by 3-1/2”.

Peter Austin Hippo toy

Saturday, March 23, 2013: Emes Synchro 80 ball clock.  Plugs in to wall.  Just under 4” in height.

Emes Synchro 80 ball clock

Emes Synchro 80 ball clock

Sunday, March 24, 2013: Pair of lamps with acrylic shade.  No markings.  Unique flowing, biomorphic shape and chrome accents.  The lamps measure 10-1/4” wide by 11-1/2” height by 13” deep with a base that is 7-1/2” by 9-1/8”.

Biomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accents

Biomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accents

Biomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accents

Biomorphic shape lamps with acrylic shade and chrome accents

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sentimental Mass Production (Helix clock) | Steve Diskin | 1995

Steve DiskinSteve Diskin
Kirsch/Hamilton and Associates, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1979

Writing Workbook 1990-2004 by Steve Diskin is a collection of essays. The selection entitled “Sentimental Mass Production” from 1995 is Diskin’s reflection on the Helix clock, from its emergence as a concept to its execution as a design object. Click the link above or the cover below to read the entire book.  Click for a brief biography of Steve Diskin.

Writing Workbook 1990-2004 by Steve Diskin, cover

The lecture and essay have been described as “an emotional introduction to industrial design from an architect who didn’t know what he was doing.” I think the journey, and the results, turned out wonderfully. The Helix clock, and later designs for Tik-Tek Engineering, represent stunning conjunctions of timepiece and design object.

The Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsh/Hamilton and Associates, Inc. (1979)

The Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch/Hamilton and Associates, Inc. (1979).

Sentimental Mass Production (1995)

I have at some point considered the literary notion that design is a narrative process, with designers as authors of the great stories linking objects and human beings. These are the stories of environment, character, poetry and time, sentimental wanderings of thought and form where inanimate and animate objects are interwoven. A parallel reality of environment, character, poetry and time enlivens the universe of objects with their own lyrical biology and structure. In this world a man and his work are not separated; in the special world of design, you are what you make. This is how I got started in industrial design.

In the chain of being linking sub-atomic particles to mankind, there is something missing: the object....extension of man, elusive artifact of evolution!! Moments like the Voyage of the Beagle or Haeckel’s Expedition in search of little geodesic radiolaria, or a designer making a product, are Darwinian links in a greater chain of being. Objects come alive, children of the designer-mind, in time and in space as evidence of our existence, in many cases long after we are gone. Just as DNA has a language, the mass-produced object, by its dissemination throughout the world, also becomes a powerful device for communication. This dynamic quality of the secret life of objects vibrates within objects large and small: the clock on the wall is a blinking eye in a factory.

Take a look at Sapper’s Tizio, the flamingo of light, or an innocent paper clip, a snake; the walrus has the repose of the exalted goddess of all vehicles, the Citroën DS. These objects, these beings, more than remind of us animate forms; they indeed are animate forms.

Far from that operating room where design lies on the table for surgery, where men in white try to solve the technical problems which they themselves conceive, I’m thinking that the vibrant heart of design lies elsewhere, in the making of objects. This thought originates in the mind of a designer as the deep need for a conversation with civilization, the desire to say something....and it often starts with a BIG IDEA.

My idea arrived in 1976. While I was in Japan working as an architect, life was hard. (13A) We worked very long hours, but sometimes there were great rewards. You will, I think, recognize another exalted goddess, the Citroën of human beings. (13B) At a certain point, I suddenly had a hunger for a really small and personal project, so

I decided to consider a different way of telling time! I found that after months in a strange land, one begins to absorb cultural information very rapidly, out of a hunger for understanding. In Tokyo, the atmosphere crackled with architecture, symbols, society, objects, as well as a different relationship with time. A culture where natural disasters formed the shape of the city (and where until 1873 time was measured by hours which varied in length from day to day, through the seasons of expanding and contracting daylight), cannot fail to give a designer certain ideas.

