Brutalist OR Space Age Desk Lamp

Project Motivation

Just like my upcycling project (a shoe rack made from old skateboards), I would like my main project to be a functional item that I will use in my day to day life. I have been looking to get a desk lamp for my room ever since I moved in August, but I never got around to it. Instead of buying one, I will use this opportunity to build one myself. Brainstorming and discussion with my classmates has provided me with two distinct design ideas with different aesthetics. Originally I was going to make a brutalist desk lamp, but I am considering changing the aesthetic completely in order to imitate the space age aesthetic of the Surveyor 1 moon lander.

Aesthetic Options

I have always had a soft spot for brutalist architecture, as it really stands out from the average contemporary or international style building you see most of the time. The sharp corners, hostile and monolithic shapes, and uniform concrete construction that is usually seen in brutalist architecture is very appealing to me. It also seems like brutalism is a relic of the past, and that a lot of people consider it to be ugly. I think the style has a unique charm to it that is hard to place.

One example of a brutalist architecture here in Boulder is the WillVille towers. I think this picture I took a few years ago really captures the feeling of looking up at one of these buildings:

I plan to imitate this aesthetic in my project by constructing the base of the desk lamp from a block of concrete. This will serve to hold the lamp steady in addition to the aesthetic contributions. The dynamic element of this design is an adjustable arm that holds the lightbulb. This is a detailed sketch of what I am thinking my Brutalist desk lamp would look like:

Another aesthetic I have always been fond of is the space age aesthetic of NASA’s moon missions from the 1960s. These include the Surveyor missions and of course the Apollo Program. I think that most spacecraft designs end up looking very cool due to the intricate and functional nature of the antennae, solar panels, rocket nozzles and the like. Early spacecraft designs tend to be the coolest ones do to the technological limitations of the time period. Strictly driven by function, these spacecraft end up looking super cool despite having no aesthetic intent. This is an example of one of my favorite ones:

Surveyor 1 Moon Lander [1]

The Surveyor 1moon lander pictured above was the first spacecraft to be soft landed on the lunar surface by the United States. I noticed that it looks kind of like a desk lamp (with some imagination). If I decide to go this route instead of with the brutalist lamp, I will make my lamp with a similar construction to this early lunar lander. There will be three legs made from aluminum tubing that support a central column. I was planning on also making some mock solar panels that act as light shades for this lamp. The dynamic element of this design is deployable legs. Although the original lander does not have deployable legs, I think this feature would fit the space theme of the project and add to the practicality by allowing the height and width of the  lamp to be adjusted. Here is a detailed sketch of my design:

Fabrication Plans

Both lamp designs would require me to purchase a lightbulb socket with some sort of mounting hole pattern. I have found several viable options on McMaster-Carr. I would also need to wire this socket to a switch that connects to a regular outlet plug so that the lamp can be turned on and off without unplugging it. Both lamps also require some length of aluminum tube for the main structure of the lamp.

In addition the to the above, the Brutalist lamp will require a few tube hinges from McMaster-Carr. These will allow the lightbulb’s position to be adjusted via the two joints on the arm. The tubes will need to be cut to length, but no other operations are required. The main challenge with this design is going to be the concrete casting. I will have to build a mold out of wood, and then place the main column in the middle before mixing and pouring the concrete. I will also have to use some material to add a gutter to the bottom of the concrete block so that the power cord can be run out from under the lamp without interfering with the flat surface it rests on (this is shown in the design sketch). I have never poured concrete before, so this will be a new experience for me. Luckily, I know some people in the class that have worked with concrete before so I will ask them for help with this part of the process. I will also probably need to machine a flange that attaches the lightbulb socket to the end of the tube, unless I can figure out a way to do this with some brackets or something like that. Other than that, I will not have to make any custom parts for this design, and the rest of the project is just assembly.

The Space Age Lamp will require a lot more work in the machine shop, but with the benefit of not having to pour any concrete. This lamp will be built from four main sections of tube, all of which will need to be machined on a vertical mill. The main column will need several holes so that struts between the 3 legs and the main column can be attached. I will also need to machine a flange that connects the socket to the main column. Each leg will need to have either end tapered so that they can rotate at their ends while the legs are deployed and retracted. I will also need to machine a collar that moves up and down the main column that connects the tops of the legs to the center (this will be made from delrin plastic). This movement is critical to the dynamic element of the lamp. I will use shoulder screws and some plastic bushings for each of the rotating joints, of which there are nine in total. Unlike the previous design, this will require a full CAD model with engineering drawings to fabricate due to the higher part complexity. I will also need to laser cut the mock solar panels from black acrylic, and then bend some supports for them out of sheet metal strips. I will also have to make the struts from sheet metal with two holes each. Finally, I will need to purchase some rubber feet from McMaster and figure out a way to attach them to the bottom of each leg. I will also need to do some analysis to determine the correct length and geometry of the struts and the legs so that the mechanism works correctly. While I do have machining experience, this will be a larger and more complex project than anything I have done in the past. It will be a great learning experience, and I am excited to take on this challenge. I will machine everything either in the ITLL shop of the Physics machine shop (which I have access to after taking their week long class).


Shown below are schedule graphics for each of the two designs. As you can see, the moon lander lamp requires a lot more machine time than the brutalist lamp. Both schedules are feasible, but it is also worth noting that the brutalist lamp will be cheaper than the moon lander lamp in terms of material costs. I plan to have everything assembled and ready to present by April 24th, so that I will be ready for the first final critique session. I will begin both projects by ordering materials before spring break so that they arrive as soon as possible. Each build is different, but will end with a final assembly before the projects are complete.



Although I think I like the moon lander design more that the brutalist design, the brutalist lamp will be easier and less time consuming to build. Seriously considering both designs has shown me that even though both lamps will have similar sizes and construction techniques (aluminum tube), the differences in the aesthetic require different approaches to the techniques used to execute the design. As stated in my schedule, I will need to decide on a design by Monday to stay on schedule. Right now I am leaning toward the moon lander, but if I figure out that is gonna be too much work I will switch back to the original brutalist design. If you have any strong opinions, please leave a comment about which design you think is better as it could help me make my final decision. I am fond of both aesthetics and I am excited about the learning opportunities in either project.


[1] Wikipedia, NASA.



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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Alex!
    Thank you for elaborating on both of your aesthetic designs in such great detail! You have two designs that would result in a great project. I found it interesting how the materials in both designs ended up being fairly similar but the time, effort, and complexity seemed to differ greatly. If you decide on the space aesthetic, would you like the solar panels to be functional? I look forward to hearing what you decide on.

    • Thanks, I think I have decided on the brutalist style lamp due to the amount of time I have to work on this. The solar panels were going to be sort of like blinds so that some of the light leaving the lamp is blocked.

  • Alex, both of your designs offer various challenges and experiences to learn from. This will be a very unique and one-of-a-kind desk lamp so I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out and which design you end up deciding on. I like the feature in the second design where you have the solar arrays covering the light. This might be a very useful feature because the light will be more indirect when you are working at the desk depending on how you have it placed. Have you considered conducting any prototyping or testing phases to validate the functionality and aesthetic appeal of each design before proceeding with the final assembly? The one suggestion I would have is to keep the footprint small depending on how much space you have on your desk. Good luck!

    • I am not planning any prototyping other than sketching and CAD, simply due to time constraints. I think I am also going to go with the brutalist lamp because it will be a lot easier to make. What you mentioned about the solar panels was what I was thinking as well!


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