On Mundanity

Yesterday I went to one of the Worldcon75 panels, one called ‘Mundane SF – Where is it Today?’ I found out about it because of my interest in (read: obsession with) Ian McDonald’s science fiction novels, nearly at the last minute. Still somewhat jetlagged and confused by the warmth of a Finnish summer day, tripping over semi-unpacked luggage, bottles of Chilean pisco and dirty laundry, I finally managed to find my bike key in time to cycle madly to Pasila and get to the panel on time. It was moderated by
Cylia Amendolara with panelists Bob Angell, Ian McDonald and Mark Halmagiu.

So first some thoughts on the panel and the genre of Mundane SF – and then some thoughts beyond science fiction to design, social fictions and design fictions inspired by the discussion.

Bob informed the less SF- and Mundane- literate in the audience (=me) that the genre or concept of Mundane SF stems from 2004 and the creation of The Mundane Manifesto at a Clarion West workshop (see here). “And we all had to sign it,” said Bob. The point was to deliberately exercise constraint as a creative strategy – to curb what the participants saw as the excesses of space operas and the implausibilities of interstellar travel. To temporarily unite in putting on “a tight girdle of discipline to restrain our sf imaginative silhouettes”. Why can’t our own Earth and near-Earth provide a compelling setting for exploring speculative tech futures?

I silently applauded, as it is precisely the mundane in both science fiction literature and SF cinema that has the brightest appeal for me – the gritty street life in Blade Runner, the seemingly mundane barriers to travel and migration in Code 46. It is the dirt, the unpolished, the unshiny and the habitual that bring home what is ‘real’ and human in stories about the future. Ian McDonald’s worlds are fascinating in how he weaves new (for us in the present) technologies into the social fabric of living people with their living bodies – into the social fabric of a city that seems both familiar and strange at the same time. The tech itself is also both strange and familiar – a trajectory of something we already know but projected forward – landing in a character’s life and everyday routines. A hair-raising drone race across the roofs and through the alleys of a not-quite-familiar Istanbul. The sociotechnical assemblage of ragpickers working in and on the margins of ‘tech-trash’ landfills – scavengers, sorters, dismantlers, reassemblers, vendors – as familiar to us as the scenes and horror stories we have already seen in cities from Shenzhen to Abidjan, but in McDonald’s telling, at a much larger scale, in geographic terms, in terms of poisoning and poverty, in material terms. In direct, feel-able impacts on human bodies and the land.

In the panel, Ian referred to his Luna stories about colonizing the moon: the constraints of physics on human beings and how to build a story around it. Constraints therefore form the core of Mundane aesthetics. The panel mentioned that the Mundane Manifesto was also informed by the Dogme movement in film: “Today a technological storm is raging of which the result is the elevation of cosmetics to God. By using new technology anyone at any time can wash the last grains of truth away in the deadly embrace of sensation.”

It can be a horrid word, but there is some ethos here of authenticity – of remaining true to the human experience rather than succumbing to clean, polished, shiny, novel, fantastical illusions. There is an ethos of celebrating our own Earth, protecting it and ourselves, rejoicing in diversity and richness while cautioning against exploitation and destruction. We’re close to destroying our own planet – now we want to conquer the moon, Mars, the universe for our own ends (i.e. rare earth metals). Ian reminded us that we are best suited to life on this planet; “the universe does not owe us a living”. (For my part, I would like to print that on a T-shirt and send it to that guy from NASA who presented at FAB12 Shenzhen last year: the one who thought that moon and asteroid mining would be the key to a better future on Earth. That we would be able to achieve a green, clean, pristine planet if we moved mining operations off it – that ta-da! we would achieve the [illusion of a] happy Earth whose various populations everywhere would be all empowered, prosperous and peaceful.)

An audience member asked about the relationship between Mundane SF and the climate change extension. (And there was a climate change fiction panel at Worldcon75, as well as an academic track session called ‘Environmental Anxieties’, both of which I missed.) Mark answered that he didn’t see that so much as science fiction than “as incoming horror”.

There is an easy marriage between science fiction and design research. As many of you undoubtedly know, tech developers, designers and analysts actually use science fiction narrative as a tool – to design technologies as well as to discuss their implications. (See my colleague Tiina Kylmäläinen’s dissertation on Science Fiction Prototyping here; pdf here.) Design researchers oriented to futures studies build scenarios, often science-fiction-y, to identify potential socio-environmental consequences and opportunities. Design researchers oriented to Science and Technology Studies (STS) may also examine science fiction as popular culture – that reveals how we human-and-tech ensembles make worlds, integrate the digital and physical, embed the new and novel into our existing lives. (See for example Laura Forlano’s paper on ‘cyber-urbanity’ in Digital Culture and Society.)

Science fiction stories contribute to building narratives as imaginaries: visions that we aspire to and therefore mobilize to co-create and co-produce. For some in the FabLab network, most importantly Gershenfeld himself, the narrative of the Star Trek replicator continues to be the imaginary of the future that anchors what should be done in the present. For others, there are alternative visions of a distributed, material peer production future that inspire and activate – visions about communities working together for their own betterment, using governance and economic models that are clear alternatives to the destructive hyper-capitalism, hyper-individualism and neoliberalism of today.

Koppelting Festival of the Commons, FabLab Amersfoort, August 2016. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Koppelting Festival of the Commons, FabLab Amersfoort, August 2016. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

And the mundane? The Mundane SF panel joked that using the very word mundane was a dodgy marketing strategy: who would buy into – and buy – something about mundanity? The original signees wished to acknowledge the “relief of focusing on what science tells us is likely rather than what is almost impossible such as warp drives. The relief will come from a sense of being honest.” There is a related ethos in some design circles, who want to promote everyday design over superstar, elite design. The one that pops first to mind is the ‘Super Normal’ exhibition and book by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison. The second is the design philosophy in Finland, where I happily live and work, greatly influenced by designer and design educator Kaj Franck. Finnish tableware, for example, is good design for everyone and for everyday. It is also exceedingly collectible – and steal-able. In recent years the long-standing tableware design firm Arabia has exploited the very mundanity (appearing in every Finnish home – and I do not exaggerate), collectibility and longevity of their products in their slogan Against Throwaway Design (although now we seem to be focusing more on Finland’s 100th Anniversary year in Arabia marketing). So: Mundane=Good.

Researchers in academia (usually) use a different way of exploring our world and where we are going compared to science fiction authors, but there are many who argue that focusing on the mundane does indeed foster awareness of what is likely and possible rather than what is utopian and unrealistic. For example in practice theory, particularly Elizabeth Shove’s take on it, not enough attention is paid in sustainability-oriented research to exactly the mundane: the everyday habits, behaviours and routines that accumulate into large-scale social, environmental and economic impacts. We are not even aware of our changing hygiene standards, for instance. We shower more often and for longer; we clean our houses more, using more toxic chemicals. Mundanity from this perspective thereby takes on ontological importance.

For those of us examining designer-user relations, focusing on the mundane is also an ontological and empirical strategy, because, in STS terms, it helps us better understand how things-and-activities – materials and technologies combined with our practices, actions and interactions – become stabiliized. How new ways of doing things, and how old ways of doing things but with new objects, start off as novel, but over time become normalized, domesticated, routine – mundane. The once new and exciting 3D printer becomes invisible infrastructure. New ways of designing and producing things become established ways.

Helsinki Hacklab, May 2015. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Helsinki Hacklab, May 2015. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

In sustainability-oriented research, we normatively want to encourage less destructive practices. We want the mundane to have less negative environmental impact. If material peer production in digital fabrication communities can have socio-environmental benefits compared to our current mass production system, let’s foster these new practices into becoming mundane routines and habits. If we aspire to models of ‘sufficiency’ or ‘degrowth’, what is the mundanity within these models that we can achieve today? In other words, what novel sociotechnical elements today, such as new and unfamiliar p2p governance models being experimented with, hold promise as a component that can have a trajectory into our vision of the future? How can we turn the novel into the mundane? Science fiction writers surely do this – project what they find compelling in the present and project it into their future world-making – for better and for worse.

In my dissertation, however, I also argued that mundanity is a double-edged sword. (See here and the pdf is available here.) Sustainable world-making is not just about wanting to stabilize and domesticate desired sociomaterial ensembles into mundanity. Mundanity is also about the routine practices and incumbent institutions that we need to combat, as Shove argues, in order to foster change to a ‘better’ present. So also: Mundanity=Barrier to positive change.

In my studies, I examined how new making and fabbing practices compete with incumbent institutional structures. FabLab managers are so busy with everyday tasks that vision-making and vision-enacting become really hard work. They take shortcuts and make compromises, which freeze into infrastructure and routine that future practitioners will not question. Already now we are failing to acknowledge the technical antecedents of maker/fabber culture (I argue this also in a paper that is forthcoming, hopefully). We don’t question enough current routines in FabLabs or why things are done a certain way in Fab Academy.

The mundanity of the outside world is eclipsed by the fantastical ideology of the FabLab and Maker Movement: democratization of production technologies and empowerment of all people to make what they want, where they want and how they want. Outside the FabLab walls, there are issues around supply chains, component origins, the provenance of rare earths, working conditions, mountains of e-waste, growing gaps between rich and poor, corporate exploitation and co-option of ideals, and so on – that are rarely discussed inside FabLabs or in FabLab events and meetings. This mundanity is the reality of mass production and capitalist ills that is so easily ignored by a blissful, naïve, well-meaning but under-strategic fabber community.

