Madam Bottwright's Bureau
Madam Bottwright’s Bureau is a one-off piece inspired by a childhood obsession with adventure movies and point & click games, as well as a never-ending love of objects that encourage exploration and reward curious minds. Four locked drawers, four hidden keys. Only the inquisitive will discover its secrets…
Originally commissioned for a Designersblock exhibition and also shown at Tom Dixon for the London Design Festival 2012, the piece was designed to help tell the real-life history of a derelict East London pub and its owners, focusing on a particularly infamous period during the Victorian era when it was used for, amongst other activities, gambling, smuggling, fencing and prostitution. The brief was to create the writing bureau that Madam Bottwright, the landlord’s wife and brothel madam, used to conduct her illicit trade. It only seemed natural that she would want to hide her wrongdoings from prying eyes, so the idea of a puzzle bureau was born.
The bureau itself started life as a Victorian reproduction, which we then rebuilt entirely around a series of electronic sensors and actuators. In one of the cubbyholes sit carvings of the three wise monkeys. Turn the their heads so that they face away from you opens one drawer. On the top of the bureau is a brass gas lamp with a mysteriously coloured flickering flame. Match the colour of the lamp’s flame with that of a trigger colour hidden in its wick holder opens another drawer. Next to the lamp is an old brass clock with only one hand. Matching three hand positions with those hidden in an old photograph opens the third drawer. Lastly, knocking out a tune onto a particularly worn section of the desk surface (shave and a haircut, two bits) opens the forth and final drawer. Each time a drawer is successfully unlocked, a brass service bell sitting on top of the bureau sounds.
An in-depth write-up of the construction of the piece can be found HERE.
Designed and built in collaboration with Studio 801. The code, written in Processing, is available HERE under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.