I had in mind a “color clock”, a cylinder of many illuminated bands, with a helical mechanism inside to sequence the lights with an ordinary motor. This prototype in my mind stimulated the further thought that the mechanism itself might be an interesting sculptural “thing”, and that most people wouldn’t bother about “blue minutes after pink o’clock”, or being “yellow minutes late for a meeting”. (In parentheses, I also realized that an object can force users into learning a different language and that this demand easily makes enemies of consumers.)

So, a helical clock was born. Named Helix, it was really just a machine for spinning rotary motion into linear motion, a Nautilus chronometer, sea-shell of time, a wheel rolling down the space-time continuum, a well behaved spiral advancing forever, resetting itself with periodic certainty, a solidly mathematical spiral staircase to infinity.

As I have said: far from the world of “problem solving as we know it”, I have found that the heart of design lies in the lyrical and sometimes capricious nature of objects. Design ideas form a rich soup, with ingredients bubbling to the surface at random from the invisible depths at the bottom of the pot where they can burn and be destroyed if the flame is too high, or take on the color of the surrounding broth, the ooze in which ideas can easily disappear. The process, nevertheless, is frequently nourishing; but once in a while one gets indigestion, or worse, food poisoning.

The soup in question here is a helical soup. In this pot are a year’s worth of prototypes, and the steep learning curve of a new field with its own language and materials; but I was still guided by the lyrical impulse, a kind of childlike wonder about objects and their making. This period included flirtation with expressive form, materializing as a celebration of seconds. Hours move very slowly in a clock, measuring time in a very unrewarding way. I wanted more.... more drama, more action, so I made three helical rotors, and made the one which shows seconds very long, in sixty discreet segments, and then accentuated it with a polished mirror base which reflected the sensuous rhythm of the passage of time.

I decided to show this prototype to another human being. My friend saw this funny machine, actually liked it and said he would like to buy one. (This is called “market research”, by the way).

My studio was in my mother’s garage, and I say “studio” because of the romance of this word. A studio can be anywhere, or anything...it is a special architecture of the mind. I showed Helix to a university professor of business. Six students in his class signed up to help me research the feasibility of bringing the Helix to market. “Market” is indeed a romantic, expressive institution. It is, I can tell you, “the market” which animates products; in the market the designer can hear the sweet songs of fame, fortune, and affection for one’s work. I loved the smooth sound of the word “entrepreneur”, and remember the pride of anticipated ownership of this title; but my real dream was a chimney, the heavy cloud of the particles of object-making, the industrial cigar, belching evidence into the atmosphere over my fantasy factory, proclaiming in the most lyrical words of all: MASS PRODUCTION!!!!!

Now let me give you an observation: I believe that all objects are like penguins. Frolicking on the assembly line, anticipating the mating ritual with other parts, totally comfortable where its cold, at home on land or at sea; objects are just like penguins struggling for the shore .....longing to swim and play. For objects, that Great Ocean is of course, the Sea of Commerce.

So here were six students eager to put me in business. We photographed the prototypes, visited retail stores, interviewed owners, tried to price parts, learned of exotic processes and materials, and went to trade shows. I laugh now, but these were ardent efforts, by new entrepreneurs wearing fictional three piece suits, smoking fictional cigars, with light bulbs and dreams in their heads, inventing grand plans.

We would become mass producers, another cell in the great chain of being: makers of objects. But then I called a phone number in Boston. I had learned of a little two-man company, (an architect and a physicist who lived the dream of cigars and light bulbs), mass producers of clocks which employed polarized filters to make the face change color as time passed. (Sound familiar? Ideas, like twins, always come in pairs.)

I took the red eye. They wanted to see the Helix clock. The great moment of this visit was the factory. Machines everywhere, precision machines, numerically controlled lathes and mills, grinders and drill presses, hand tools and testing racks, strange-looking fixtures and a definite mood that here was a place where man and machine were equals.