What would Von Trier and Winterberg say? “By using new technology anyone at any time can wash the last grains of truth away in the deadly embrace of sensation.” Star Trek replicators as an aspiration? I think this oversimplifies the visions actually espoused by the maker/fabber movement, including the replicator fans themselves, and it renders invisible dirty, gritty current realities. In turn, what is deemed desirable and achievable for humanity and our planet is not tuned to these dirty, mundane realities. Maker/fabber ideologies float in air like utopian castles, unmoored from our sociomaterial present, rapturously ignorant of politics and power dynamics. A little injection of Mundane aesthetics, the ethos of mundanity, might serve us a little better in building strategies for future world-making – to help us build the transparency and ongoing dialogue we need in co-creating new governance models that are resistant to enclosure and co-option. That is – if that is what we want.

My week at Vigyan Ashram FabLab

As we drive from the city of Pune to Pabal, a village about 70 kilometres away, the road becomes increasingly narrow; the traffic increasingly agrarian; the landscape increasingly dry. The vehicle climbs a small knoll and turns into a drive, signposted Vigyan Ashram – and I can hardly imagine I’m actually here at this legendary FabLab, one of the first established in the global FabLab network about 15 years ago. For the next week, I will live here among the students, eating with them, talking with them, following their work on projects done for the benefit of the local community.

Signpost for Vigyan Ashram, Pabal, India, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Signpost for Vigyan Ashram, Pabal, India, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

I have visited and worked in India before, but this is my first time in a rural area. It is a necessary reminder that many in India work in agriculture and that rural technology development is both vibrant and vital. Young people here do not want to move to the big cities; they want challenges and opportunities in their own regions. Moreover, this part of Maharashtra is drought prone, where solutions related to water and soil conservation are clearly needed. The ethos of FabLabs and maker culture, that knowledge is public commons and solutions should be shared, hacked, forked, modified and shared and shared again, is therefore so important here: this is not proprietary innovation aimed at profit-making for a few, it is grassroots innovation by citizens for citizens, for community betterment. That Vigyan Ashram caught the attention of MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld because of their internet connectivity back in the late 90s, should be no surprise: this village and community needs knowledge from the outside to foster resilience. Now, in the late 2010s, this village, community and FabLab build and share knowledge on rural technology solutions with the world.

I am well accustomed to FabLabs and citizen innovation, so having a technology lab here in the middle of this large, rural traditional metalsmith workshop, is no particular surprise – the solutions needed here benefit from having sensors and communication devices connected to them. One of the first people I meet is a day visitor with an Australian accent, one of a group that has arrived here by bus to see this innovative learning centre. (Over the next week, there will be many such people and many such buses driving in for a day, an afternoon, an hour.) She seems somewhat gobsmacked that here, in the apparent middle-of-nowhere, young people are making microcontroller boards and printing objects with 3D printers. I, on the other hand, am somewhat gobsmacked that I can stroll out of the FabLab to the outbuildings and visit with chickens, goats and dairy cows.

Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Back then, when Gershenfeld first visited in the early 2000s, Vigyan Ashram was a place of learning, where marginalized young people, school drop-outs, the unemployed, came and were immersed in what we now call project-based learning. This function still exists, students come from all over India and learn animal husbandry and horticulture, but now also to learn product development: Vigyan Ashram offers a Diploma in Basic Rural Technology (DBRT, recognized by the National Institute of Open Schooling, the government’s programme for facilitating open learning) and a newer certificate known as Design Innovation Centre (DIC, recognized by Saitribai Phule Pune University). DIC students who complete a six-month project in Vigyan Ashram earn university credits equivalent to one semester. Among the projects I saw were a biogas digester, an injection moulding device for recycling plastic and a vegetable cooler made of readily available materials.

Komal's vegetable cooler with circulating water, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Komal’s vegetable cooler with circulating water, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Vigyan Ashram also offers Fab Academy, the international distributed education programme for digital fabrication offered by the FabLab network. Each week the students learn a new aspect of digital fabrication, via online lectures broadcast from MIT, local instruction and by completing a weekly assignment. All the skills accumulated over four months are to be applied in a final project, and Director Yogesh Kulkarni discusses these final projects with the students, to ensure they will indeed benefit Vigyan Ashram and/or the local surrounding community. (This is unusual; in all other FabLabs I have visited, students are free to choose their own final project, which does not need to prove local relevance, social impact or environmental benefit – even if such projects do tend to garner special praise by evaluators.) The projects this year will include a solar tracker for solar cookers and a greywater treatment solution for the Ashram.

solar cooker at Vigyan Ashram, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

solar cooker at Vigyan Ashram, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

The projects I heard about are already in use or are soon to be implemented and do not sit idle on the shelf. Several projects for Fab Academy, DIC and DBRT are commissioned by clients, such as local farmers or small business owners seeking a low cost but effective solution. Working for clients enhances students’ entrepreneurial and consultancy skills. But particularly, what I heard again and again, during my week at Vigyan Ashram, but also at other Indian FabLabs, was how such direct, material, hands-on learning boosted confidence. For students with previous engineering education, the work in the FabLab allowed them to put into embodied practice what they had learned in the abstract. For all students, completing a project gave them the confidence that yes, they can do and they can make.

Technology Development Park at Vigyan Ashram, displaying grassroots innovations such as a vegetable dryer and rice planters, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Technology Development Park at Vigyan Ashram, displaying grassroots innovations such as a vegetable dryer and rice planters, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

They can identify a problem, they can search for information and solutions online, they can prototype, and they can physically produce whatever solution they have designed and adapted for this particular problem, given existing local material, technical and cultural constraints. It is this confidence that allows them to imagine a future of their own creation, where they can dream, but also develop the needed skills to complete projects and deal with clients. It is a conception of entrepreneurship related to resilience, aspiration and practicality, more than the tech-driven startup language seen elsewhere, of innovation for innovation’s sake. This is the FabLab network’s mission enacted: do not bring technology to the people, bring them the means to make their own technology.

rural machinery prototyped and developed for specific local conditions at Vigyan Ashram, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

rural machinery prototyped and developed for specific local conditions at Vigyan Ashram, March, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

On my favourite day in the FabLab that week, all the elements came together – peer learning, entrepreneurship, skill development. FabLab Manager Suhas began the day with instruction on electronics design, and the students soon paired off naturally to begin learning more from each other and from tutorials online. Recent DIC graduate Prachi was working on a prosthetic robot arm for a client in the FabLab, and she began to coach the others on the electronics knowledge she had picked up along the way. Fab Academy students Arundhati and Abhijeet put their heads together to start learning the software. DIC student Komal watched, as she will benefit from this information later. Fab Academy tutor Suyog arrived and also began to coach the students when they ran into trouble. The other local Fab Academy tutor Supriya was away for the day. Based on her knowledge and experience building a ‘rangoli’ machine for last year’s Fab Academy (rangolis are those exquisite powder pattern drawings people make on the ground outside their front doors in India, for good luck), she was asked to put together and deliver a small laser engraver to a client. This day was delivery day.

Meanwhile, behind the electronics group, DBRT student Sandeep was learning how to use the laser cutter. Sandeep wanted to make a measurement device, like callipers, that could be held up to an object (such as a shelf edge) to determine its width. Suhas gave him basic instruction on how to send the design to the laser cutter while a small group of DBRT students watched. Soon after the measurement device was cut and was on the table, Fab Academy student Mahavir came into the FabLab and picked it up, curious. What’s this? He picked up callipers to measure the accuracy of the device and noticed it was off. He showed Sandeep. Do you know about kerf? Sandeep shook his head. Mahavir grabbed his tablet and began explaining kerf by drawing. This had been a Fab Academy exercise a few weeks’ previously: how to know the cutting width of your laser cutter and account for it in your design to be able to achieve accurate final dimensions. A crowd began to gather around the table, as other students wanted to learn this important lesson too.



huddles of peer learning at Vigyan Ashram FabLab, March, 2017. Photos: Cindy Kohtala

No matter the region, many students have reported to me that completing the Fab Academy was a strategic decision for their career: to learn software and understand the hardware in our shift to an ever more digitalized society. It is a substantial time commitment and financial investment that is seen as necessary, an investment in their future. Fab Academy is also the path by which people become inducted into the FabLab world: they learn to become Fab Academy tutors and regional instructors, and many go on to be FabLab managers or to found their own FabLab. They embed themselves in their localities, where their FabLabs serve local needs, but they also find information and inspiration from their global colleagues in FabLabs around the world. Supriya received valuable help on her laser engraver from a colleague in Japan, for instance. The annual FABx meeting brings all the Fab Academy cohort together, as well as managers, directors, technicians, teachers, researchers – a chance to meet face to face and form the lasting bonds that truly create community.

