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Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Media and Culture Studies

Aurlie GHALIM Supervisor: M.J. DIETER


This thesis, based on an ethnographic approach, investigates personal fabrication. Fab Labs or FABrication LABoratories, introduced as facilities where you can make (almost) anything, are small-scale workshops for digital fabrication and rapid-prototyping. Fab Lab that are inscribed in the maker subculture and based upon open design principles and commons-based peer production, first emerged in MITs Center for Bits and Atoms in 2001. Since then, many labs have scaled geographically and the present study explores Fab Lab Amsterdam. Fabbing practices are described in depth in three chapters: 1. Fabbing: Personalization and Networking 2. Materiality of the Maker Revolution 3. Openness.

Keywords: Fab Lab, open design, personal fabrication, Rapid prototyping, CNC machine tools, commons-based peer production, DIY, open source hardware, maker subculture, mass customization, Pro-Ams

Table of Contents

Introduction ............................................................................................................................................5 1 Fabbing: Personalization and Networking ......................................................................... 14 1.1 Atoms Are the New Bits .................................................................................................................... 18 1.2 Machine Tools that Make (almost) Anything ............................................................................ 22 1.3 Fabrication Laboratories: a growing trend ............................................................................... 26 Method: .................................................................................................................................................. 35 2 Materiality of the Maker Revolution ..................................................................................... 38 2.1 Digital Fabrication: a new trend in DIY culture ....................................................................... 38 2.2 The Maker Subculture ...................................................................................................................... 40 2.3 Making a Community ........................................................................................................................ 46 2.4 Making Architecture, Art and Fashion ........................................................................................ 50 2.5 From Do it Yourself (DIY) to Do it Together (DIT) .................................................................. 55 3 Openness ........................................................................................................................................ 59 3.1 Open Design ......................................................................................................................................... 60 3.2 Limits of Openness............................................................................................................................. 65 3.3 Distributed Education....................................................................................................................... 66 Discussion: Towards New Developments in Fab Labs? ......................................................... 70 Conclusion............................................................................................................................................. 72 Works Cited .......................................................................................................................................... 73 Appendix................................................................................................................................................ 77

Fab Labs or FABrication LABoratories, introduced as facilities where you can make (almost) anything, are these new trendy places that get a lot of coverage on the net these days. These laboratories are part of the very hip do it yourself (DIY), do it together (DIT) or do it with others (DIWO) concepts, shared among a community of hobbyists called the makers. A Fab Lab is a small-scale laboratory for digital fabrication and rapid-prototyping that houses shared computer controlled machine tools and 3D printers. It was first launched in 2001 in MITs Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) to investigate the following suit of digital revolution, in researching digital fabrication, with the goal to develop programmable molecular assemblers1. Since then, a worldwide network of small-scale Fab Labs2 is growing rapidly both in remote areas and in big cities of the planet. The very concept of fabbing or digital fabrication implies the access to means of production. A new class of geeks the makers is now developing around the notion of shaping things, and in doing so blurs the line between artist and industrial designer as well as code and artefacts3. These hackers engage with rapid prototyping, which is a group of techniques used to quickly fabricate a scale model of a physical or assembly three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) data4. This method refers to 3D printing to create 3D objects or physibles5, a new category of physical objects made from digital files. Another important technique to mention is Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine tools using computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs. The development of Personal 3D printers and Personal CNC, based on the analogy of Personal Computer, enable hobbyists to build their own machine and have it at home or in their garage (homebrew fabrication). The era of the makers is
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Fab Lab FAQ, Fab Central,, Accessed June 17, 2012. CBA assembled millions of dollars in machines for research in digital fabrication. A Fab Lab outside of MIT houses from 25 000 to 50 000 dollars in equipment. 3 Smith, G., "Means of Producation: Fabbing and Digital Art", Rhizome, March 4, 2009,, Accessed July 28, 2012. 4 Rapid prototyping, Wikimedia Foundation, 2012,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 5 Physible is a new content category design or plan for 3D printers- introduced by the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay on January 13, 2012.

