New York architect Alex Pincus was, like most architects, daydreaming about a mundane problem—unattractive wall sockets—when he had a touch of divine inspiration.
“It’s an architectural problem that bothers me, because it’s ugly, there’s no good solutions, and even the ones that are out there aren’t very compelling,” Mr. Pincus told The Observer earlier this week. “And I was thinking about different patterns of sockets that were interesting to me, and I tried to change it up. And I had this vision of a cruciform grid of plugs, on the floor or on the wall. At some point, I remember looking at this standard, 1990s, sorta cream-colored power strip, thinking of how ugly it was, and that’s when the idea came to me.”
What came from this design daydream was Higher Power, a cross-shaped power strip that is both arch and attractive, not to mention functional. By adding two armatures to a standard-looking power strip, those bulky plugs for the laptop and the alarm clock now all fit without blocking any of the other sockets. Mr. Pincus described it as the dumb idea that he simply could not shake, so he created a rendering and posted it to his website last year. Someone at Boing Boing noticed it, and from there it got picked up by Wired and bounced around the Internet for weeks. “When it shut down my website, that’s when I realized this could be real.”
Over the past year, Mr. Pincus and his friend and collaborator Rob Howell, a South Carolina developer (they call their outfit Means of Production), have been refining the design in partnership with a Kentucky electrical engineer. They have sourced materials, prototyped, even found a Chinese manufacturer to make the thing. The hope is to have 5,000 Higher Power surge protectors on store shelved for $29.99 by this May. All it will take is $27,500 on KickStarter, of which they are currently one-third of the way there since launching their campaign last week.
Mr. Pincus said he hopes this can become a mass object that still has appeal for the design cognoscenti. “It would be great to have it at Target, but I wouldn’t mind having it at Moss, either,” Mr. Pincus said, referring to the ostentatious Soho shop. “That’s where the gold-plated one comes in, gold-plated limited edition.” Like the project itself, the limited edition idea is meant only half-jokingly. “It’s actually pretty simple, because the guts are the complicated part, the wrapper’s pretty easy. I’ve already got a couple wrappers around my house. Nothing out of gold, yet, but it’s pretty simple.” An 18-karat option is currently on offer for the top Kickstart of $5,000. It will be one of an edition of five, and the creators promise to hand-deliver it anyone in the United States.
If it seems like Mr. Pincus is winking as he describes his vision, he insists the project is as earnest as a congregation’s prayers. He recognizes the potential humor in his creation, but as his dramatic and rather sardonic Kickstarter video shows, crosses have indeed been a part of the design canon for millenia. “I’ve always had an interest in religious iconography, it’s always held a special appeal to me and it’s appealed to me in architecture and photography,” Mr. Pincus said.
“I didn’t want to make it kitschy. I like kitsch, but it’s not how I design.”
The proof is in the response to the piece. Not only has it been worshiped by designers and techies but also Christians across the country. “What I’ve found pretty eye-opening throughout the process is that everyone looks at it through their own eyes,” Mr, Pincus said. “So if you’re an ironic, jaded person, it’s funny and you can laugh at it. Yet I’ve literally gotten emails from multiple ministers and pastors saying that they love it and it would be a great tool for fellowship with their congregations, and I’ve had Christians ask me if they could use it as a logo for their ministry.”
“I’ve tried to be not non-committal but open to various meanings and interpretations,” he added. “And I think that’s a lot more fun than just making a kitschy joke piece. Which is why there’s not a menorah yet.”