The makerspace has been a growing trend over the past couple of decades in cities around the world, from Amsterdam to Schenzhen, Boston to Berlin. Part start-up incubator, part artist studio and part co-working space, makerspaces are where, coders, designers, craftspeople, hobbyists and entrepreneurs share facilities and state-of-the-art equipment, such as laser cutters and 3D printers, to invent, research and experiment.
So far, so cool and so trendy. But the maker space is much more than just a trend, and more than just a place where hobbyists can tinker with things for fun. They are places where everything from smart devices to renewable-energy power stations can be created, developed and brought to market.
How makerspaces show cities how to be circular.
They could also be a blueprint for the future of work, and the future of cities. By developing shorter, more local supply chains and more efficient, ‘circular’ production processes, maker spaces could help make cities smarter – and even help in the fight against climate change.
It all began in the US in the 2000s, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Centre for Bits and Atoms. Soon, similar spaces based on this model – known as Fab Labs – started to spring up elsewhere, and there are thousands of Fab Labs worldwide.
The rise of urban makerspace ‘villages’.
Then there are urban clusters, like the “Maker Mile” in London, a one-mile radius of makerspaces in the east of the city, a district with a long history of manufacturing. Occupying buildings that would once have been brickworks and potteries are now tech start-ups, photography workshops, a ‘hacker space’, a printmaker and a whole assortment of studios where members of the public can sign up to use the 3D printers, enlargers and lathes. The emphasis is on sharing – of ideas and knowledge as well as space and equipment, with chance meetings over the coffee machine leading to fruitful collaborations.
Out of the Maker Mile have come enterprises such as Opendesk, an online furniture store where customers choose what they want online and they’re matched with the closest manufacturer, which then fabricates the product. This cuts out the logistics, shortens the supply chain, and in so doing, cuts carbon emissions.
From local neighbourhood to world stage.
Urban makerspace clusters like these can also have a huge positive impact on the local economy, creating jobs, bringing in investment and designing services that are tailored exactly to the needs of the community.
They act as laboratories that can prototype a circular model – where there is zero waste, everything is re-used or recycled, and energy use and emissions are cut – at a city level.
And once these ideas are shown to work at city level, they can go on be embraced at national and regional and, theoretically, a global level. Makerspaces are, for this reason, the spaces to watch.