then characterized by the emergence of a new class of tinkerers who enjoy engineering-oriented activities, using state-of-the-art machine tools such as 3D printers and CNC tools, but also show a vivid interest in arts and crafts. The process of fabbing an object emerged from the open source movement notably with the development of open source hardware and the raise of commonsbased peer production. Linked to the counterculture and similar to hackerspaces, Fab Labs share core capabilities specific tools that enable people to realize and share their projects - and core ideals such as open design, open access, mass customization, collaborative work, distributed creativity and sustainability to name a few. Fab Labs are inscribed in the maker subculture in constituting workshops for digital fabrication and are part of the shared culture mindset; Fab Labs must be free and open to the public, subscribe to the Fab Charter and has its text on display on site and web site. In return, participants are expected to contribute to documentation and instruction. Such obligations comply with commons-based peer production principles: learning from peers and sharing documentation. Finally, it is highly important to contribute and cooperate to a global Fab Labs network. The following definition summarises quite clearly the very idea of Fab Lab, a vision shared among Fab users and enthusiasts: [Fab Lab is] a worldwide hub of open design spaces and facilities where you can make (almost) anything. Fablabs connect digital craftsmanship with open source machines for digital fabrication. The underlying open design principles make it possible to easily share and reuse designs and blueprints over the Internet. This turns Fablabs into a networked structure for global collaborative design and production, sharing of knowledge, and economic growth6 However, each Fab Lab has its own identity depending on the category of users, location of the lab itself and the type of institution or initiative that is behind the opening of the lab. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grassroots research7. The first Fab Labs were settled to help community life in rural areas, providing

Heer, de K., "Hypercraft Economy: bottoms-up for innovation!", Waag Society, August 3, 2012,, Accessed August 3, 2012. 7 Fab Lab FAQ, Fab Central, op.cit.

inhabitants with tools in order to design things and technologies they need. The idea to open such a facility that gives access to digital fabrication got very popular and many Fab Labs have opened these past few years in urban areas, located in industrialized countries. Fab Labs can be viewed as a disruptive technology, which aims at disturbing a traditional market structure and changing manufacturing. Israeli designer Ronen Kadushin who developed an open design method that enables users to download, copy and modify his products, argues in this sense. According to Kadushin, a revolution in product development, production and distribution is imminent due to the Internets disruptive nature and the easy access to CNC machines8. Open design, based on open source software principles, is considered as an important and recent development in creative industry. Accelerated by digitization and digital communication, open design challenges not only the role of designer itself but also todays market-driven culture. As a consequence of the above-described evolution, it has become impossible to make a clear distinction between professional and amateur in the field of digital production (computer programming, music, film, photography). So a new concept, the professional amateurism is now currently used: Pro Ams are networked amateurs working with professional standards, who now contribute to the production of tangible artefacts as well. The American economist, Jeremy Rikfin, argues that the conjunction of the Internet communication technology and renewable energies is giving rise to what he defines as a Third Industrial Revolution. In the article, The Third Industrial Revolution: How the Internet, Green Electricity, and 3-D Printing are Ushering in a Sustainable Era of Distributed Capitalism9, Rifkin argues that not only individuals can produced their own virtual information and energy but also be their own manufacturer, which represents a new economical shift in democratizing

Kadushin, R., Products in a Networked Culture, CIS.doc #04. Open Design, Creative Industries Styria, Creative Industries Conventions 2011,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 9 Rifkin, J, "The Third Industrial Revolution: How the Internet, Green Electricity, and 3-D Printing are Ushering in a Sustainable Era of Distributed Capitalism", The World Financial Review,, Accessed June 17, 2012.

manufacturing10. Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is regarded as a revolutionary technology that would greatly reduce the cost of production. Digital manufacturing combined with open source principles is increasingly viewed as an attractive market and many companies such as MakerBot Industries, Shapeways, Ponoko or eMachineShop are becoming competitive. Along with start-ups, there are a significant number of platforms (Instructables) and wikis for sharing DIY projects and design. According to Rifkin, 3D printers are the ultimate machines that can make a difference in our current market structure. In the new era, everyone can potentially be their own manufacturer as well as their own internet site and power company. The process is called 3-D printing11. According to designer Paul Atkinson, post industrial manufacturing era is characterized by the development of personal fabrication techniques and higher users involvement in design production, which subsequently question their relationship with consumer products12. In short, the industrial era was about designing products for the masses while in the post-industrial digital era, the masses themselves design their products13. In this almost sci-fi scenario describing the upcoming revolution of desktop manufacturing, Fab Labs already give access, in a small-scale, to the means of production. The present study examines how these facilities with nearly no market orientation offer an alternative to our current system of production and distribution of goods. Even though Fab Labs are only places for prototyping not suited for production these facilities challenge a closed and proprietary market structure. Fab Labs propagate the idea of empowering individuals, which is something fundamental among hackers spurred on by libertarian ideals. Fab community is pleading for bottom-up innovation and for creating new systems of trust based on users innovators: We need people who think in a cross-disciplinary manner, act like a network, and embrace technologies and creative forms of digital creation and expression14. Ultimately, the question of scalability or the organizational requirements to assist with the perpetuation of sociotechnological change is worth to investigate in Fab Lab ecology. How are Fab Labs and the
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Ibidem. Ibidem. 12 Atkinson, P., Unver, E., Marshall, J., and Dean, L.T., "Post Industrial Manufacturing Systems: the undisciplined nature of generative design", Undisciplined! Design Research Society Conference 2008, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK, 16-19 July 2008, p. 16. 13 Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., Open Design Now - Why design cannot remain exclusive, Creative Commons Netherlands; Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion; Waag Society, 2011, p. 13. 14 Heer, de K., op.cit.

