How the Designer & Engineer Takes a Fresh Approach to Spirits, Mixology, and Mechanics
‘Willy Wonka’ were the first words that came to me when I clicked on the website for Rogue projects, a London based experimental design studio with a relentless commitment to eco-driven, people-centric design. Their founder, Richard Moss, had emailed me out of the blue requesting to connect about public relations. He had heard of Pamplemousse PR through Ilex Studio, another London based design studio known for their Acorn Vases and Avocado Vases. As I browsed Rogue project’s portfolio of mechanical cocktail machines and inventions made from recycled tennis balls, I could not help but feel that I was succeeding in attracting clients with out-of-the-ordinary and very elegant products. YES!
Over a patient six months, which included a visit to Rogue project’s headquarters in Islington, London, I began to understand how the studio brought unconstrained curiosity to every project. We began working together last fall in the lead-up to the unveiling of The Dispensary - an extraordinary machine made uniquely for the newly opened The Alchemist Glasgow in Scotland that creates three unique cocktails accompanied by an inventive whisky theatre. With the completion of their third mixology creation, I thought it was time to pick founder Richard’s brain on design inspiration, engineering methodology, London versus New York, and of course cocktails.
How did your first mechanical mixology project come about? What was unique about its concept, design, and engineering?
I had several discussions with a close friend, Duncan Stirling, whose company, the Inception Group, are responsible for some of the most avant-garde themed saloons in London. One concept is Mr Fogg’s which uses Jules Verne’s lead protagonist (Phineas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days) as its muse in different locations. Our conversations concerned the new venue called the Mr Fogg’s Society for Exploration.
Duncan was eager to have a machine that could become the venue’s showpiece. Together we developed a brief where, rather than have something purely for aesthetic, we would build a machine at the centre of the bar that could theatrically produce a cocktail and work alongside the bar staff.
The Mechanical Mixologist has a Victorian sensibility and makes a Negroni in 45 seconds via a central wheel that rotates on its axis. We developed unique software that guides the machine’s mechanical behaviour. The glass is taken on a journey akin to Verne’s travel themed novel, picking up an ice cube, moving along a conveyor, settling for a pour sequence, then having a stamp and stir to a desired temperature. For me, the machine is an interactive art installation that delivers a delicious product.
You have also worked with Glenmorangie. Can you tell us more about the jukebox inspired Mix Machine?
Glenmorangie launched Glenmorangie X, a new whisky in their product portfolio. Unlike their more established and traditional single malts, Glenmorangie X is made to be mixed. X introduces a new contemporary audience to Glenmorangie, one that is experimental and open to whisky cocktails.
For the jukebox, we created a classical design object with a futuristic sensibility. It appears as a traditional formed jukebox but there are modern and exciting twists when you take a closer look. The design aligned with Glenmorangie’s established global brand, and introduced the DNA of Glenmorangie X.
The jukebox pours 4 distinct whisky highballs with tried and tested recipes alongside Glenmorangie’s tasting experts. Each drink is accompanied by its own digital representation and music. The patron places their glass onto a black corian record disc, the disc spins, and the pour begins at the back of the machine, before completing a full revolution at its starting point.
Your latest creation is The Dispensary for The Alchemist Glasgow in Scotland that just opened in January. Could you explain how you balanced sustainability with theatrics?
The Dispensary is a permanent installation at the Alchemist’s Glasgow location.
We are sensitive with the materials we use, right down to their molecular structure. We think about how sustainable they are and how they would eventually be recycled in a closed loop system. Our suppliers are also all local.
For the Dispensary the design needed to weave seamlessly into the venue’s architectural space. We did this through our lighting detailing and the texture and hue of our cladding material. For the cladding, we used a material called Paperstone that is made from recycled paper and environmentally sensitive resins. The internal components for the machine are changeable, replaceable, and recyclable.
For the theatrics, we opted for something that would integrate with the functionality of the finished product. Theatre is presented in two interactive and experiential portals - the cocktail pour happens in one, with the whiskey pour and kinetic experience above. In this upper portal, we created a an infinity space where spirits flow through custom-made lab glass with woven brass features and copper piping.
