Forget about sleek design galleries or trendy shops; this is a place where design is still a hands-on business, where people work in overalls and get their hands dirty, where music is played loud and dust flies high. Welcome to 2D:3D, a North London workshop where anything is possible.

“Designers come to us with ideas, and we turn them into working prototypes,” says Rob Edkins, the man behind 2D:3D. It’s the word ‘working’ that makes all the difference – there are a lot of moving parts put in place in this workshop.

This is where six interactive garments by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan were brought to life with programming from tech wizard Moritz Waldemeyer, who also contributed to the Fredrikson Stallard chandelier that was made at 2D:3D.

Called Pandora and presented at the 2007 Salone del Mobile in Milan, the shape-shifting chandelier, composed of 1990 Swarovski crystals, erupts and collapses from a traditional chandelier shape into chaos, its movements manipulated by computer-controlled servomotors.

The structure of 2D:3D’s latest creation – the stunning installation by Héctor Serrano for Roca, introduced at London Design Week last September – sits in the workshop. A wide wooden base that hides a motor is covered by a heavy plastic sheet with holes, each holding a light-tipped pole.

A program controls the wavelike movements that flow from the bottom of the structure and lift the plastic sheet and poles up, down and sideways. The result is reminiscent of a swelling, surging ocean.

Rob Edkins’ clients are designers, architects and corporate people. “I studied fine arts,” he says, “but my mum wanted to me to continue with something more practical that could actually give me some work. So I went into product design.”

Rob has the manual skills of an artist but also speaks the language of designers. “We understand where they come from, and where they want to go. We never say something is impossible. Every detail of a designer’s concept has meaning and it counts.”

In the workshop, sculptors and prototype-makers are busy shaping blocks of polystyrene into enormous train engines for AC/DC’s latest stage show. Others smooth the large fibreglass forms of the Kloris sculptures by Zaha Hadid, recently shown at Chatsworth House Derbyshire for the Beyond Limits sculpture exhibition.

This huge abstract flower sculpture (5 m × 6.5 m × 80 cm) consists of ten separate ‘petals’ all varying in shape and size. The prototype model on display at Chatsworth House had eight petals paint sprayed green, fading from dark in the centre to light at the tip, with a further two petals finished entirely in chrome.

Computer drawings are transferred into 3D polystyrene shapes then filled with fibreglass and epoxy body filler. The final block is worked by hand and the surface is sanded and cleaned dozens of times until it reaches the smoothness typical of Zaha Hadid pieces.

It’s astonishing to walk around 2D:3D. In a corner is an old model for Ron Arad’s Big Easy chair and the wooden structure that helped Edkins construct Arad’s new Gomli chair. Up on scaffolding is Sam Buxton’s Video Chair, a transparent vitro-resin seat designed to be coloured with video-art images projected from below.

What amazes the most, though, is not so much the endless list of world-famous clients or the variety  of the work that 2D:3D carries out, such as the mobile filtration unit for Smirnoff Vodka which filters unpurified water directly out of the Thames into a drinkable outpouring.

What fascinates is the care, attention and affection that Edkins and his team pay to each apparently meaningless detail of the work. The endless sanding, carving, brushing, polishing, cleaning. Yet when one touches the almost finished surface of Hadid’s Kloris, it all becomes suddenly clear.

Perfection is the goal. Anything less would simply not be an option. And that is the secret to 2D:3D’s success. 

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