Boundless energy: GC2018 Queen’s Baton revealed

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The design of one of the most iconic symbols of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018), the Queen’s Baton, has been revealed.

The Queen’s Baton journey is the traditional curtain raiser to every Commonwealth Games, and carries a personal message to the athletes of the Commonwealth from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The 288-day international tour starts this year at Buckingham Palace on 13 March during Commonwealth Day celebrations, when the Queen places her message within the Baton. During its global journey, thousands of baton bearers will carry the Queen’s Baton over 230,000km as it makes its way through the six Commonwealth regions.

Queensland company Designworks won the tender process for the Baton’s design. Lead designers Alex Wall and Warren Schroder worked for more than a year on the design. We spoke with them about their experience.

Can you tell us a bit about the actual process of creation: were there many binned concepts, how long did it take to come up with, how did it work between the two of you?

We started the design process by immersing ourselves in the Gold Coast. It was critical that we gained a deep understanding of the Gold Coast so the design team spent time together on the Coast observing and reflecting. We also set out meeting and having workshops with everyone from artists, lifeguards, manufacturers, café owners, members of the local Yugambeh people and wider Queensland mobs to gain insights from the locals.

One thing that hit us constantly was the energy, it’s everywhere.  The Gold Coast has this bold irreverence, a rebellious spirit, like a ‘if you can do it anywhere you can do it here’ kind of attitude. But is it also just so beautiful and unforgettable. The immersion process helped us develop themes, stories and the narrative that formed the GC2018 Queen’s Baton. The narrative that underpinned all our concepts is Boundless Energy.

The design team then produced a large quantity of concept sketches embodying this Boundless Energy. More sketches, computer-aided design (CAD) models and 3D printed prototypes were produced to explore, test and validate the concepts before they were reduced down through a series of internal and external discussions until the final concept was chosen.

We then engineered the Baton, creating finite CAD models of all parts before manufacturing and assembling in-house. The whole process took around 12 months alongside other projects.

How did you represent the Gold Coast in the piece?

The Queen’s Baton represents the Boundless Energy of the people, place and spirit of the Gold Coast through its open loop form and constantly changing internal light core. It’s vibrant, alive and full of warmth, just like the Gold Coast.

The loop form is divided into three distinct materials that reflect the city’s past, present and future.

The front of the Baton, called the leading edge, tells a very important story not just for the Gold Coast but for the Commonwealth. It is made using reclaimed plastic we collected from the waterways, beaches and surrounding areas of the Gold Coast. We are lucky in Australia to have beautiful beaches, conscious community groups, and city-run programs that help keep our environments clean. Working with GOLDOC’s sustainability priorities, we felt strongly that there was an opportunity to raise awareness and make people think about over-consumption, pollution and how together we can create a sustainable future for generations to come.

The back of the Baton represents our past and is made from macadamia wood, a tree that is native to the Gold Coast region and is an important symbol of sustainable Indigenous custom.  We sourced the wood locally from the foothills of Springbrook and then crafted the beautiful shape using precise CNC machining.

Down the center of the Baton is a stainless-steel stringer, a structural element borrowed from surfboards and marine craft. The stringer illustrates the urban linear environment positioned between the hinterland and the ocean. It also literally reflects the present moment of the Baton’s surrounds in the polished mirror finish.  A series of three-digit alpha codes of all the nations and territories of the Commonwealth are laser-engraved in the order that the Baton will travel on its way from Buckingham Palace to the Gold Coast.

The Baton is also modern like the Gold Coast and includes lots of technology that enhances the experience.

At the core of the Baton is a 3D printed sub-frame that all electronics and parts are assembled to. A capacitive sensor integrated into the wood can detect when two people are holding the baton, and changes the lighting sequence to represent the energy being passed from one Batonbearer to the next. A GPS module is also included so the Baton can be tracked in real time on its 388-day journey. A smartphone app helps the Queen’s Baton Relay team control the battery, GPS and lighting sequences.

Even the paper that the Queen will write her message on, which is inserted into the Baton, is made from spinifex nano-fibres, a grass-like plant and a traditional material that has been made into paper using modern manufacturing techniques.

Were there any technical or design elements in the piece that were new experiences for either of you?

Designworks is used to creating technical, innovative products that humanise technology, but it was a new experience to create such a public piece where it was important to have a story around each design element. Having an immersion phase at the start of the design process helped discover these stories and added to the richness of the design.

The reclaimed plastic used in the leading edge was also a new experience. While we try to reduce parts and minimise waste in the products we design, this took it to a whole new level.

We generally manufacture products in large volumes so it was unusual, but highly rewarding, to be so hands-on and personally make and assemble the Baton. Using bespoke materials and different manufacturing techniques really added to the Baton’s value and uniqueness.

queens-baton-5Who else was involved in the design process?

Our design team of six were all involved in the process from immersion and concept to engineering and manufacturing. We also had some great support from several local suppliers helping us bring it all together.

RF Design produced the electronics, Locatrix created the smartphone app that controls the Baton, Mastercut Technologies cut the lettering and laser marked the country codes on the stringer, Partec CNC machined the leading edge, Gilimbaa helped with our Indigenous engagement and UQ and Griffith helped create the spinifex paper the Queen’s personal message will be written on.

Were there any particular challenges you experienced during the design process?

Creating the leading edge from reclaimed plastic was a really difficult challenge. Firstly, we had to collect enough material, which is hard as the Gold Coast beaches are actually quite clean. We had some great help from the Gold Coast City Council beach tractors as well as community groups that are actively working to keep the beaches beautiful. Processing the collected plastic was difficult due to the mix of different types of plastics collected. There was lots of sorting, cleaning and testing to ensure we could melt it all together. It was also important that it looked reclaimed so that the message easily translated to the people of the Commonwealth who will see it on the Relay. To do this, we melted the ground-up plastic in thin layers over a long period of time ensuring the different flecks of colour could be seen. We then CNC machined the block down, creating a thin plastic shell that covers the 3D printed sub-frame.

Anything else you’d like to share or people to know about the Baton?

It has been an absolute honour to be able to design and create a historic and iconic symbol for the Gold Coast and the Commonwealth. We are really pleased with the result and hope it inspires, includes and ignites pride in the people of the Commonwealth.

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