Building a time machine in the Dorset woods

A few weeks ago I wrote about my visit to Geneva as part of the Beyond Entropy art/architecture/science collaboration sponsored by the Architecture Association. We continued our work last weekend in the Dorset woods visiting the AA’s Hooke Park site, a 350-acre forest with a bit more space for workshops than their Bedford Square buildings in central London.

Our group’s brief was to explore the concept of “mechanical energy” and we took as our starting point “How To Build A Time Machine”, by the French pre-absurdist Alfred Jarry (who I remember first encountering as the inspiration behind the name of Cleveland proto-punks Pere Ubu and as an occasional character in Zippy the Pinhead). Like Wells’ Time Machine from the same period, Jarry envisions time as a fourth dimension, and equips a massive cube with giant flywheels. Conservation of angular momentum (real physics) keeps the machine from moving in space, and also in time (that’s the absurdity).

We started by playing with some store-bought gyroscopes, trying to fix them to the faces of a cube, but soon realized that it was difficult to connect the edges of the cube to the axes of the spinning disks, although we did make this lovely machine out of small electric motors, rotors from tape decks, and machined metal disks (where by “we” I must admit that my mechanical prowess doesn’t quite rate much beyond kibbitzing on my part).

But we wanted something more substantial, and more symmetric. The design breakthrough, and my only major contribution, came with the realization that we could join the axes of the flywheels and the corners of the faces of cube with a triangle — a simpler and more stable shape than the cube itself. Shin Egashira, the architectural side of our triangular collaboration, took this forward to an actual design. We cut it from thick plywood with a magnificent CNC machine

…which we then put together to make this:

The flywheels spin on bearings, and can actually generate quite a bit of angular momentum. We couldn’t yet work out an efficient way to get and keep all three wheels spinning at once, but the whole mechanism is stable (and well-built!) enough to spin around rather amazingly on the ground:

Next, the work of our collaboration and the others in the Beyond Entropy “cluster” will be presented at the Festival dell’energia in Lecce, and then this summer in Venice for the Architecture Biennale. Sadly, we weren’t able to travel in time any faster (or slower) than the usual one second per second, so these events are approaching fast.

One response to “Building a time machine in the Dorset woods”

  1. Andrew Jaffe: Leaves on the Line avatar

    Beyond Entropy and Ourselves

    Last summer, I helped make a (fake) time machine, an exercise in “creative misinterpretation” (in the words of my architect partner, Shin Egashira). This was part of the Beyond Entropy project organized by the Architecture Association &#821…