In Vigyan Ashram, students had a variety of motivations for attending Fab Academy. Some had completed DIC and were hungry for more. Some had received scholarships from universities, an alternative learning track to the conventional academia of classrooms, lectures and clean laboratories. Two students had come from up north, from Chandigarh: they were planning to open their own FabLab and had carefully considered the best Lab for their Fab Academy experience – a five- to six-month long immersion. Vigyan Ashram FabLab was chosen because its rural location and especially its approach to invention, innovation and education: “They are teaching everything,” the students told me. “They are actually doing what I plan to do.”

working with sensors to measure air quality, at Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

working with sensors to measure air quality, at Vigyan Ashram FabLab, February, 2017. Photo: Cindy Kohtala

Given its longevity, Vigyan Ashram and its FabLab appear to offer a needed alternative, an alternative model of education, production and regional development. All too soon my week came to an end, but I returned to Helsinki full of ideas and hope.


Gupta, Anil K. 2016. Grassroots Innovation: Minds on the Margin are not Marginal Minds. Gurugram, India: Random House India.
Kalbag, S.S. 2010. Selected Essays of Dr. S.S. Kalbag on Education, Technology & Rural Development. Edited by Sangram Gaikwad. Pune: Vigyan Ashram, Pabal.
Kulkarni, Yogesh. 2016. ‘Fab Lab 0 to Fab Lab 0.4: Learnings from Running a Lab in an Indian Village’. In Proceedings of the Fab 12 Research Stream. Shenzhen, China: International FabLab Association. https://archive.org/details/Fab12Kulkarni.

Doctoral dissertations and Master’s theses

Here is a list of dissertations and theses on (a) Open Design and (b) Making, digital fabrication, makerspaces. Buy me a cocktail sometime to thank me.

Doctoral Dissertations: Open Design

Sawhney, Nitin, 2003. Cooperative innovation in the commons: Rethinking distributed collaboration and intellectual property for sustainable design innovation. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Architecture, Program in Media Arts and Sciences. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/61861

von Busch, Otto, 2008. Fashion-able: Hacktivism and Engaged Fashion Design. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, School of Design and Crafts, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. https://konst.gu.se/artmonitor/avhandlingar/otto_von_busch

Zheng, Jing, 2009. Open Collaborative Mechanical/Product Design: User as Developer. A New Design Methodology for Internet Era Business Innovations and Entrepreneurship. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Structural Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science. Washington University, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. http://openscholarship.wustl.edu/etd/401/

Silver, Matthew Robin, 2010. Open Collaborative System Design: A Strategic Framework with Application to Synthetic Biology. Doctoral dissertation. Engineering Systems Division. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/63012

Balka, Kerstin, 2011. Open Source Product Development: The Meaning and Relevance of Openness. Doctoral dissertation. Hamburg University of Technology Hamburg-Harburg, Germany. Published by Gabler, Springer. http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-8349-6949-1

Sinclair, Matthew, 2012. The specification of a consumer design toolkit to support personalised production via additive manufacturing. Doctoral dissertation. Design School. Loughborough University, UK. https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/11051

Dexter, Matt, 2014. Open Design and Medical Products. Doctoral dissertation. Sheffield Hallam University, UK. http://shura.shu.ac.uk/12190/

Philips, Robert Daniel, 2015. The Bee Lab kit: Activities engaging motivated lay users in the use of open technologies for citizen science activities. Doctoral dissertation. School of Design. Royal College of Art, London, UK. http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/1694/

Hermans, Guido, 2015. Opening Up Design: Engaging the Layperson in the Design of Everyday Products. Doctoral dissertation. Industrial Design. Umeå Institute of Design, Faculty of Science and Technology. Umeå Institute of Design Research Publications, No. 002. Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden. http://umu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A852481&dswid=7729

Kyriakou, Harris, 2016. Collective Innovation: Novelty, Reuse and their Interplay. Doctoral dissertation. Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/pqdtopen/doc/1855131347.html?FMT=ABS

Rozas, David, 2017. Self-organisation in commons-based peer production: Drupal – “the drop is always moving”. University of Surrey, Guildford, UK. http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/845121/

Master’s theses: Open Design

Menichinelli, Massimo, 2006. Reti collaborative : Il design por una auto-organizzazione Open Peer-to-Peer. Master’s thesis (Italian). Industrial Design, Faculty of Design. Politecnico di Milano, Italy. https://issuu.com/openp2pdesign/docs/reti-collaborative

de Bruijn, Erik, 2010. On the viability of the open source development model for the design of physical objects: Lessons learned from the RepRap project. Master’s thesis. Department of Information Management, Faculty of Economics and Business. University of Tilburg, the Netherlands. http://thesis.erikdebruijn.nl/master/Latex/MscScr-EdB.pdf

Turner, Robin, 2010. Open Source as a Tool for Communal Technology Development: Using Appropriate Technology Criteria to Determine the Impact of Open Source Technologies on Communities as Delivered Through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Fab Lab Projects. Master’s thesis. Digital Arts. Wits School of Arts, Faculty of the Arts. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/handle/10539/8615

Wong, Garry Chun Yang, 2011. Open Source Hardware: The history, issues, and impact on digital humanities. Humanities Computing. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. https://era.library.ualberta.ca/files/4m90dw364#.WIZrbz9MZE4

Paiva, Juliana, 2012. Towards Openness: A Study about Open Design and its Translation from Theory into Practice. Master’s thesis. New Media & Digital Culture. University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. http://scriptiesonline.uba.uva.nl/en/scriptie/426987

Suarez Carmona, Mariana, 2012. The Value of Design as a Holistic Approach in Enhancing a Global Brand: The Case Study of Heineken Open Design Explorations. Master’s thesis. Strategic Product Design. Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. http://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid:024f30d8-bd02-4689-aca4-acb0c4de294b?collection=education

Gardner, Alec J., 2013. The Architecture of Mass Collaboration: How Open Source Commoning Will Change Everything. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Cincinnati, USA. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/pg_10?0::NO:10:P10_ETD_SUBID:4686

Bagiński, Jan, 2014. Budynek wielorodzinny otwartego kodu [Open Source Housing]. Master’s thesis (Polish). Architecture and Urban Planning. Warsaw University of Technology, Poland. https://apd.usos.pw.edu.pl/diplomas/488/

Muhur, Melike, 2014. Evaluation of a Proposal for a Production Center “Fab Lab” as a means of Realization Open Design. Master’s thesis (Turkish). Graduate School of Science, Engineering and Technology. Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey.

Rodriguez, Edison, 2014. Open Design no cenário contemporâneo. [Open design in the contemporary context.] Master’s thesis (Portuguese). UNESP (Universidade Estadual Paulista), Brazil. http://repositorio.unesp.br/bitstream/handle/11449/126304/000838099.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Harrison, Peter Hugh, 2017. The participatory design of a human-powered shredder for urban farmers in Soweto. Thesis for Master’s of Technology Industrial Design. University of Johannesburg. Available on ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316734647_The_participatory_design_of_a_human-powered_shredder_for_urban_farmers_in_Soweto?actorId=5820216

Doctoral Dissertations: Making and makerspaces, digital fabrication, 3D printing…

Aldoy, Noor N., 2011. An investigation into a digital strategy for industrial design education. Doctoral dissertation. Design School. Loughborough University, UK. https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/8767

Rajan, Prashant, 2012. Organizing Grassroots Innovations: Examining Knowledge Creation and Sharing Practices for Technological Innovation at the Grassroots. Doctoral dissertation. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI3556573/

Bianchini, Massimo, 2014. Industrious design : Design e cambiamento dei modelli di (micro)produzione nell’ibridazione tra individuo e organizzazione [Industrious design: The role of design in the evolution of (micro)production models enabled by the hybridization of individuals and organizations]. Doctoral dissertation (Italian). Industrial Design, Department of Design. Politecnico di Milano, Italy. http://hdl.handle.net/10589/97942

Leduc-Mills, Benjamin A., 2014. Embodied Fabrication: Body-Centric Devices for Novice Designers. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Computer Science. University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. http://benatwork.cc/wp-content/uploads/thesis.pdf

Neves, Heloisa, 2014. Maker innovation. Do open design e fab labs… às estratégias inspiradas no movimento maker. Doctoral dissertation. Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo (FAU). Universidade de São Paulo (USP), São Paulo, Brazil. http://www.bv.fapesp.br/pt/bolsas/132076/maker-innovation-do-open-design-e-fab-labs-as-estrategias-inspiradas-no-movimento-maker/

Seravalli, Anna, 2014. Making Commons: Attempts at composing prospects in the opening of production. Doctoral dissertation. Interaction Design. Dissertation series: New Media, Public Sphere and Forms of Expression. Faculty: Culture and Society. Department: School of Arts and Communication. Mälmö University, Mälmö, Sweden. https://dspace.mah.se/handle/2043/17232

Dias, Pedro João Jacinto da Silva, 2015.  Design e auto-produção : novos paradigmas para o design de artefactos na sociedade pós-industrial : a contribuição das tecnologias digitais. Doctoral dissertation. Faculdade de Belas Artes. Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. http://repositorio.ul.pt/handle/10451/17815

Justice, Sean Bradley, 2015. Learning to teach in the digital age: Digital materiality and maker paradigms in schools. Doctoral dissertation. Teachers College. Columbia University, New York, USA. NOTE: now a book (2016), published by Peter Lang: https://www.peterlang.com/view/product/31836

Mota, Sofia Catarina, 2015. Bits, Atoms, and Information Sharing: new opportunities for participation. Doctoral dissertation. Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Departamento de Ciências da Comunicação. Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal. http://hdl.handle.net/10362/14505

Applin, Sally A., 2016. Disrupting Silicon Valley Dreams: Adaptations through Making, Being, and Branding. Doctoral dissertation. School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, UK.