Here was the heart of industrial design. This was an alchemical place where ideas transmuted into objects, like lead into gold, a place where sea lions would play, where products would jump from their boxes, dancing through the night to the tunes of an orchestra of cast aluminum instruments or a mighty pipe organ, let’s say a pipe organ of acrylic tube, of every diameter and wall thickness. This was a place I wanted to be.......

We talked of licensing, production costs, sales, materials, patents and royalties. We decided to call the lawyers: it was time to make a deal. It became a 22 -page agreement. It went like this...... “In consideration of one dollar, paid by the Licensee to the Licensor, the receipt of which is herein acknowledged, the parties agree as follows”: Licensee shall place on each of the Licensed products the following acknowledgement: “designed by Steve Diskin” in a location on such Licensed Product that is visible to the naked eye when such a product is in ordinary use.” Sea lions on rocks by the sea barked loudly: The objects were laughing, so were the lawyers.

Parts for five prototypes were made on a pantograph mill and carefully assembled into the finished clock. 102 little handmade parts. Revolution in the streets of objects!! The solution would come from a farm in Connecticut, where a small injection molding company offered to make these little segments. Cows stuck their heads through the window and mooed. Parts began to fill a cardboard box. Registration pins and holes in each part made assembly much easier. Tight angular tolerances had to be maintained.....sixty segments to make one 360 degree revolution, not 361. We were nervous. The cows were nervous. We had to decide what color to make these parts. Black and yellow were proposed. Then I said, “chrome.” Silence. Then enthusiasm!

The physicist took us to MIT and put one of the rotors under a huge bell jar in a lab, and vaporized a little piece of aluminum in an exquisite, airless void. The pump burbled, the aluminum was consumed. Scientists laughed.

Chrome, black and yellow production prototypes went to the LA gift show. Orders were taken. Helix would be shipped in time for Christmas! I spent weeks in Boston at the factory, designing fixtures for hot stamping the rotors, milling endcaps, breathing the heady vapors in the factory, the smell of incipient mass production. Labels were applied to the newborn clocks: “designed by Steve Diskin” would indeed be visible to the naked eye when the product was in normal use. The first unit went to Beverly Hills. I waited clandestinely in the store listening for comments. “I hate this thing,” a mother told her 12-year old son, who openly coveted serial number 1, “It makes me so mad......” A week later I heard from the owner of the store that number 1 was sold.... and to a noted luminary at that!.... Stevie Wonder. Who says that there is no poetry in mass production.!!!

Shipping started, but then disaster struck. Inadequate packaging failed to protect the object inside. Gravity, inertia and momentum, intersected; matter and energy collided full force. A Helix in a box went to the testing laboratory. It sustained nine g’s as it hit the floor. This at last forced into existence a container which swaddled the newborn in an additional cocoon of plastic bubbles.

“Shipping”: it’s the third panel in a medieval triptych of object-making, hinged to the iconic representations of “Sales” and “Production”. Shipping is descended from the altar of the prototype (through the fury of mass production, the wild meiosis of subassemblies and parts), and is always preceded by a period of calm when only the rustle of paper can be heard, backstage at the drama of shipping, directed by the numerology of purchase orders, invoices and packing slips----the chronicles of product lives. Designer makers look on wistfully as friendly birds leave the nest. Ultimately, shipping is a form of flight, in all the meanings of the word.

In the mean time, Helix appeared in stores, catalogs, magazines, and newspapers. After a year, difficulties in production were gradually resolved. And at this moment the company was sold. The new owners weren’t cigar smoking light-bulb heads at all, but decaffeinated and pasteurized, gold-chained businessmen. They saw balance sheets where smokestacks should have been. The music of the factory became silence. It would be a matter of time, so to speak, before the Licensor and the Licensee would part company. Fewer than 1000 clocks would be sold.

There would also be no going back. In 1980 I made another decision. I would be a designer-maker, a manufacturer. Helix had been my rite of passage into the mysteries of industrial design and now I can barely remember life before ID. It’s like a pianist trying to remember the feeling of not being able to read music. In a 40 square meter studio-factory, we subsequently produced thousands of new clocks, simpler clocks, but nevertheless proudly displaying the label: “designed by Steve Diskin” and visible to the naked eye when the product was in normal use. For five years, objects danced in the night on the sixth-floor terrace of an old office building in Los Angeles.

