When the Celt spoke to Damien Murtagh he was just off the phone to a lady in Korea, eager to buy his new product Arckit Play Cityscape, thanks to some unexpected publicity. A one-minute video posted on the Dadlab facebook page a day earlier showed a three year old gasún open the box for the first time and immediately unleash his latent design skills by assembling a series of impressive buildings - in double quick time. The Dadlab clip chalked up 70,000-plus views quicker than the Lidl store in Virginia was knocked together, and Damien’s phone has been buzzing since.
It’s little wonder Arckit’s proving a hit - which parent doesn’t want their kid to fulfil their Frank Lloyd Wright potential? It’s being sold in shops, toystores and even art galleries worldwide and, now it’s in Cavan Town’s Toymaster.
“They are the first in Cavan, and probably that side of the country to take our product – so it’s really brilliant,” says Damien, a proud Kingscourt man.
A qualified architect, Damien started the company a little over three years ago with Arckit sets which enabled the user to create 1:48 scale model buildings with different floors and individual rooms.
“The whole idea was: architects are still gluing stuff together, even today. I felt that if I could create a system that was fast, affordable and not wasteful – that architects, and indeed anybody could use this system.”
He says “the wonderful thing” about his product is that it enables clients to participate in the design process.
“They can actually design this and go to the planner in Cavan and say, ‘This is what I’m talking about.’ And the planner goes - ‘No you would need to move that window’. Now it’s not a precious model, it’s a working tool. ‘Okay, I’ll just rip it up and move that to there, how does that look?’
‘Made in Ireland’ is displayed prominently on the packaging. Damien says his decision to have the product made in Wicklow, rather than overseas, was a case of heart over head.
“I felt: why not do it at home? And it’s working out.”
Playing devil’s advocate the Celt notes that, it’s more expensive to produce at home.
“Not that much more,” he shoots back, “and you get quality and assurance. And most importantly it has created employment.”
Three months ago they launched the new range Arckit Play targeting the toy market, suitable for children from five years and up. The Cityscape kit, endorsed by TV architect Dermot Bannon, enables children to build on a macro scale, creating building shapes rather than requiring the detail of individual rooms.
Damien notes that his toy is regularly described as “a sophisticated Lego”, but he’s eager to stress its USP frombuilding bricks, “it’s not a one trick pony – there’s a million designs in every box”.
“There’s no single way of assembling the products, there’s no single use for each component – they’ve all got multiple uses – it’s for you to think about and decide. This is what parents absolutely adore, and kids love Arckit because of its realism.
“We’ve had kids come to us saying they’ve enjoyed their building block toys but now this is bringing it to the next level – it’s for kids aspiring to be designers and architects and engineers – they’re saying good luck to the toys and hello to the real stuff.”
Father-of-three Damien happily notes another plus point:
“It gets kids off phones. You’ll see kids put the phone down and play with this for at least two hours.”
Discussing famous buildings you could build the Celt suggest the landmark Gartlan’s Pub in Kingscourt.
“Absolutely, why not,” says Damien, who has a trio of senior club championship medals with the Stars. “You can absolutely build a little cottage with our product, and you can print a thatched roof onto the adhesive sheets that are in your kit, and you can fit that to your roof.”
What does the future hold for Arckit?
“I want to see it in every school in the world – it is at the forefront of STEM education. We’re considered a fantastic education product, and that’s why schools are taking us on.
“We’ve developed educational programmes, to teach architecture and engineering, it’s brilliant for Transition Year students who are thinking about maybe doing architecture. We’ve got a 10 week course, better than anything in the world so schools should bring that in, especially to secondary schools.”