Elemental Clock

Simply put, the Elemental Clock uses three fundamental shapes – the square, triangle and circle – to display the current time in hours, minutes and seconds.

Elemental Clock

Elemental Clock: measuring 50cm x 16cm, displaying hours (square), minutes (triangle) and seconds (circle)

The design breaks apart the displayed elements of the common clock face, and repackages the “hands” into separate, distinct, and yet connected, representations of the measurement of time.

Elemental Clock

Elemental Clock:  under the watchful eye of the seconds circle, minutes traverse the three sides of the triangle, while the hours advance as each facet of the triangle is illuminated.

Elemental? These three shapes are frequently seen together and often presented as a universal symbol for the divine creation – the perfect manifestation of spirit (circle), soul (triangle) and body (square). In addition, the unity of circle, triangle and square is also a symbol of the divine human being. In alchemy, circles represent the spiritual because they are infinite, while squares are often symbols of the material because of the number of physical things that come in fours (such as seasons, cardinal directions, physical elements, etc.). The union of man and woman is a merging of a person’s spiritual and physical natures and the triangle is used as a symbol of the resulting union of body, mind and soul.

These shapes also feature in Zen philosophy and are the subject of one of Sengai Gibon’s – a 17th century Japanese Zen master who was an artist – most famous work.

"Square Triangle Circle"

“Square Triangle Circle”, Sengai Gibon

In more contemporary usage, in the 1960s Italian design legend Bruno Munari published his visual case studies on shapes: Circle , Square , and, a decade later, Triangle. In his book “Bruno Munari: Square, Circle, Triangle” he uses examples from ancient Greece and Egypt and contemporary designers, to invest the three shapes with specific qualities: “the circle relates to the divine, the square signifies safety and enclosure, and the triangle provides a key connective form for designers.”

While there are countless descriptions of the uses for, and meanings of, these elemental symbols, common to many is the circle that represents an ancient and universal symbol of unity, wholeness, infinity, the goddess, and feminine power – the sacred. The triangle represents connection and structure, while the square represents the physical world.

Given all of the symbolism associated with each shape individually and when presented together, the triumverate of shapes provides an interesting way to represent the three common “divisions” of time: namely hours, minutes and seconds. While each is richly served with myriad metaphors, they combine to provide a representation of the commonplace: time displayed to the second.

For this design, each of the three shapes were cut on my CNC from 12mm HDPE (High-Density PolyEthylene). The circle contains 30 LEDs that are successively and gradually illuminated as seconds pass. The triangle also contains 30 LEDs arranged so that 20 minutes represents each facet.of the shape. The square contains 36 LEDs, so that each successive LED represents 20 minutes (one facet of the triangle) of a 12 hour day.

Elemental Clock

Elemental Clock: back-view showing the interconnection of the three elemental shapes.

The shapes are connected with a two-part mounting bar (that I find a little too large for the design) that has been pocketed to carry the cables and to hold the electronics. To provide some light diffusing, in each shape the strips of LEDs are are laid inside grooves that are cut 2mm inside the periphery. The LED strips of each of the three shapes are daisy-chained together and connected, via a discrete MOSFET level shifter, to the ESP8266 board (WeMos D1 Mini, my current favourite hardware development platform). A small switching supply provides 5V for both the ESP 8266 module and the strips of addressable LEDs.

Elemental Clock

Elemental Clock: cutout in mounting bracket for the electronics containing the switching power supply (lower right), WeMos D1 Mini ESP8266 WiFi board (upper left) and discrete level shifter (upper right)

Accurate time is obtained from an NTP timestamp, obtained from the NIST atomic clock, via the local WiFi network.

Elemental, my dear Watson!

Thoughts, comments, suggestions sought!


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