Let's rewind for a moment. What inspired you to pursue your studies and career in design and engineering?
I think my path weaves inspiration and a social consciousness. I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, during a time of political tumult, where social dynamics were unjust and incomprehensible. In this time, I found solace through drawing, mathematics, or on the tennis court.
When I got to college, my love for architecture led me to engineering. It offered me a platform to consider modern day problems through an objective lens. It led me to my master’s degree which I completed in London. My goal was always to understand the invisible forces in play within the structure, material, and mechanics of form.
Introducing art and design into my practice felt natural. For me, drawing has always been a means to express ideas. I also paint, figure draw, and cast metals in foundries. My heroes were also artists whose work and imagination bridged disciplines. For me, both design and engineering offer a sanctuary and blazing space for ideas.
You had the honor to work alongside Santiago Calatrava for the Oculus Transportation Hub by heading the studio’s building workshop, which took charge of all physical and digital 3D studies. Could you tell us about that experience and what valuable lessons were learnt during the process?
Working with Calatrava was tremendous. In the studio, his sense of purpose was palpable, through moments of anguish and euphoria. You felt he was put here to do this, to build. Nothing would hinder him realising an architectural vision to the tiniest of details. There’s a quote from the late physician, William Osler, where Osler says that the open sesame to every portal is one master word: work. Santiago exemplified this. He was relentless.
As a young person stepping into architecture, you tend to cut your teeth in the building workshop. The beauty with Calatrava’s workshop was that it was the studio’s hub for creativity, experimentation, and problem solving. Some physical studies were quick, others were more considered. We examined the stresses and strains of material over time and interpreted Calatrava’s hand drawings into digital and physical studies in a matter of hours.
For the Transportation Hub, our client meetings were often held in the studio’s building workshop to be visualised in real time. It became the nucleus for project progress. Our team was small, but we were unyielding in our commitment to resolving 3D problems. Investigations were persistent and always coupled with Santiago’s poetic architectural language and structural coherency.
When did you start Rogue projects and why did you decide to base your studio in London rather than New York? How do the two cities compare for creativity and for entrepreneurship?
We are 10 years old this year!
I founded the studio in London in 2013. I love New York and I still have close ties to the city through colleagues, friends, and the New York Studio School in Greenwich Village. As a British citizen (even though I had never lived in the UK), London presented an exciting chapter and opportunity. I was also eager to settle in a place where I did not feel unhinged by immigration.
There was no real choosing a city per se, I just felt ready to start the studio. It began with a series of art commissions and the invention of hearO – our Bluetooth speaker housed in a used championship tennis ball. I also work with an array of incredible designers and makers that make our project narratives authentic, progressive and adventure filled. Both cities are a hive for creativity.
On Entrepreneurship, I think the jury is out. From my experience, New York encourages way more risk and has a hunger for disruptive progress and fresh ideas. In London, there is more reticence to change. I like to think this makes our growth a little slower but more considered, and each project narrative is that bit more authentic. We make haste slowly.
Last but not least, if you find yourself in Cape Town, South Africa for one night and one night only, what are the top places you must go to for drinks?
In any city, my exploration begins after good coffee. On coffee, I would head to Naked, Loading Bay and Truth Coffee Roasting (if it is coupled with a walk up the road to the Book Lounge bookshop). On cocktails, I’d consider Tjing Tjing, Haciend and The Art of Duplicity. I normally order good whiskey. Otherwise, on a cocktail menu, I typically order an Old Fashioned.
About Richard Moss
Before Rogue Projects, Richard worked in New York alongside Santiago Calatrava on the World Trade Center Transportation hub in Manhattan. He then worked with Expedition Engineering in London on a pedal-powered monorail, for Google in Mountain View, California and other projects.
He holds dual Bachelor degrees from Brown University in Engineering and Architecture and a master’s degree from Imperial College London in Engineering.