makers community using multiple strategies outside a closed and proprietary market structure to appropriate the means of production and shaping things? In her Master thesis Digital Tools, Distributed Making and Design (2009), Dianne Pfeiffer who examines the changes operated in design with digital fabrication and distributed and open innovation, addresses the question of scalability and users innovation: It would be interesting to explore if whether manufacturing on a different scale, e.g. numerous smaller manufacturing facilities served be the networked communication of digital information for digital fabrication tools, might tip the economy of manufacture further in favor of user innovators as viable producers15 Fabbing initiatives interrogate new ways of creating objects conjoining old and new methods and ultimately to rekindle craft traditions. According to Atkinson, research projects such as Fab Labs explore the social impact of digital fabrication16. Therefore, Fab Labs are interesting environments to study the very concept of personal fabrication and its implications. This thesis, built on ethnography in Fab Lab Amsterdam, which is located in the heart of the metropolis, investigates the notion of scalability in a small workshop for advanced manufacturing. The participant ethnographic analysis explores Fab Lab Amsterdam environment and its community in reporting the everyday praxis of fabrication in the lab. Our conclusions are based on two weeks fieldwork. Additionally, this report is completed with the description of projects available on their website, the description of some events such as the Fab Academy Final Projects Presentation and other events held by Waag Society, the institute for art, science & technology, which founded Fab Lab Amsterdam in 2007. This thesis also analyses important and pioneering studies dedicated to the Fab Labs phenomenon, such as MIT professor Neil Gershenfelds Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication (2005) and Bas Van Abel, Lucas

Pfeiffer, D., Digital Tools, Distributed Making & Design. Thesis submitted to the faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Master of Science in Architecture. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009. 16 Atkinson, P., Unver, E., Marshall, J., and Dean, L.T, op.cit, p. 16.

Evers, Roel Klaasen and Peter Troxlers Open Design Now Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive (2011). Fab tells the stories of pioneering personal fabrication in small-scale laboratories that Gershenfeld called Fab Labs, and gives a detailed description of industrial tools for production used in digital fabrication. In order to illustrate personal fabrication, Gershenfeld created his own hello world objects with the vast range of machine tools located in CBA. Open Design Now published in 2011 by Creative Commons Netherlands - Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion - and Waag Society, is a collaborative work that examines in depth the notion of openness related to design and discusses issues of copyrights, authorships, and sustainability. It also explores topics such as materiality, peer production, users innovation, education and politics. In feature articles and cases studies17, assembled in the very first publication on open design, a team of authors explain the drive behind open design and endeavours to foresee where the movement is going. Open Design Now is licensed under the Creative Commons. Another important study concerning Fab Labs is the work of independent researcher Peter Troxler, who conducted an investigation on the Fab Lab community to examine how in commons-based peer-production of physical goods a hybrid, private-collective innovation ecology is developing18. In focusing on innovation, Troxler surveyed Fab Lab business models, interviewed Fab Lab managers and assistants about the pain and pride of their Fab Lab and finally selected a couple of Fab Labs projects. He addresses the issue of the development of open source business models for non-software products. To answer this question, Troxler chose the Fab Lab community for theoretical and practical reasons: I believe that the Fab Lab network is structurally more developed and better documented than the other communities, and the ambition of Fab Lab is clearly hybrid as stated in the Fab Lab charter. Practically, this was the community to which I had the best access, I was involved in setting up a Fab Lab in Switzerland and had looked at the Fab Lab business earlier19
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Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P, op.cit, p. 13. Toxler, P., Commonsbased peerproduction of physical goods. Is there room for a hybrid innovation ecology? presentation at the Third Free Culture Research conference (Berlin, 89 October 2010), at, Accessed June 17, 2012. 19 Ibidem.