Bosqué, Camille, 2016. La fabrication numérique personnelle, pratiques et discours d’un design diffus : enquête au coeur des FabLabs, hackerspaces et makerspaces de 2012 à 2015 [Personal digital fabrication, discourses and practices of diffuse design: A survey into FabLabs, hackerspaces and makerspaces between 2012 and 2015]. Doctoral dissertation (French). Esthétique et sciences de l’art, Spécialité design, École doctorale Arts, lettres, langues. Université Rennes 2, France. http://www.theses.fr/2016REN20009

Doubrovsky, E.L., 2016. Design Methodology for Additive Manufacturing: Supporting Designers in the Exploitation of Additive Manufacturing Affordances. Doctoral dissertation. Mechatronic design. Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. http://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid:d4214bb0-5bfd-43fe-af42-01247762b661?collection=research

Kohtala, Cindy, 2016. Making Sustainability: How Fab Labs Address Environmental Issues. Doctoral dissertation. School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Department of Design. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://shop.aalto.fi/media/attachments/f8dd3/Kohtala.pdf

Lacy, Jennifer E., 2016. A Case Study of a High School Fab Lab. Doctoral dissertation. Curriculum & Instruction. University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Lyles, Dan Allen, 2016. Generative Contexts. Science and Technology Studies. Doctoral dissertation. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, USA. http://www3.hass.rpi.edu/eglash/pdi/fall2016/readings/Lyles%20-%20Generative%20Contexts%20%28Final%29.pdf

Niaros, Vasileios, 2016. Making (in) the Smart City: Urban Makerspaces for Commons-Based Peer Production in Innovation, Education and Community-Building. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Social Sciences, Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance. Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia. https://digi.lib.ttu.ee/i/?5405

Ramanauskaitė, Eglė, 2016. Technarium Hackerspace: Community-Enabled Informal Learning in Science and Technology. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Education, Vilnius University, Lithuania.

Searle, Kristin A., 2016. Culturally responsive computing for American Indian youth: Making activities with electronic textiles in the native studies classroom. Doctoral dissertation. Education and Anthropology. University of Pennsylvania, USA. http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI10124633/

Shin, Myunghwan, 2016. A makerspace for all: Youth learning, identity, and design in a community-based makerspace. Doctoral dissertation. Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education. Michigan State University, USA.

Somerville, Rachel E., 2016. Making In Education: A Study Of Teachers Decisions To Participate In Professional Development, Their Emerging Understandings Of Making, And Teacher Plans For Implementation. Doctoral dissertation. Education, Educational Leadership. University of California, Davis, USA.

Toombs, Austin Lewis, 2016. Care and the Construction of Hacker Identities, Communities and Society. Doctoral dissertation. School of Informatics and Computing. Indiana University, USA. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20880

Weichel, Christian, 2016. Mixed physical and virtual design environments for digital fabrication. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Science and Technology, School of Computing & Communications. Lancaster University, UK. http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/77782/

Foster, Ellen, 2017. Making Cultures: Politics of Inclusion, Accessibility, and Empowerment at the Margins of the Maker Movement. Doctoral dissertation. Science & Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, US. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED580488

Moilanen, Jarkko, 2017. 3D Printing Focused Peer Production: Revolution in design, development and manufacturing. Doctoral dissertation. Faculty of Communication Sciences, University of Tampere, Finland. https://tampub.uta.fi/handle/10024/101691

Boeva, Yana, 2018. Break, Make, Retake: Interrogating the Social and Historical Dimensions of Making as a Design Practice. Doctoral dissertation. Science & Technology Studies, York University, Canada. https://yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/handle/10315/35785

Cuartielles, David, 2018. Platform Design: Creating Meaningful Toolboxes When People Meet. Doctoral Dissertation. Faculty of Culture and Society, School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University, Sweden. https://muep.mau.se/handle/2043/26130

Master’s theses: Making and makerspaces, digital fabrication, 3D printing…

Nunez, Joseph Gabriel, 2010. Prefab the FabLab: Rethinking the habitability of a fabrication lab by including fixture-based components. Master’s thesis. Architecture Studies, Department of Architecture. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/59201

Heltzel-Drake, Ryan, 2012. Technocraft: Community Fabrication in Rainier Beach. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Washington, USA. https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/21893

Lumans, Christine Zinta, 2014. Printable products: Investigating three-dimensional printing in the design process of interior products. Master’s thesis. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA. https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/listing.aspx?id=16191

Patokorpi, Lassi, 2014. The Art and Craft of the Machine: 3D Printing, the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Democratization of Art. Master’s thesis, English Philology. School of Language, Translation and Literary Studies. University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland. https://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/95658/GRADU-1402572504.pdf

Sherrill, John T., 2014. Makers: Technical Communication in Post-Industrial Participatory Communities. Master’s thesis. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/open_access_theses/378/

Torretta, Nicholas, 2014. A journey through alternative ways of living. Master’s thesis. Department of Design, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/14003

Weinmann, Julian, 2014. Makerspaces in the university community. Master’s thesis. Institute of Product Development. Technische Universität München, Germany. https://web.stanford.edu/group/design_education/wikiupload/0/0a/Weinmann_Masters_Thesis.pdf

Dickerson, Kathryn, 2015. The Innovation Makerspace: Geographies of Digital Fabrication Innovation in Greater New York City. Master’s thesis. Geography, School of Arts and Sciences, Hunter College. The City University of New York, US. http://academicworks.cuny.edu/hc_sas_etds/8/

Faller, Nicholas L., 2015. Networks of Making. Master’s thesis. Architecture. University of Washington, USA. http://hdl.handle.net/1773/35068

Jobse, Koert, 2015. Catching trains of thought: UX guidelines for facilitating knowledge exchange between makers. Master’s thesis. Department of Design, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/19027

Morimoto, Taro, 2015. Pelori – Designing a digital service for maker projects through research. Master’s thesis. Department of Media, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/18095

Oates, Amy, 2015. Evidences of Learning in an Art Museum Makerspace. Master’s thesis. Museology. University of Washington, USA. https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/33432

Schnedeker, Marya, 2015. An Exploration of Introductory Training Experiences in 3D Design and 3D Printing. Master’s thesis. Human Factors. Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA.

Durant, Kathryn M., 2016. The maker movement and 3D printing: A critique. Master’s thesis. Sociology. San Diego State University, USA.

Fornasini, Giacomo, 2016. Investigation into the influence of build parameters on failure of 3D printed parts. Master’s thesis. Mechanical Engineering Department. University of Maryland, USA. http://drum.lib.umd.edu/handle/1903/18836

Hector, Philip, 2016. Trojan Horse: Re-framing sustainable practices as “design support” to attract new practitioners. Master’s thesis. Department of Design, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki, Finland. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/23580

Sherer, Samantha, 2018. Objects that Create Community: Effects of 3D Printing and Distributed Manufacturing beyond Circular Economy. Master’s thesis. Interdisciplinary Art Media and Design, OCAD University, Canada. http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/2291/

Trashlab (repair café)

Hooray! Trashlab is back! This time in Vallila.

What is Trashlab? Trashlab is…

DSCF5366_sm DSCF5381_sm

… helping others to fix their broken things …


…getting your hands dirty…


…breaking broken things to fix them…


…needing tape, needing glue…


…needing more light…


…needing fuel…


…giving up with some things…


…succeeding with others.

Trashlab began in 2012 as an initiative by people from Pixelache and several departments in Aalto University in Helsinki: an art-design-recycling-trash collaborative, peer-learning experiment, combined with a more philosophical, critical, towards-the-academic look at waste and material culture (i.e. the Talking Trashlab lecture series hosted in Media Factory).
In 2013 Trashlab became a regular monthly repair event in different locations around the city, and in 2014, it found a home every month in Helsinki city centre’s municipal library makerspace Kaupunkiverstas (then in Lasipalatsi). In 2015 the group began to alternate the repair events with the original artistic and critical explorations – again in different locations but often in Sankariliiga makerspace in Hermanni. I especially enjoyed the casting workshop using reclaimed aluminium.

Today was the first event in 2016, and the first repair event for a few months. Two bikes, a child’s toy, a golf putt device-thing, a chair seat needing new fabric, a computer adaptor, a jacket zip, a dish, clothes with holes. I didn’t bring anything to fix, but I like to go just to socialize.

And I like taking pictures of people’s hands making and doing. They’re so beautiful.

Call for participation: papers and presentations for Urban Studies Days 2016

Calling all urban studies researchers, urban activists, grassroots organizers, researcher-activists, activist-organizers!

We invite you to contribute to a workshop we will be holding as part of the Urban Studies Days 2016 in Helsinki 28-29.4.2016.

Contributions from people involved in grassroots initiatives are particularly welcome. To join the conversation, please send a few lines (no more than 350 words ideally) to us about what you are or have been doing and how your experiences relate to the problems of producing knowledge as part of DIY (do-it-yourself) work. We do not expect presentations to be polished academic papers – though they can be – the important thing is to share ideas and experiences. The deadline is 1.3.2016 (but this may be extended as the process has been a little delayed).