In small scale production, a designer-maker learns to distinguish the inevitable defects which make each object minutely different from the rest. Seeing so many of these little objects side by side while they were in the studio, I got to know the quirks of each one as if by name. And I ask myself: Is there any doubt that objects and designers commune at the workbench, the altar of creativity? Whenever I see a product with a scratch or a screw missing or a part which doesn’t fit, rather than getting angry, I am reminded of mass production, and personality, environment, poetry, character and time. I love old products, discontinued products, defective products and, naturally, beautiful new products.

When I would make prototypes, and the studio would have already become a complete mess from the cutting, drilling, and sanding and painting of parts, I would always clear a sacred area on the workbench for a bit of soft cloth to make a ceremonial hearth for the rite of final assembly. With the sweet smell of paint (especially flat black) infusing the air in the studio, there would be the perfect parts, waiting. You hold a screwdriver reverentially when you assemble a prototype and there is a glowing halo when the job is done. This is standard procedure at the altar of creativity.

But the real pulpit of object-making is in the factory. It was a moment of true serenity in the quality control room at a certain metal stamping plant as I, a designer admitted to the inner circle, and fabricator, micrometer in hand, admired the first article: production piece number one. The fabricator knew and admired the careful work of the designer and the designer respected the capability and experience of the fabricator and both knew that the other knew. Both stood here on the same sacred spot. The altar demands recognition, and people who understand the life of objects know this. People who understand objects know that a car always runs better after it’s washed. These people also understand computers and know that the battle at the man-machine interface involves not so much the humanization of machinery with friendlier software, but more the convincing of human beings that it’s OK to coexist with objects.

What does all this mean? A corollary of the widely heard idea that small is beautiful is that small efforts are also beautiful. The executives of General Motors or Hitachi, like the owner of a one-man shop, have had ethereal dreams of the smokestacks of production, they feel the the primitive urges of the making of objects, they agonize over the minute technical details of finance and design, and watch with complex emotion as shipping disseminates the dream to the consuming populace. This is the life of the designer-maker.

Finally, Nature will resist a break in evolution, through the mechanism of genetic destiny and force of the environment. The persistence of objects, and of the humans who design them, is given. I, in my own small corner of design, also know that I am not alone in what I think and do. Sea lions play, and trees will grow happily where the conditions of humidity are hospitable; human beings dream, and billions and billions of the products we have inserted into a very interesting ecosystem of objects, will dance the night away under beautiful halogen suns, in factories real and imagined, throughout the entire universe.


Diskin, Steve. Writing Workbook 1990-2004. Czech Republic: 1990-2004. 44-51. eBook. http://home.earthlink.net/~stevediskin/writing.pdf.

see “Sentimental Mass Production” Dom & Wnetrze,
Warsaw, 1992, Innovation Magazine, 1995.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Helix clock | Steve Diskin | Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc. | Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America | 1979

Steve DiskinSteve Diskin
Kirsch/Hamilton and Associates, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1979

Steve Diskin was awarded a BA, magna cum laude, in Visual Studies (Architectural Sciences) from Harvard University in 1970, and a Masters in Architecture also from Harvard University in 1974. He began his professional career as an architect with the firm of Kenzo Tange in Tokyo. In the late 1970s, he ventured into product design and manufacturing with the Helix clock. Lessons learned from the Helix clock lead ultimately to the establishment of his design and manufacturing company, Tik-Tek Engineering, in Los Angeles.

From 1989 to 2002, Steve Diskin was senior instructor in Advanced Product Design and Environmental Design, as well as co-coördinator of the graduate program in Industrial Design from 1998-2002, at Art Center College in Pasadena, CA. He was Visiting Professor at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague (2004-2005) and held a similar position at the University of Ljubljana (2002-2010).

