We were commissioned by Université du Québec à Montréal to redesign its medal, a distinction awarded to exceptional UQAM community members whose work has contributed to the institution’s prestige. Our contemporary take on this classic distinction is a simple aluminum cylinder split in two pieces that slide on one another to reveal the name of the laureate.
Université du Québec à Montréal is a public university whose main objectives are the democratization of higher education and involvement in the community. From the very start of the project, we wanted to find a simple, elegant, and contemporary way to embody these attributes.
We decided fairly early on that we didn’t want to use “noble” materials commonly associated with these kinds of distinctions. Rather, we wanted to start with a common, widely available material and transform and “enrich” it through formal and aesthetic refinement to create something special. We chose aluminum because it fit those criteria and also because it is a somewhat symbolic material in Quebec, associated with modernity and progress.
The shape of the object emerged through a series of brainstorm and sketching sessions. By definition, a circle consists of an infinite set of points, all equidistant from its center. This struck us as a beautifully poetic analogy to the workings of the university, its students and staff, and the community. The medal’s laureate is symbolized by the diameter – a straight line connecting two points of the circle and passing through its center. His name is revealed when the two pieces of the cylinder slide.
We hoped the simple geometric shape, the material and finish, as well as the poetic symbolism would result in a timeless, signature object for the university.
The project began with a series of brainstorm and sketching sessions. Once the general shape was determined, we modelled it in Sketchup to validate exact proportions and experiment with surface finishes through renders. Alongside this, SolidWorks was used to design the sliding mechanism. We then 3D printed a mockup to get a sense of the actual size of the object, and acquired material samples to test finishes and engraving. After that we were ready for a full prototype, machined out of a solid block of aluminum. We finished the prototype by hand and assembled it after having it engraved, and it was presented and approved by the client.
Members of the university’s project committee were actually quite happy that we broke the rules by moving away from a classical medal shape. They really liked the engaging three-dimensional object. It was a bold choice on our part but it ended up working out well.
Also, there is never enough prototyping when you want the perfect hidden sliding mechanism!
Project in collaboration with Jakob Lorenz (generiquedesign.com).