Is this a revolution? Problems in doing research on grassroots change-making

This workshop explores how activist contributions to the collective good are framed and presented, and what political implications this has. Does the way urban change-makers frame what they are doing make a difference to how they are received? And what about those doing research: how could we best engage in these delicate yet potentially consequential processes? And are these distinctions even valid?

The session is inspired by design researcher Ezio Manzini who writes that we may be living in a period not only of transition but of epistemological and socio-technical revolution (Design, When Everybody Designs 2015). He sees the dynamics of DIY-inspired urban change-making as a fundamental element of this ongoing but uncertain process. In this spirit, the workshop considers grassroots activism as a collective effort to combine theoretical and practical knowledge and address both local and global troubles simultaneously, that is, as an attempt to design better futures.

We invite both empirical and conceptual papers that engage with the problems of producing knowledge within and about urban activism. Almost everything about it is experimental in some way – or claims to be – which makes conveying its political implications very hard to do without falling into either wishful romanticism or incurious dismissal.

We welcome papers in any fields and any domains that tackle the problems of reporting on grassroots urbanism and the new knowledge it creates, whether scholars struggling to demonstrate the value of activist knowledge or activists who fear their contribution does not add up to policy ‘evidence’.

Eeva Berglund, docent environmental policy and urban studies, University of Helsinki
Cindy Kohtala, PhD candidate, Aalto University, Sustainable Design. Contact cindy [dot] kohtala [at] aalto [dot] fi

Helsinki’s future, and my Cunning Plan

It appears increasingly inevitable that Helsinki will get a Guggenheim. This will indubitably cannibalize visitors from Kiasma and Ateneum.

However! In using my skills in foresight, exhibiting some Positive Thinking, I have developed a Cunning Plan: how to Turn Threats Into Opportunities. I welcome your own fine suggestions!

1. When Kiasma becomes bereft of art consumers, it could be turned into an H&M flagship store.
This in turn will divert traffic away from Forum and Aleksi, but this too is an Opportunity, as this traffic is mainly young people with no money. The empty retail footprint in Forum can house the surely-by-then-nearly-defunct Stockmann’s. The spaces along Aleksi can be turned into luxury mini-hotels for the Guggenheim visitors, who will more easily be able to Segue from their hotels to the charming little Stockmann boutique and the Louis Vuitton shop.
The current Stockmann building, in turn, can be converted into premium co-working space for the creative and high tech industries. The high rents will push micro-entrepreneurs and local creatives further into the suburbs and drafty abandoned factories, where they belong. This will provide a more stable and sustainable platform for Helsinki’s Creative Capital (i.e. Google).

2. Ateneum would make a fine home for non-local fast food chains: Starbucks on the main floor, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut (and more!) on the top level.
The current gift shop could be a special Helsinki area, where the burgers purveyed are named after the queens of Helsinki dining and lingering, which of course will have died long ago: Elite, Lehtovaara, Savoy, Sea Horse, Kolme Kruunua, Ekberg’s.
This will obviously divert all business from the existing restaurants and bars along Mikonkatu and Kaisaniemenkatu. This too is an Opportunity, as it will help rid the city centre of those pesky local resident pedestrians – not to mention the over-supply of hairdressers, who tend to under-report their taxable earnings rather than moving it offshore to the Caymans as is normal. The summer terrace activity will move to the cruise ships, where it belongs. The resulting empty space can be converted into luxury flats for the well-heeled international student body, who will be attending the private educational institutes run by foreign corporations – institutes that will reside in the buildings formerly housing the now-extinct University of Helsinki.

In this, it is important to note that we must strike our own path! We do not wish to imitate others! Especially not southern European capitals, with their charming streets full of locally owned and operating bakers, butchers, green-grocers and flower shops – city squares full of laughing, playing children – but rather set our own standards (i.e. that of globalization). In this, we see there are no alternatives.

For happier stories, please see our book Changing Helsinki? Eleven Views on a City Unfolding (Nemo, 2015). Eds. Eeva Berglund and Cindy Kohtala, in Finnish, Swedish and English.

The male gaze is alive and well in 3D printing

Can someone please enlighten me?

How are these things different?


sexist car ad lexus

[source: http://autoshite.com/topic/18285-chodvertising-show-me-the-good-stuff/page-2]

or this:

sexist mercedessllow

[source: http://autoshite.com/topic/18285-chodvertising-show-me-the-good-stuff/page-2]

or this:

sexist car ad

[source: http://jalopnik.com/the-ten-most-sexist-car-ads-of-all-time-510255179]

different from this:

3Dprinting girl March2015

or this:

3Dprinting figure March 2015

or this:


or this:

2015.03.17 AdultFilmStar 3D print

Am I being oversensitive? (!!?)

I definitely do not see gender stereotyping or sexism problems on the ground, in the field, in Fab Labs or makerspaces (in northern Europe), thankfully.

But it seems that 3D printer developers are little boys who need to grow up fast and join the 21st century. At least market your tech and materials in a more mature and sensitive manner, please. There is far too much misogyny and violence against women in the world already.

If Fab Labs really are ungendered places, let’s keep them that way – a place where women don’t have to feel they are placed in a certain type of role. Thank you.


environmental studies on Additive Manufacturing III

I’ve been away from the blog for a while (too long) while I’ve been writing and revising journal papers. But as this is such a useful way to compile thoughts, references and discourses, here I am again with another review of additive manufacturing studies.

(Previous compilations are here and here.)

I revisited this 2009 report on AM:

Roadmap for Additive Manufacturing: Identifying the Future of Freeform Processing


It’s certainly geared to distributed manufacturing rather than personal fabrication, but in this ‘New Industrial Revolution’ we seem bent upon achieving, a lot of these impacts and benefits apply to both scales.

Chapter 8 in the report is called Energy and Sustainability:

“There are a number of clear, potential benefits to the adoption of AM for part production, which could be driven by the sustainability agenda. These include:

  1. More efficient use of raw materials in powder/liquid form by displacing machining which uses solid billets
  2. Displacing of energy-inefficient manufacturing processes such as casting and CNC machining with eradication of cutting fluids and chips
  3. Ability to eliminate fixed asset tooling, allowing for manufacture at any geographic location such as next to the customer, reducing transportation costs within the supply chain and associated carbon emissions
  4. Lighter weight parts, which when used in transport products such as aircraft increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions
  5. Ability to manufacture optimally designed components that are in themselves more efficient than conventionally manufactured components by incorporating conformal cooling and heating channels, gas flow paths, etc.” (page 28)

They also write:

“In principle, some AM processes (such as DMLS, SLM and possibly EBM) use less energy per unit volume of material in the final part than alternative manufacturing processes such as die casting or CNC machining. This appears to have a number of economical and environmental (coupled) benefits. However, very little is known about the waste streams associated with different AM processes. It is known that some polymeric AM processes have very high waste streams (e.g., SLS – powder refresh, FDM/OBJET/SLA – support structure materials). We also know that many metallic processes require significant levels of post-process heat treatment to reduce residual stresses, in addition to considerable energy loss from highly inefficient laser systems and optical tracks. These are waste streams, as they add nothing to the part. Moreover, AM machines are not designed to be efficient. Thermal management is often poor and energy loss is considerable.” (page 29)

A critical issue that “AM can greatly contribute to addressing is the reuse or remanufacturing of parts or products. (page 30)

But – as has been said here again and again – these authors say there needs to be more research and better models for analysis, development of sustainable materials, development of science-based sustainable product design principles.

“Next-generation AM processes must fully demonstrate their incorporation of sustainability principles including energy efficiency and the following major sustainability targets/goals:

  • Reduced manufacturing costs, material and energy use, industrial waste, toxic and hazardous materials and adverse environmental effects;
  • Improved personnel health, safety and security in AM processes and use of products made by AM; and
  • Demonstrated reparability, reusability, recoverability, recyclability and disposability of products produced from AM.” (page 30)

I sense the third one will experience the most roadbumps in this roadmap.

(As an aside, this report was produced at the University of Texas at Austin, who hosts the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium, whose Proceedings in turn are much cited.)


Faludi, J., Bayley, C., Bhogal, S., Iribarne, M., 2015. Comparing environmental impacts of additive manufacturing vs traditional machining via life-cycle assessment. Rapid Prototyping Journal 21 (1), 14–33.


This brand-spanking new study came to my attention because the first author is a buddy in the o2 global network. In this paper, the team was studying “the environmental impacts of two additive manufacturing machines to a traditional computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine to determine which method is the most sustainable”.

I like how they word the target and target audience of the paper:

“The goal of this research was to conduct a comprehensive comparison across all major sources of ecological impacts (energy use, waste, manufacturing of the tools themselves, etc.) and all major types of impacts (climate change, toxicity, land use, etc.) so that prototypers and job shop owners can make an informed decision about which technology to purchase or use, and so the makers of 3D printers can understand their priorities for improving environmental impacts.” (By 3D printers here we are talking about FDM and inkjet machines printing in plastic.)

Here the utilization of the machines stood out as most important: if the printers were used constantly or used only occasionally and sitting around on stand-by for long periods of time. “Higher utilization both reduces idling energy use and amortizes the embodied impacts of each machine.” The authors suggest that “the best strategy for sustainable prototyping is to share tools, to have the fewest number of machines running the most jobs each.”

