In June 2014 I received a letter from Terence Conran asking me to participate in Wish List, a project run by himself, AHEC and Benchmark for London Design Festival. . It felt like winning a golden ticket, an opportunity I didn't believe was true until I was stood in Benchmark - a factory a little less edible than the one in Charlie's story, but just as enchanting.
I had been paired with Richard and Ab Rogers, and within days I'd met with Ab to discuss what he and his father wished for. Ladders were something they'd both been fascinated by years, and Ab explained to me:
‘As an object, a ladder offers an exciting way to move; it helps you rise to a new place, to get you cannot otherwise reach and see a familiar space in a different light.'
Something in what the Rogers had said reminded me of Milan Kundera's references of seeing the earth from a new aspect, one of lightness; free from burdens and reality. It conjured up images in my mind of a bird's wings during flight:
“The absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being.”
Using these directives, the designs that followed were intended to be stripped of any superfluous material, as light, and also portable as possible. The Rogers were keen for the ladder to borrow it's support from the wall and not itself, further removing any normal necessary components of a standing ladder.
Initially we wanted to go for the Tulipwood, which has the structural strength and durability of a hardwood but the lightness of a softwood. However as the designs developed to include curves, it became apparent the tulipwood wouldn't be suitable as it can't be steam bent.
The curve on the left upright was initially 90 degrees with a 150mm radius, and there was only one wood for the job – red oak. During the initial tests the wood snapped along the curve, despite a complicated jig devised with the advice of steam-bending experts at Tyler's, down the road from Benchmark. We increased the radius and managed to get the curve I wanted.
I was fortunate enough to work with and gain advice from various experts, including Chris Wise , the wonderful people in the RSH+P model shop , Alice Blogg , and of course, Noel from Benchmark , who was incredibly patient and informative. Between him, Sean Sutcliffe, and the other brilliant folk at Benchmark, I learnt a great deal about wood work in industry.
The Ladder That Likes The Wall
If the ladder was to be portable and minimal, it meant that some simple yet sophisticated rules of engineering would need to be applied, whereby the force applied to the ladder by the weight of the person would in fact increase it's strength and stability - as long as the points of contact were made from the appropriate material and at the correct angle.
I feel proud to say the final ladder is a bold, streamlined and elegant structure, which at first doesn't look as if it would take the weight of a human climbing up it bearing a glass of wine and ipad under-arm – but it does, with a great deal of hidden strength and stability despite it's appearance. It's simple shape also carries an intricate story of the learning experience that's taken place on my part. It's been a golden opportunity that will no doubt impact upon my design career for years to come.