The slow process of mainstreaming cannabis in the USA is an ongoing source of fascination to me as a former, um, enthusiast. I’m aware of a minor reefer civil war going on between bong-ripping hippies who feel that as long-time champions of the green they’re the soul and standard-bearers of pot-dom, versus hash oil vaping professional types who, with some justification, see themselves as the mainstream face of cannabis that’s going to help win the acceptance of legalization that’s eluded the whites-with-dreads brigades, but whom the hippies see as usurpers of weed culture.
But I’ll score the new-school a point on this one: pipe and bong design has long been associated with juvenile eyesore bullshit for addled heads who evidently can’t function without seeing ALL THE COLORS AT ONCE. And while I’m glad such wares are keeping glass-blowers’ books in the black (my soft spot for the independent artisan transcends my perpetual irritation with both hippie culture and so-called “upscale” dicks), the Aura Water Pipe is an overdue injection of refinement into a marketplace that has long catered mostly to people who think rainbow-hued glass skulls are like, the ultimate, bruh. The reality is that to a great many pot users, pot isn’t the lynchpin of an all-consuming, indentity-defining lifestyle of psychedelic art, jam bands, and 420 culture, it’s just pot.
Aura is designed to provide a cleanable, durable, and user friendly water pipe smoking experience in a form that moves beyond the adverse reaction and stigma associated with traditional bongs. As progressive attitudes toward marijuana use continue to grow in the United States and abroad, water pipes have remained a reminder of the drug’s marginalized and subversive past. A look into existing cannabis products reveals the absence of a brand that connects with the mature, style conscious, and forward thinking market that has emerged in the recent wave of legalization in the United States. Designed to appeal to both existing and new users, Aura evolves the water pipe into a contemporary object that is comfortable in plain sight.
The Aura is a project of Western Washington University’s Mauricio Romano, and it was recently honored as a runner-up in the Consumer Products category of the 2015 Core 77 design awards, cited not just for its appearance—my wisecracking about skull bongs aside, there have of course always been subtler smoking devices—but for its mechanics. (If that stuff interests you, seriously, that link contains more info on bong engineering than I ever expected to read in my life.)
Aura’s form is driven by a simplified user experience created by grouping the touchpoints of smoking (the handle, bowl piece, and mouthpiece) at the top of the device. First time use of a traditional water pipe can be a confusing and intimidating experience given the lack of an intuitive grip and the poor ergonomics of a vertical cylindrical mouthpiece. A holding place for the hand is created by the branches of Aura’s mouthpiece, providing intuitive control and comfort. In addition, the wrist and neck of the user are in a neutral position when smoking thanks to the angle of the mouthpiece. Lost lighters are no longer a problem, as space within the mouthpiece is provided to store one when not in use.
The glass components of traditional water pipes are easily broken, requiring replacement of the entire water pipe when an accident happens because they are fused together. Aura is designed for manufacturing from stainless steel, PCABS plastic, and brass components, ensuring minimal breakability. The cost of manufacturing in these materials is also much less at a large scale than traditionally handworked glass pieces. The resin and particulate matter that accumulate during smoking are difficult to access and clean in traditional water pipes, resulting in a perpetually dirty product. Aura’s main components disassemble to allow access to unclean areas for hand cleaning. The entire system is dishwashable as well, thanks to these durable materials.
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Kinda had to giggle at the informercial-ineptness attributed to smokers in that—using a bong can be “a confusing and intimidating experience”? Come ON. On the other hand, it’s a sign of progress that they can so openly talk about cannabis in their hype. I remember head shop guys—and I assume this is still true where weed remains illegal—constantly and pointedly referring to tobacco and only tobacco when discussing pot accessories with customers, and terminating the conversation and the sale if the customer kept mentioning illegal drugs after a warning or two.
Though its designer claims a patent pending, the Aura doesn’t appear to be available for sale yet. Presumably their Facebook presence and website will spread the word if and when these are actually released to the consumer. In the meantime, here’s more of the bong-porn for which you presumably clicked on this post in the first place.