The FDM printers that sit in most Fab Labs seem relatively benign according to this study, especially if they are TURNED OFF when not in use. We’ll see below that the materials they use also seem relatively good, especially in comparison to other AM materials for other processes. But then we see the quote above about material efficiency, where a key objective in the AM roadmap would be “more efficient use of raw materials in powder/liquid form by displacing machining which uses solid billets”. This seems to be the trend – more desktop 3D printers being developed are more about powders than filaments. But keep in mind what Faludi et al. report in this study, that the claims about waste reduction and material efficiency when comparing AM to conventional manufacturing are often overblown because the gains are outweighed by the impacts related to energy (including embodied energy). In short, grab those environmental benefits where you can, but really put your efforts to where the real impacts are. Here, don’t get a printer in-house until you have enough work to keep it running efficiently.


Short, D.B., Sirinterlikci, A., Badger, P., Artieri, B., 2015. Environmental, health, and safety issues in rapid prototyping. Rapid Prototyping Journal 21 (1), 105–110.


This article is in the same journal issue as the one above; it focuses especially on health and safety issues in rapid prototyping. One gets the picture that a rapid prototyping facility in an industrial context would probably have a lot of these issues in hand, such as the ventilation called for, but even this is not certain. In Fab Labs and makerspaces this is rare.

According to the authors,

“The modeling materials for the FDM systems are all inert, nontoxic materials developed from a range of commercially available thermoplastics and waxes. However, it is important not to exceed melting temperature recommendations to avoid the fumes produced during processing. They may cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. Moreover post-processing operations such as grinding, sanding or sawing can produce dust, which may present an explosion or respiratory hazard.” So not a giant worry, but SLA machines and other technologies are beginning to enter Fab Labs at a rapid pace and that is another potential can of worms.

And then there are the waste management problems – especially through to the end of the life cycle when the product / material is downstream. What happens then? Seems it’s time these kinds of issues were taken up in the maker community. It wouldn’t take much to start compiling and distributing Health, Safety and Environment watchlists for these small-scale prototyping environments. Put a few posters up. Distribute the MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets). Open a window. That kind of thing.


Kellens, K., Renaldi, R., Dewulf, W., Kruth, J., Duflou, J.R., 2014. Environmental impact modeling of selective laser sintering processes. Rapid Prototyping Journal 20 (6), 459–470.


In this paper, based on LCI data, “parametric process models are developed allowing to estimate the environmental impact of the manufacturing stage of SLS parts”. The hope is that such work can improve future design-for-SLS processes, especially with regards to reducing the environmental impacts of waste materials and electricity consumption – but not just the design of 3D printed products, also the design of the equipment itself.


The importance of considering environmental impact in the design stage is also considered in this article:

Le Bourhis, F., Kerbrat, O., Dembinski, L., Hascoet, J., Mognol, P., 2014. Predictive model for environmental assessment in additive manufacturing process. Procedia CIRP 15, 26–31.


These authors emphasize how Design for Additive Manufacturing can optimize for the specifics of AM processes (such as the ability to produce complex shapes), and – at least in their analysis and system boundaries – electricity consumption is not always the most impactful factor compared to other flows (powders and fluids, in the metal deposition process they studied).

Yes, on the surface that might seem to conflict with what Faludi et al. conclude above, but in these studies the system boundaries are much smaller and they are concentrating only on the manufacturing stage in order to inform part and process design.


Most of the same authors above also published this article:

Le Bourhis, F., Kerbrat, O., Hascoet, J., Mognol, P., 2013. Sustainable manufacturing: evaluation and modeling of environmental impacts in additive manufacturing. The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology 69 (9-12), 1927–1939.


Here they tried out a couple of different ways to produce a part while doing the environmental evaluation (also considering energy consumption and material flows).


Let’s also put this article in the ‘optimizing design’ section:

Ratnadeep, P., Anand, S., 2012. Process energy analysis and optimization in selective laser sintering. Journal of Manufacturing Systems 31 (4), 429-437.


If you are interested in “a methodology to calculate the laser energy of a part manufactured in the SLS process and to correlate the energy to the part geometry, slice thickness and part orientation”, then check out this article. The lit review section also has heaps more citations to energy studies in additive manufacturing.


And another well-cited energy study here:

Sreenivasan, R., Goel, A., Bourell, D.A., 2010. Sustainability issues in laser-based additive manufacturing. Physics Procedia 5, 8190.


Let’s let the authors tell us what they were doing:

“The goal is to reduce energy consumption in SLS of non-polymeric materials. The approach was to mix a transient binder with the material, to create an SLS green part, to convert the binder, and then to remove the open, connected porosity and to densify the part by chemical deposition at room temperature within the pore network.”

I’m just going to skip over that level of detail. Suffice to say that – given how many researchers use the Eco-indicators – let’s be happy that so much work is *also* done developing these evaluation tools and metrics.


ADDED Feb 2015:

Almost forgot this. Must be because it was sitting right in front of me on my desk.

Baumers, M., Tuck, C., Wildman, R., Ashcroft, I., Rosamond, E., Hague, R., 2013. Transparency Built-In. Journal of Industrial Ecology 17, 418–431.


This nicely dramatic title for an academic paper comes from the authors’ description of AM as inherently transparent: it’s a “one-stop” manufacturing process, so even for a complex design there’s no need for additional steps like making moulds or dies or other tooling. Sometimes just some finishing steps. This makes measuring the energy flows in production a lot easier, and in fact, it seems considering cost efficiency when planning AM builds and production processes “is likely to lead to the secondary effect of minimizing process energy consumption”. This doesn’t necessarily happen in conventional manufacturing, so immediately we see sustainability opportunities. In this study the authors present a methodology for “design for energy minimization”: a tool to estimate process energy flows as well as costs, using Direct Metal Laser Sintering experiments to test it.


Then there is the JM Pearce gang, who are quite prolific. Here are four articles, but there are more out there.

Krieger, M.A., Mulder, M.L., Glover, A.G., Pearce, J.M., 2014. Life cycle analysis of distributed recycling of post-consumer high density polyethylene for 3-D printing filament. Journal of Cleaner Production 70, 90–96.


This study promotes not only distributed production but distributed recycling: the authors claim that there are benefits to actors producing their own printer filaments from post-consumer plastics with their own low-cost (and open source, of course) shredding-extruding systems compared to a centralized recycling system. This is especially in areas where the population is not so dense, since recycling collecting and transport is impactful. I’m not going to dig into their LCA procedures to find holes at this point; someone else can do that. I’m more interested in what these researchers want to promote.

Last year I was talking to a Fab Lab manager who also works with an industrial filament manufacturer, and she was sceptical about these homegrown ‘recycle-bots’. She said it’s challenging enough to make consistent-quality filament that works without glitch in your printer at the commercial scale – how is that possible with these grassroots systems? Seems to me it would take a level of expertise that is itself not widely distributed.

Anyway, the paper presents some interesting scenarios and is quite a new take on this New Industrial Revolution the maker movement is supposed to represent – where a cottage industry could develop around the collection and reprocessing of plastic waste into, for example, spare parts and other Useful Things. I seem to remember a scene like that in Ian McDonald’s Brasyl, and these authors do mention some initiatives in the global South, but they also intend it to develop and benefit regions in the North.


Baechler, C., DeVuono, J., Pearce, J.M., 2013. Distributed recycling of waste polymer into RepRap feedstock. Rapid Prototyping Journal 19 (2), 118-125.


In this earlier paper, a Pearce crew report on the filament quality they made in the RecycleBot: “Filament was successfully extruded at an average rate of 90 mm/min and used to print parts. The filament averaged 2.805 mm diameter with 87 per cent of samples between 2.540 mm and 3.081 mm.” The problems are quite well documented too, as well as the design of the device itself. You could get your hands on a windshield wiper motor and the other components and make your own.


Kreiger, M., Pearce, J.M., 2013. Environmental Life Cycle Analysis of Distributed Three-Dimensional Printing and Conventional Manufacturing of Polymer Products. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 1, 1511–1519.


“This study evaluates the potential of using a distributed network of 3D printers to produce three types of plastic components and products. A preliminary life cycle analysis (LCA) of energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is performed for distributed manufacturing using low-cost open-source 3D printers and compared to conventional manufacturing overseas with shipping.” The researchers used a RepRap printer, calculations for both PLA and ABS, as well as for conventional electricity and power from a solar photovoltaic source. The objects were a toy (a polymer block fabbed locally vs a wooden block made in and shipped from Switzerland); a water spout (a locally fabbed spout that is intended to fit onto an existed, reused, 2L bottle vs an entire watering can made in China); and a citrus juicer.

The authors have a number of ‘tips’ for making distributed manufacturing of this type even more sustainable, such as using solar PV systems, controlling temperatures during printing to enhance energy efficiency and taking recycled filaments more prominently into use. PLA is seen to have benefits over ABS, being a bio-based polymer and needing lower temperatures in printing, hence affecting energy consumption. And using a local 3D printer means you can control the design (and fill) of the product, optimizing the use of material.

Nevertheless, some of us have discussed the article and agree that the choice of objects is a bit odd and we wonder about the comparability of the mass manufactured choice vs the fabbed object.