Troxler demonstrates that even though Fab Labs have not yet developed business models borrowed from open source software, they are driven by the desire to establish hybrid innovation ecology20. In a feature article with Patricia Wolf, Bending the Rules: The Fab Lab Innovation Ecology, Troxler investigates open source innovation in examining intellectual property and licensing in the context of low-cost fabrication and commons-based peer production. Troxlers study is completed with an investigation into the business models of selected Fab Labs21. According to Troxler, literature is mainly focusing on Fab Lab users, rather than the labs and their innovation ecology22. Finally, his paper proposes a model, Fab Lab innovation ecology, which constitutes a basis for our analysis of Fab Lab Amsterdam. Regarding open source innovation beyond software research, Balka, K, Raasch, C, Herstatt launched the project to collect through their site examples of open source hardware projects. Based on this directory, they built a quantitative study on open design (OD) projects (tangible goods) with the aim to compare it to open source software (OSS). They find strong similarities between OD and OSS even though the degree of openness is higher in software development (more transparent, accessible and replicable than hardware)23. Massimo Menichinellis thesis, Reti Collaborative. Il design per una auto-organizzazione Open Peer to Peer (Collaborative Networks. Design for an Open Peer-to-Peer selforganization), is also worth mentioning. Menichelli investigated, from March 2005 to April 2006, design and community-based organizational forms. This research was conducted at the very beginning of Web 2.0. Menichinellis interest focused on the relationship between design and local dimension24. In other words, local dimension are bottom-up organizations, opposed to
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Ibidem. Toxler, P., Wolf, P., "Bending the Rules: The Fab Lab Innovation Ecology" presented at the 11th International CINet Conference (September 2010), Zurich,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 22 Ibidem. 23 Balka, K, Raasch, C, Herstatt, C, 'Open source beyond software: An empirical investigation of the open design phenomenon'. Paper presented at the R&D Management Conference 2009, Feldafing near Munich, Germany, 14-16 October 2009,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 24 Menichinelli, M., Collaborative Networks. Design for an Open Peer-to-Peer Self-Organization, Master Degree Thesis, Politecnico di Milano Facolt del Design tutor Ezio Manzini, 2004/2005,,


traditional organizations (top-down), built on open source, free software and P2P principles. Menichinelli also launched a community-centered design blog,, for studying open source design and developing metadesign projects25. Pfeiffers thesis is concentrates on design and describes how design is evolving with socialtechnological changes, notably trends in making and digital fabrication. Pfeiffer points the lack of literature on digital fabrication related to design (compared to architecture) and advocates for the need of a better discourse. Pfeiffer includes examples of digital fabrication on the periphery of design and her own experiments and projects. A recent publication on Fab Labs community, Fab Labs. Tour d'horizon, offers an analysis of different Fab Labs visited in The Netherlands, Spain and the West Coast of the United States during 201126. This fieldwork, conducted in collaboration with students from Centrale Paris, presents a typology of Fab Labs and characteristics of fabbing principles. Further research (travel diaries and fact sheets) are available in the Fing website (Fondation Internet Nouvelle Gnration). This study is divided into three chapters: Fabbing: Personalization and Networking Materiality of the Maker Subcutlure Openness. The first chapter, Fabbing: Personalization and Networking first examines individualised production made possible with digital fabrication and personal fabrication techniques. How Rapid Prototyping and CNC machine tools enable users to fabricate their own things. Fabbing details the historical narrative of the emergence of Fab Labs and their network. From a laboratory equipped with industrial machine tools in MIT to the establishment of pilot Fab Labs in rural India, Costa Rica, northern Norway, inner-city Boston and Ghana. The next chapter Materiality of the Maker Subculture looks at the community of makers and DIY activities in the creation of engineering-oriented objects. We see how Pro-Ams appropriate not only the means of production but also manufacturing knowledge.
collaborative-networks-1-1/, Accessed June 17, 2012. Metadesign for Open Systems, Processes, Projects. Studying and enabling Design for Open, Collaborative and Complex systems since 2005,,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 26 Eychenne, F., Fab Labs. Tour d'horizon,,,866&lang=fr, Accessed June 17, 2012.