In October, 2007, Steve Diskin published the Ph.D. dissertation, The city transforms: changing perceptions of urban identity: (case study - the path of remembrance and comradeship in Ljubljana) at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The dissertation asserts

that if the “first generation” of cities was characterized by built forms and spaces, and the “second generation” defined by mobility, then the “third generation” of cities will certainly be “hyperdynamic”, that is, technological, dematerialized, unprogrammed, emergent, adaptable and virtual, if they are to serve the needs and behaviors of their inhabitants.

Pratt Institute, founded in 1887 in Brooklyn, New York is one of the leading architecture, art, and design schools in the United States. The Industrial Design department was established in 1934 by Donald Dohner, and is the second oldest in the United States. The graduate program in Industrial Design was founded in 1975 and is the oldest and largest in the country. Steve Diskin currently serves as the chairperson of Pratt Institute’s Industrial Design department.

I previously featured one of Steve Diskin’s designs for Tik-Tek Engineering, the Nova clock.  The Helix clock for Kirsch/Hamilton and Associates from 1979 is responsible for launching Diskin to clock making fame.  The Helix clock uses the rotational and linear characteristics of a helical spiral to communicate hours, minutes, and seconds.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black

The mirrored surface at the bottom of the clock tube reflects the helical elements of the clock. The lacquered top of the table I have it on reflects the whole clock.

Helix logo

The Helix clock logo: “Helix A New Dimension in Time Telling”.

The Helix was one of a burgeoning number of clocks in the late 1970s and early 80s described by the New York Times as “designer clocks in which new graphic, kinetic, sculptural, sound and light features have assumed a strong importance, sometimes at the expense of clarity. Most of these clocks are handsome; some are difficult to read. They range in price from moderate to expensive.”

Take a minute to watch a minute in the life of the Helix clock.

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin outlines his birth and growth as a designer and a designer-maker.

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin, cover

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin, p. 7Helix Clock
The rotation of three helical elements (and the translation of rotation into linear motion) shows time at the intersection with the numbered index.  Production: 1980-82. Kirsch Hamilton Associates. Boston. Permanent collection of the National Design Museum (Cooper-Hewitt). New York. Published in Look of the Century, history of design from the permanent collection of the museum. 1996

58cm x 9cm

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin, pp. 8-9Above are the three pages in Steve Diskin’s Design Workbook that feature the Helix clock.

Writing Workbook 1990-2004 by Steve Diskin is a collection of essays.  Notable to this post is a selection entitled “Sentimental Mass Production” from 1995. 

Writing Workbook 1990-2004 by Steve Diskin, cover

Sentimental Mass Production” is Diskin’s reflection on the Helix clock, from its emergence as a concept to its execution as a design object.

Helix clock box

The entire length of the Helix clock box.

Helix clock box

Another view of the Helix clock box.

Helix clock instructions

Original instructions for the Helix clock.  The text is below:

The HELIX Clock utilizes three rotating helices to indicate hours, minutes, and seconds.  Time is read on the linear, horizontal time scale where it intersects the edge of the helix.  Since there are 30 segments in the minutes helix, the indicating ends are divided by a line.  The area above the line indicates the even minute; the area below indicates the odd minute.

In order to set the time in such a way that the seconds helix is in synchronization with the hours and minutes, unplug the clock when the seconds helix indicates zero.  Set the time to the next whole minute.  At the appropriate moment, plug in the clock once again.

Adjustment of the Time Scale
If the clock is to be viewed far below eye level, you may wish to raise the time scale to its upper position. Remove the right end cap and the single screw in the time scale support. Slide the time scale to the right, rotate it to the upper position, then slide it to the left engaging the pin in the motor support in the corresponding hole in the time scale. Then replace the screw and the end cap.

The clock may be dusted with a soft, damp cloth. NO cleaning agents should be used other than polishes made especially for Plexiglas. This is very important as scratches and damage to the finish are not covered by warranty.