Anyway here again we have the clear promotion of open hardware, which is not so common as a meta-level agenda in AM studies.


Wittbrodt, B. T., Glover, A. G., Laureto, J., Anzalone, G. C., Oppliger, D., Irwin, J. L., Pearce, J. M., 2013. Life-cycle economic analysis of distributed manufacturing with open-source 3-D printers. Mechatronics 23 (6), 713−726.


And there we have it right in the title: open source 3D printers. This is published as a Technical Note in this journal and is described as a “life-cycle economic analysis (LCEA) of RepRap technology for an average US household”. They took 20 designs from Thingiverse and after some numerical wizardry concluded that the household in question could save hundreds to thousands of dollars a year if they printed this stuff (a razor, a spoon rest, a phone dock, a phone case, shower curtain rings etc etc) instead of buying it. Again it is interesting to read for the plethora of positive scenarios they spin about distributed open source 3D printers, if not the results of the study itself.


Tabone, M. D., Cregg, J. J., Beckman, E. J., Landis, A. E., 2010. Sustainability metrics: life cycle assessment and green design in polymers. Environmental Science & Technology 44 (21), 8264−8269.


This is not about Additive Manufacturing per se, rather polymers, but it’s worth a check to see a summary of 12 polymers and the authors’ summaries of them – regarding their environmental impact (via LCA) and compliance with “green design principles” (12 Principles of Green Chemistry and 12 Principles of Green Engineering).

For instance, for the biopolymers they studied, the materials’ production resulted “in the highest impact in 5 of the 10 categories: ozone depletion, acidification, eutrophication, carcinogens, and ecotoxicity”. The biopolymers also “adhere well to several green design principles: the use of renewable and regional resources, low emissions of carcinogens, and low emissions of particulates”. However some of the fossil-fuel-feedstock polymers fared surprisingly well compared to the bio-based materials: “Polyolefins (PP, LDPE, HDPE) rank 1, 2, and 3 in the LCA rankings. Complex polymers, such as PET, PVC, and PC place at the bottom of both ranking systems.” It is therefore not a foregone conclusion that using PLA in your printer is clearly the environmental choice, due to the problems with how it’s produced.

As we saw above with the study on “distributed recycling”, maybe makers should also get involved in the sustainable ‘growing’ and production of their own biobased plastics, avoiding petroleum fertilizers. Could give whole new meaning to being “off-grid”. We could set up a village network. I’ll grow the potatoes for people food and use the waste to make PLA, and I’ll trade you a bundle of filaments for some cloth that someone has woven from linen – derived from the flax field next door. I guess these fields will be on the roofs of our blocks of flats / apartment buildings. And, depending on how much the sea level has risen by then, it’s possible that I have to transport that filament to you by boat. Luckily I live on the third floor of my building.


Facets of the Maker Movement: repair, fix and hack

When I tell people I’m researching environmental issues in Fab Labs, there is often a mysterious response: “are you being ironic?” Um, no… why?

I’m not sure I understand this reaction. Is it because people see Fab Labs as just obsessed with gadgets, technology driven, focused only on pumping out plastic Yodas and weird electronic contrivances? Well, that is certainly a visible part of makerspaces, and we’d be right to start examining what we are doing in Fab Labs and why. I know I’m not the only one who’d like to see a way to pop that plastic blob that didn’t work back into an extruder, make a new filament out of it, and feed it back into the printer. If I were a coder I’d come up with a solution that could scan a piece of ply or acrylic that has bits laser cut out of it – already while it is sitting in the laser cutter – and then help me plan a new cut so any small pieces I need can come from the parts that will otherwise go to waste. Maybe this already exists somewhere.

But back to my question: what are you comparing, exactly, if it becomes “ironic” to talk about environmentally-conscious making, especially considering the extreme low volumes of material flow in and out of makerspaces? So desktop 3D printers tend to produce a lot of plastic waste, but does focusing on that allow us to ignore the amount of crap that gathers dust on shelves in discount stores, “dollar stores”, or “pound-saver” or “euro-saver” shops? Or consumer products that end up in landfill – whether it is post-consumer waste or pre-consumer waste that never even gets to the shops? What if the comparison is rather the choice between experimenting with fabrication in a makerspace and spending all day in a shopping mall / shopping centre (to which you drove in your private car, of course)? Or doing a workshop in a Fab Lab where you learn to make your own mobile phone, maybe instead of buying a new one? These comparisons are not entirely fair either, but sometimes I get the impression that some believe makerspaces will take people away from making things with their hands. 3D printing is wasteful because people will just go crazy and print out all kinds of plastic rubbish in some experimental frenzy, just because they can – instead of what – their usual routine of sitting by the fire and carving their own cutlery? Yeah, right. I do still contend that the enemy of DIY and handcraft is not digital fabrication but rather the anonymity and cheap prices of mass produced products – and that has been the case for more than one hundred years. Know thine enemy.

So isn’t the route to happiness for all our camps to support handcraft and DIY via makerspaces as an alternative to consumerism and shopping? And to promote craft and artisan skills in the makerspace alongside the digital fabrication skills? This is already happening, partly via the repair movement, which I will get to in a minute. But before I do, let’s get back to this question of irony, attitudes to environmental sustainability, and makers’ and designers’ motivations.

A rather similar topic is “Sustainable Fashion”, which a lot of my colleagues are active in. They also have to always justify this expression and nod their heads: “Oh, yes, yes, what an oxymoron, ‘sustainable’ and ‘fashion’ just don’t go together, yes, yes.” Meanwhile, they have a more accurate and profound understanding of the term ‘fashion’ and its role as a cultural and social phenomenon – which differs from our understanding of ‘fad’. And they know their enemy is “fast fashion” in particular and not the entirety of the thousands of years of human history related to how we chose to clothe ourselves, represent our identities, our cultures, our social class in apparel.

Let’s continue and imagine that our knee-jerk reaction is still to assume that ‘fashion’ just means trendy, faddish, short-term clothes buying and disposal. Clearly unsustainable, right? Well – doesn’t that make it even more important that we figure out how to make it more sustainable? If it is an oxymoron, or an ironic statement, why does it mean something not worth doing?

If Fab Labs are just techy playgrounds and a breeding ground for 3D printers and their reckless offspring, and considering how fast makerspaces are spreading, the DIY and maker movement getting more media attention, and how quickly digital fabrication technologies are developing, shouldn’t we study the environmental issues in making sooner rather than later?

I follow quite a few of the usual maker suspects on Twitter, and particularly the commercial entities’ tweets tend to confirm that tech driven image of the maker movement. The incessant focus on 3D printing in the mass media doesn’t help. What is easily forgotten, though, is why people get into making in the first place: it is often because they are seeking an alternative to mass production and consumerism – and often this is intertwined with environmental consciousness. Click on this link and see how the P2P Foundation defines the Maker Movement. See? Did that surprise you? Did you know that it is “about reusing and repairing objects, rather than discarding them to buy more”? And now do you understand why I find it puzzling that “environment” and “Fab Lab” should be seen as an oxymoron? A Fab Lab might not precisely be “a philosophical idea about what ownership really is”, but it is definitely about giving people the means of developing – and understanding – their own tech rather than just giving them tech. (See Gershenfeld’s book Fab.)

This ethos of the maker movement seems easily lost in the hullabaloo around additive manufacturing, so some writers do feel the need to remind us:

We Need a Fixer (Not Just a Maker) Movement, in Wired

Design for repair: empowering consumers to fix the future, in The Guardian

When recycling is the second-best option, on BBC.

Repair events are spreading from space to space and city to city, and they are notable because they attract a much wider audience than just the hardcore makers and hackers. Protospace in Calgary offered repair events after the city’s big floods last year so people could salvage their electronics. (I’m looking forward to visiting Protospace next month.)

Helsinki’s Trashlab offers a repair event every month in collaboration with the city library, and this is also attracting larger and larger crowds and a lot of media attention. Today, in fact it will be on a consumer programme on TV (they were filming last week) – later available on Areena (in Finnish, viewable only in Finland). So far I have only had clothes to fix, something I could also do at home, but I bring them to Trashlab because it’s much more fun to darn socks when you can chat to friends. Such activity does not always need digital fabrication equipment but sometimes it might come in handy if one needs to make a spare part or component that is trickier to do by hand or has tolerances best met with digital help.

In Fixing therefore I argue we see all kinds of benefits and issues in the maker movement come together: the problems with consumer products and their planned obsolescence, the value of a shared makerspace where people can come together to socialize while learning something, and the advantages of combining digital fabrication capability with electronics knowledge with hand skills. Most importantly, this is how these heroes choose to spend their time. So what if it is quicker to just buy another replacement product? It is so much more rewarding for the fixer to help someone with their broken product, and test their own skills, and for the fixee to learn how something can be repaired and be able to keep what may be a treasured object. And I believe this time is the most valuable currency. It may even turn out to be insurance against the rebound effect in our quest to dematerialize our economies.

More on MIT-Fablab Norway

Last year I was blogging for Aalto University’s Living+ site (connected with the World Design Capital events), and I wrote this post on one of the first Fab Labs ever created, the one in Lyngen, Norway. (See this one too.)

Earlier this year a fellow Fab Lab researcher was also there, and she wrote about her experience and interview with Haakon here (in French).