The final chapter, Openness, addresses the question of openness and discusses it in relation to design. Open design is the philosophy behind fabbing practices. We conclude the third chapter on distributed education with a description of the Fab Academy. At the end of this paper, appendixes are divided into three categories: Space Projects Events. It is collection of pictures presenting Fab Lab Amsterdam (Space), Fab practice (Projects) and Fab community (Events).


Fabbing: Personalization and Networking

Fab Lab Amsterdam is located in the heart of the city on the first floor of a 15th century building. Founded in 2007, this fabrication laboratory is hosted by Waag Society a non-profit institute for art, science & technology. Its 80 m2 is enough to house the lab itself with a small milling machine (fig.13), 3D printer (fig.2, 3, 8, 9, 18, 19), vinyl cutter (fig.6) and embroidery machine (fig.5) plus electronic tools (fig.14) and a big screen for video conferencing. There are couple of big tables to work on it. Another small room is linked up to the main lab where we find a big milling machine (ShopBot) (fig.12) and a laser cutter, which are the biggest tools. Most of Fab Labs houses a ShopBot - a type of big milling machine located in a single room for safety matters. It produces a lot of wood shaving and a vacuum has to be connected to the machine. The laser cutter is also located in this small part where we find computers connected to it and to the ShopBot as well. A Laser Cutting Materials/Settings Reference Guide hangs on the wall and has been made with the laser cutter. The idea was to use all the different types of materials that can be cut and/or engraved on the laser cutter. One can read on the inscription: Materials that CANNOT be cut or engraved: Steel and non-ferro materials such as aluminium, brass, copper and PVC In the main lab, on the wall next to the screen, there are parts of the Low Cost Prosthesis project (fig.4) an open source lower leg prosthetic with production costs below $50 with a detailed explanation (stickers made with the vinyl cutter) just below. We also read that is collaboration between Waag Society and House of Natural Fiber (HONF), which is a new media art laboratory in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Other objects found in the room remind past projects such as a paper bra, a paper dress (fig.17) and a swimsuit (fig.7) put on a model next to the embroidery machine. On another wall, there are many tools (screwdrivers, hammers) hanging. This storage board was created in Fab Lab. The design of working tools was done in Adobe Illustrator with the tracing option and then printed with the vinyl cutter. The image had to 14

resemble as much as possible to the actual tools therefore you can place all of them to the right place. An Ultimaker 3D printer is placed on a table with a stock of three or four different colours of plastic roll. The Ultimaker is a small and low cost DIY 3D printer using FFF technology (Fused Filament Fabrication) with thermoplastic extrusion. There is a table with a lot of electronic tools and a small milling machine. Finally, we find couple of books with titles like: Digitallink Digital Design and Advertising, Analogue Interfacing to Embedded Microprocessors, Linux Cookbook Practical Advice for Linux Users and System Administrator, How to Construct Rietveld Furniture, Materials for Inspirational Design or Model Making. On the big screen we can observe what is going on in other Fab Labs worldwide since they also take part to this videoconferencing system. There is a small kitchen too where we always find a lot of coffee and tea available. There is a table soccer (Fab Foos) built by Alex Schaub (Fab Lab Manager) whose players are Michelangelos David character (fig.11). It is an open source table soccer game with two webcams, audio response, and electronic counter system. The goal was to built the entire table using the machines of the Fablab27, writes Alex on Fab Lab projects page. People are working in the lab while listening to music. There is a very relax and cool atmosphere that reigns in the place. The other part or the non-laboratory part is called the Zuidlab where either Waag Society employees are working or where conferences and events are held and sometimes Fab Academy class too. We find a table and chairs (fig.10) designed by Jens Dyvik who is a designer using an open and sharing design approach. On the second floor, there is the Theatrum Anatomicum where the Waag organizes events and the Fab Academy Final Projects Presentation takes place. Many components have been made in the lab such as shelving for the electronics corner or portraits of interns on the wall, called the wall of flame (fig.20): their faces are engraved on wood using the laser engraving technique. A vinyl cutter (fig.6) is on a chest of drawers, which is an example of press-fit construction. This stand with parts connected to each other by press fit only

Schaub, A., Fab Foos, Fablab projects, February 25, 2011,, Accessed July 28, 2012.