Limited Warranty
Kirsch/Hamilton Associates Inc. warrants that it will replace or repair any parts found defective due to faulty material or workmanship within one year from the date of purchase. This warranty does not include damage to the finish after delivery, damage caused by unauthorized attempts to disassemble or repair the clock, or damage which occurs during shipment in any packaging other than that provided by Kirsch/Hamilton Associates Inc. ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES WITH RESPECT TO THIS PRODUCT SHALL BE LIMITED IN DURATION TO THE DURATION OF THIS WARRANTY.

For service, write for return authorization stating the nature of the problem and the serial number of your clock. Do not send packages to the P.O. Box below. The return authorization includes a label pre-printed with our factory address.

Should it be necessary to return your clock for service, ship it only in the original package. If new packaging material is required, enclose $2.50 with your initial service request and new material will be sent. Only clocks returned prepaid in packing material provided by us will be covered by this warranty.

Kirsch/Hamilton Associates Inc.
P.O. Box 223                                         Patents Pending
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA                ©1979 KHA Inc.

Helix clock warranty card

Original Helix clock warranty card for clock serial number 1424.

Helix clock serial 1424

Underside of Helix clock.

In “Sentimental Mass Production,” Diskin indicates that the Helix clock was made in yellow, black, and chrome.  These colors refer to the individual plastic elements of the helix that make up the hour, two-minute, and second segments.  I have never seen a clock in chrome.

There are differences between the yellow and black clocks beyond the color of the helix elements.  The supports that hold the axle to the base of the clock and the axle to the time scale are black on the yellow clock and transparent on the black clock.  The screened numbers on the time scale are black on the yellow clock and red on the black clock.


Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellowHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellowHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellowHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellow

Black, damaged

When shipping the Helix clock, it is extremely important to make sure it is well packed.  Diskin speaks about the propensity toward damage of the Helix clock during shipping in “Sentimental Mass Production.” The clock below was sold on eBay on November 22, 2012 for $99.00. There were 5 bidders who placed 9 bids. The item description tells the sad tale of the damage.

I was crushed when this beauty arrived damaged in the mail. It took me years to find another one. I hope someone else likes it enough to make some good use of it. The clock operates perfectly, only the casing is severely damaged... scratched, cracked and even a piece broken off. The downside is I think the Lucite casing is impossible to reproduce. The upside is the casing is merely protective. You could remove this clock and mount it on something else and it would be an excellent functional display piece.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black damagedHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black damagedHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black damaged


Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black plug

The plug for the Helix clock is a two blade.  It is approximately 8 feet long and so has considerable reach.  I thought I might need an extension cord but not with that length.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black cord entering clock

The cord enters the Helix clock through a small hole at the back, bottom left.

Helix clock gearing mechanismHelix clock gearing mechanism, left side of Helix clock

The Helix clock mechanism.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., blackHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., right side

Top:  The entire Helix clock.  Bottom:  The right side of the Helix clock.

Telling time with the Helix clock

Telling time with the Helix clock.  Looking down the tube from the mechanism, the helices rotate counterclockwise.  Here, the hour indicator is exiting the “4” and entering the “5”.  The horizontal line on the minute indicator is centered on “00”.  The time is 5:00 exactly.  The seconds helix is not shown.

Telling time with the Helix clock9:59 Telling time with the Helix clock10:00
Telling time with the Helix clock10:01 Telling time with the Helix clock10:02

More time telling with the Helix clock. Only a small part of the clock is shown, the seconds helix is not shown.


Diskin, Steve. Design Workbook. Czech Republic: 2005. 7-9. eBook. http://home.earthlink.net/~stevediskin/portfolio.pdf.

Diskin, Steve. Writing Workbook 1990-2004. Czech Republic: 1990-2004. 44-51. eBook. http://home.earthlink.net/~stevediskin/writing.pdf.

see “Sentimental Mass Production” Dom & Wnetrze,
Warsaw, 1992, Innovation Magazine, 1995.

Giovannini, J. (1983, March 24). In the new clocks, design, not time, is of the essence. The New York Times, p. C1.

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