I’d like to reproduce the text here in English; the translation is imperfect and stiff in places and may contain errors. I’ll correct them as I find them!

See the original site for nice photos as well as the links (I didn’t include the links in the translation):


and see more images here:

http://makehackfab.tumblr.com/archive under ‘juin 2013’

(extra note made on 2 Oct: Camille says the Strabic site is temporarily down but back up soon)


MIT FabLab Norway: where it all began

MIT FabLab Norway is one of the few FabLabs in the world to include the MIT acronym in its own name. Its birth in 2003 involves a motley evolution of a farm at the edge of the Lyngen Fjord, engaging leading researchers in engineering from Boston and local and rural development of artificial insemination techniques on sheep. Let’s return to the early hours of MIT FabLab Norway with Haakon Karlsen Jr., one of the pillars of the movement.

Above the Arctic Circle

Getting to MIT FabLab Norway requires a long journey from Oslo to Tromsø and finally Lyngen. It is a great, long chalet, on a large plot whose entrance is flanked by two flags: those of the region and the United States. It is surrounded by smaller buildings for accommodation. Each year about 600 people pass through the door of the FabLab.

When we arrive, around 21.oo, it’s raining lightly. We put our bags in the entrance of the FabLab, take off our raincoats and shoes, and meet Haakon Karlsen Jr., his wife Gunn and the little dog Junior. Two other women are in the kitchen and out of the oven has just come a huge plate of fish caught that morning in the fjord. Without further ado, we are asked to sit for dinner. Haakon is seated on one of the chairs designed specially by Jens Dyvik, a globe-trotting young designer who recently did a world tour of FabLabs doing projects here and there.

Haakon is a gentleman in his early sixties. He was born here and, after training as an engineer, spent his youth working with sheep insemination in the region of his family farm, which is located just down from the FabLab. He’s an unmissable figure in the region; he has also been successively a teacher and farmer. He owns several houses and land at the edge of the fjord. For ten years he’s been a pillar of the FabLab movement whose contours he’s contributed to drawing in collaboration with MIT.

The vast vault of the FabLab gives the effect of a strange chapel, in which we talk softly, silence is allowed, and the sound of the wind is heard blowing gently outside, where the light in summer never fades.

“The first FabLab in the world is here!”
Interview with Haakon Karlsen Jr

Strabic: Let’s go back a little before the creation of the FabLab. What determined your involvement in this project?

Haakon Karlsen Jr: It all started a little before the year 2000. There were many diseases and it was necessary to boost growth in some herds. In 1994, the Norwegian government was asked to establish a laboratory for artificial insemination of sheep, deer and goats. With some farmers and shepherds in the region, we got surprising success rates of up to 94% instead of the usual 10%. We quickly realized this was due to two farmers we were working with who knew their animals well and knew how to inseminate at the exact moment of ovulation. To succeed, it was necessary to know when the females were in heat. I suggested that we imagine for ourselves a technical tool to measure hormones.

It was the meeting point between a pragmatic necessity on the farm and your engineering skills …

Yes! We tried to detect different hormones to see what could be learned. We finally developed a small machine that captured the temperature and sent a message to warn the farmer about the time of ovulation. It was based on the female brain activity curves. Then we created a program to educate shepherds about the tool. Later, with farmers, we thought about a possible use for the rest of the year. So we put an accelerometer in our little machine to capture the movements of the sheep. To test this feature, we created a system that calls home after fifteen minutes of inactivity for the sheep, saying, “I’m dead”. We then put in a GPS, which allowed us to get the geographical coordinates of the sheep sent to the farmers. The Electronic Shepherd project was born as well: it helps locate flocks of sheep in the mountains to protect the animals from wolves or unstable ground.

The FabLab did not exist yet, but you had the electronic equipment?

We worked in the laboratory, on the farm. It had everything to do welding … That’s where we got the idea for the sheep phone. But it was difficult to get the signal from the mountains to the farms. We worked with Telenor (a Norwegian telecommunications company) for one year.

It was with this project through the National Science Foundation Grant that MIT spotted you …

There was an innovation competition launched by MIT globally to develop local projects. MIT sent some of its best teachers to Norway to find a suitable cooperation project. They found us through Telenor, who told them: “There is this crazy guy lost in the fjord who devised sensors for his animals ….” We enjoyed a great year of cooperation with MIT in 2001 and we were invited to Boston to present and develop this project …

Who was part of the project team?

Jurgen my son who works at the firm and myself. It was fantastic, but after years of collaboration we had to terminate the project. We had a discussion at MIT in Boston and we decided to do something to further enable this kind of adventure, something we would call … a FabLab. A Fabrication Laboratory. The decision was taken on 18 October 2002, I remember. We first decided to launch three FabLabs. One in Pune with a man named Kalbag, from Vigyan Ashram, south of Mumbai, and another in a poor neighborhood of Boston called South End Technology Center, with Mel King. And the third here in Norway.

What was the project, when you first spoke of what a FabLab could be?

At first we did not really know what we were doing. The definition at MIT was “rapid prototyping”. But since then, things have changed and other places are born with other definitions. In my opinion many FabLabs now exist that just have the name FabLab … My definition? “A global network of people who want to work together and share their knowledge.” That’s all.

Who was at the table when the word FabLab was spoken for the first time?

In my memory there was Gershenfeld, Kalbag, Mel King and me. Mel King is an old fellow who was a professor at MIT and Kalbag was an old Indian who had many projects in the community. He came into contact with MIT through links with the Indian government. A bit like here, he had created a local system for watering different plantations and was spotted by MIT. Melvin King is a very special man, who has been fighting for human rights. His FabLab has an interesting history. It was located in a very poor neighbourhood of Boston. Mel had pitched many tents in the city, he called it “Tent City”. After a few years of struggle, Mel King and his followers won the battle and built apartments for the poor, who still live there. This is a fantastic man who is 94 years old now.

Advancing in time gradually … How did the complete installation of MIT FabLab Norway come to be on this land?

In 2004, we built this house. All equipment came from Boston, free. Why here? Good question, ultimately. We must ask Gershenfeld or Sherry Lassiter. Initially, the Lab was down on the farm. I am not an architect, but I made all the plans. When the house was built, we installed all the machines here. Then MIT sent other machines and some students. Neil came, his wife, his twins, as well as Sherry Lassiter and Amy Sun. Engineers, researchers, who were there to install the machines with my son and me. It was great.

How long did it last, this first introduction? How did it go?

At first they stayed three weeks. And they came back several times. They then went elsewhere, to go to other places. They travelled a lot. Everywhere. But they always say: the Norwegian FabLab is really special. It was not only done for MIT students, it was a very big project, to see how we could change the world …

FabLab as a “community centre”

Haakon now believes his FabLab is more of a “community centre” than a place for prototyping: “It has even held a wedding celebration!” The layout of machines, tables and workstations in the main room of the chalet can be seen immediately. All technology is now on the periphery of the place, on the sides, along the walls. In the centre, a large meeting table and videoconferencing, a huge fireplace, several dining tables and chairs occupy the space. The open kitchen is itself important. Haakon jokes:
“When Neil Gershenfeld of MIT came to see the finished chalet and saw the kitchen, he told me that it was useless, that I had made a mistake, that it was not planned! The result proved that I was right. A FabLab is people, not just machines.”

Coffee, various teas, muesli, biscuits – and aquavit – are available. There are plenty of tables, some of which are there to accommodate any visitors who want to stay in the area for a few days to go hiking or other outdoor activities. The FabLab at the moment is a kind of lodging as well as a place for prototyping and manufacturing. This is precisely what guarantees a good part of its funding.

When FabLabs go green

Symptomatic of the state of friction between the rural and technological worlds, the huge digital milling machine is not in the main FabLab chalet: it was installed on the farm. It is hidden behind a door in a small shed at the back of a cluttered barn, from whose ceiling a wooden kayak is suspended.

In winter, when the sheep return, they rub against the milling machine in a great disorder. The milling machine does not give the impression of being used regularly. Access is difficult, the room is not arranged. Although Haakon does not confirm it directly to us, this machine is fairly representative of the level of daily activity in MIT FabLab Norway. It is mainly in the Boot Camps that are held or during the international workshop sessions that this place is really effervescent.

A video shows precisely what the FabLab is like in operation: one sees particularly Gershenfeld, perched on a mezzanine, slumped on a bench working with his computer on his stomach.

There is also Tomas Diez and Alex Schaub, from FabLab Barcelona and Amsterdam Waag FabLab respectively, isolated in this large wooden temple in the fjord and conducting several projects.

The rest of the time is definitely more like the days that we have experienced: the machines are stopped, Haakon is sometimes at home and sometimes in the FabLab at the computer, and people come to drink coffee, keep abreast of the status of the herds, or fix something.

In some respects, Haakon Karlsen’s story may seem far removed from MIT’s official version. At Fab9 – the large annual meeting of FabLabs held in Tokyo in late August – we were able to interview Sherry Lassiter about it: “Haakon is a great storyteller, what he says is not false but he surely has his own way of presenting things.” The FabLabs, in the narrative of their genealogy, appear as objects with multiple versions and multiple interpretations, in which the heroes are not necessarily the same …

Article written and interview conducted by Camille Bosqué.