Moving forward, looking backward: the Steampunk PC
July 18, 2007 The sleek, white, minimalist theme that dominates modern design speaks volumes about the age we live in. Plain, clean furniture and devices are deliberately sterile and devoid of any sort of character, in a nod to the fact that they'll be obsolete, broken or replaced within a few short years anyway. The Steampunk movement looks back fondly to the early 1900s when steam was the technology of the day and new devices were celebrated with beautiful and ornate wood and brass craftsmanship, giving a feel of permanence, durability and preciousness that's missing from today's designs. A couple of designers have teamed up to muse on what the personal computer might look like if it hadn't been denied its "Golden Age." We found their resulting artworks, as well as the underlying principles and construction methods, quite inspirational.
Steampunk is a loosely-defined artistic movement that is best recognised by its depictions of future technology rendered in lavish steam-era materials and design aesthetics. Recent examples of the genre would include Kevin O'Neill's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and the giant mechanical spider in the "Wild Wild West" movie. The ornate wood and brass styling gives a feel of character, uniqueness and class to Steampunk-styled devices, and evokes an era in which pretty much anything could be reliably returned to good working order by a skilled mechanic - in stark contrast to the disposable technologies of the modern era, which have turned repairmen chiefly into parts-replacers.
Jake Von Slatt, creator of the Steampunk Workshop, is perhaps the foremost exponent of the steampunk aesthetic on the Web, and he recently embarked on a project to retro-fit the Personal Computer with a design worthy of its world-changing functionality.
Starting with the keyboard, for which Von Slatt was immediately inspired by the beauty and elegance of the older typewriters. Comprehensively replaced in the modern age by plastic computer keyboards, the typewriter still holds a romantic place in the hearts of literature fans that the computer keyboard never will. The fragile yet purposeful mechanics of the typewriter still evoke the works of great value and permanence that have been created on them. See Von Slatt's typewriter project as it takes shape here on the steamworks workshop homepage.
Von Slatt's next problem was that the keyboard made his modern LCD monitor look decidedly cheap and anachronistic -so the steampunk LCD began to take shape. Using recycled parts from a 19th century gas lamp, brass casings, some laser-printed marble-look coverings and a set of chime levers from a grandfather clock, he created a monitor worthy of the keyboard, every bit as functional as the original device. See this beautiful piece take shape here.
While Von Slatt won't make reproductions of his works for interested buyers ("that sounds like work... I do this as my antidote to work"), friend and steampunk devotee Doc Datamancer has made himself available for commissioned works. Datamancer won't be stopping at the keyboard and monitor either, he's got designs on creating an entire piece of computational furniture that he's calling "The Nagy Magical-Movable-Type Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine".
When you're as focused on forward-moving technology as we are at Gizmag, it's sometimes great to be reminded how much more solid and valuable technology seemed to 'feel' in the not-too-distant past. These fantastic projects stirred up all sorts of memories, and the philosophy behind them is hard to argue with.