RIBA article "The Movement of Time'

Imagine a world without time for a moment, could our society function, could it last...

Posted on 07 May, 2014 by Scott Mullens with guest post by Nick Britton.



You wake up and it’s early; except you don’t know that it’s early because there is no time.You can’t have your toast for breakfast because the timer on the toaster doesn’t exist. How do you know when the train or bus is coming so you can get to work? And how do you know when that all-important meeting with your boss is?

And the news! Breakfast news on the ‘hour’… what hour!
No, there is no Time, so the News at what, exactly?
Imagine for a moment a world without Time. Imagine how it would operate, how it would feel.

How our society would even function, how would it trade, live and breathe?

It did once, obviously. There might not have been clocks, but there was still Time. Humans judged the time of the day by the sun, moon and stars. Until, that was, in the 1200’s, when rudimentary clocks appeared. Engineering continued, if not exactly at the kind of pace we expect today, and by the 1650’s improved “escapements” began appearing.

It took, however, 2,000 sailors to lose their lives in 1707, in what remains one of Britain’s greatest naval disasters, for the topic of Time to become a real concern. A naval fleet was returning from battle in France when it struck rocks off the Isles of Scilly. Four war ships went down, with the cause of the disaster being the navigators’ inability to calculate longitude.

With world trade on the increase and the ability to navigate securely becoming ever more important, John Harrison, a famous engineer, solved the “longitude problem” by creating the marine chronometer, which could accurately predict a ship’s location at sea.

In the late 1800s, Time took two more huge leaps forward. In 1870, Charles Dowd introduced the concept of standard time, which proposed dividing America into four time zones, and when, in 1876, Standard Fleming missed his train by 12 hours, he presented the 24-hour clock and round-the-clock trade was transformed worldwide – or ‘24x7’ as we lovingly refer to it today.

By now, a man called John Whitehurst had set up a company in Derby and quickly became renowned for creating all manner of mechanisms and complications. A revolutionary scientist whose 300th birthday was celebrated recently, he was a clockmaker to royalty, a Fellow of the Royal Society and leading member of the Lunar Society. Whitehurst laid the foundation stone to what is now Smith of Derby, one of the oldest family firms of public clockmakers in the world – and which to this day is family owned.

Passing his business down to his son, and then another generation, John Whitehurst III took on an apprentice called John Smith in 1829. Smith learned his trade before setting up Smith of Derby in 1856. The spirit of those pioneering time-telling years lives on in Smith of Derby’s creations today.

Such a ground-breaking designer like Whitehurst would no doubt have loved to get his hands on some of the technology that now drives Smith of Derby clocks and has helped make them works of art as much as they are time-tellers.

Designs such as the 11.4 metre-high DNA clock at the Damman University in Saudi Arabia, which takes its inspiration from the fact that every DNA is unique. Inspired by the cell structure of DNA molecules, the glass beads on the horizontal bands light up as each hour is passed. The top band lighting signifies midday or midnight, while the spiral timepiece rotates at one full revolution per hour.

Or the world’s first luxury Islamic prayer clock, giving the times of the five prayers of Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Magrib and Isha, a feature piece created to provide a centre piece to enhance any building. The design, featuring gold plated hands and a black mirrored dial, is a reflection of the sun’s astronomical position in the heavens, which assures prayer time is accurate and faithfully celebrated.

The clock at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium is a Smith of Derby timepiece, while the newly restored Glockenspiel clock in London’s Leicester Square is a focal point for people to meet and, with its moving characters on the hour, provides an interesting interlude and event.
And it’s not just clocks. The revolving shining lights from the globe atop the Coliseum Theatre in London’s West End are testimony to Smith of Derby’s expertise in kinetic engineering. Helping restore the globe to its former glory, the firm ensures that the four-metre diameter steel globe turns elegantly and consistently.

None of what the company does in terms of clock making around the globe can be achieved without being at the forefront of innovation and new technology. ‘Smartdrive’, exclusively designed by Smith of Derby, allows hands of a clock to be controlled independently, even within an IP/NTP (Internet Protocol/National Time Protocol) infrastructure – superb for a time piece which has several hands or displays, such as a the Islamic prayer clock.

Stepper motor technology allows the minute hand to move in half-minute steps with the hour hand moving accordingly. If the clock is reset, sensors simultaneously advance the hands to the correct time. Smartdrive also allows clocks to show time over a 45, 90 or 180 degree arc, rather than the traditional 360 degree dial, such as the clock at the Cathedral Quarter Hotel in Derby or high on one of the University Towers above the city.

Clock networks can act as signposts and information points, displaying warnings, emergency information, timetables and directions. One of the things that Smith of Derby designers have always had ingrained in their thinking is the idea that great timepieces become ‘sign posts’ within urban spaces; celebrations of events and that they ultimately become a symbol of the community within which they are placed. They become memorable and waypoints for visitors.

A vision for 2014 takes that idea and creates the ‘Time Trail’, where visitors, residents and city workers are drawn towards certain parts of their town or city by timepiece events triggered at specific times of the day. Inspired by the kind of hourly show provided by the moving parts of the Swiss Glockenspiel in Leicester Square, it might be a clock timed to provide an event in the evening within an area of restaurants, or in the afternoon in the shopping district.

So imagine a life without time, it’s impossible! Choose a world where we are united by the ringing of the hours. Make time for time.

CLICK HERE for the full 'Movement of Time' RIBA article. 

For more information on creative clock products visit www.smithofderby.com or stay current on our projects by following us on twitter at @smithofderby.com

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