was built for the CAMM 1 GX-24 Vinyl Cutter with the idea to use no glue or nails. It is decorated with vinyl patterns. One of the main principles of fabbing ecology is to replace over time the components of the labs with new components made in the labs and eventually makes Fab Labs totally self-reproducing. One important feature that was also made in the lab is the Fab Charter (fig.1) engraved in a wooden door with the ShopBot. According to Fab Lab policy, the Charter text has to be displayed somewhere in the lab and on the website. It is a general set of guidelines that all Fab Labs worldwide must share: Mission: fab labs are a global network of local labs, enabling invention by providing access for individuals to tools for digital fabrication. Access: you can use the fab lab to make almost anything (that doesnt hurt anyone); you must learn to do it yourself, and you must share use of the lab with other uses and users. Education: training in the fab lab is based on doing projects and learning from peers; youre expected to contribute to documentation and instruction. Responsibility: youre responsible for: Safety: knowing how to work without hurting people or machines Cleaning up: leaving the lab cleaner than you found it Operations: assisting with maintaining, repairing, and reporting on tools, supplies, and incidents Secrecy: designs and processes developed in fab labs must remain available for individuals use although intellectual property can be protected however you choose Business: commercial activities can be incubated in fab labs but they must not conflict with open access, they should grow beyond rather than within the lab, and they are expected to benefit the inventors, labs, and networks that contribute to their success. Drafted August 30, 200728 Fab Lab Amsterdam has open days (open lab days) every Tuesday and Thursday. On these days, participants can use for free the equipment that they have previously booked online. They must documents their work and share their knowledge. For commercial use, there is a charge per hour to use exclusively equipment and space during office hours (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). For individuals, the charge is 75 per hour (and 50 for non-profit

The Fab Charter,, Accessed June 17, 2012.


project) and if groups want to hire the lab for a (half) day the cost is from 200 to 140029. In the description of Fab Lab Amsterdam, we can first highlight the interest of participants in Arts and Crafts since it is a top priority to make in DIY manner components of the lab in the lab itself. From a Fab perspective, there is a demand in a renewed understanding for craftsmanship in relation to the design and production principles of the 21st Century30. Arts and Crafts movement was a direct reaction against the industrial world of the late 19th Century31 and advocated to a return to personalized creation craft. We observe in the lab a juxtaposition of old and new techniques state-of-the-art manufacturing tools conjoining with an array of traditional tools and the desire to make unique objects. Personalization and individualization in establishing connection between the people and objects are typical elements in Fab Lab environment. Secondly, we also see the importance to build and be part of a global network, which is the reason for installing teleconferencing system. Finally, the objects found in the lab are examples of open source design. Their design are freely made available online and can be replicate anytime. Openness or open philosophy is another trend that defines Fab ecology. Personal fabrication is developed in the first chapter, Fabbing: Personalization and Networking , which details the historical narrative of fabbing initiatives and digital fabrication through the emergence of the network of field Fab Labs.

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Equipment costs, Fab Lab Amsterdam,, Accessed June 17, 2012. Heer, de K., op.cit. 31 Pfeiffer, D., op.cit, p. 28.



Atoms Are the New Bits32 The success of desktop manufacturing started with the MIT course entitled How to Make

(Almost) Anything, a collaboration between the Centre for Bits and Atoms (CBA) and Grassroots Invention Group. The professor and head of CBA, Neil Gershenfeld initiated this class with the idea to bring closer computer science and physical science33. In 2001, the famous MIT Media Lab created Center for Bits and Atoms (financed by The National Science Foundation (NSF)), which is a cross-disciplinary center, to explore how the content of information relates to its physical representation, from atomic nuclei to global networks34. The access to machine tools (prototyping tools) enables individuals to process (assemble) atoms - as they already do with bits - to shape (almost) anything, writes Gershenfeld in his book Fab The Coming Revolution on your Desktop: At the intersection of physical science and computer science, programs can process atoms as well as bits, digitizing fabrication in the same way that communications and computations were earlier digitized35 This revolution in manufacturing, also described as the Next Industrial Revolution36, is personal, which means that one can manufacture a product using a personal computer and a printer to produce three-dimensional solid objects37. Gershenfeld continues to work on the development of a theory on personal fabrication, whose first elements were already exposed in his book When Things Start to Think, published in 1999. Nowadays manufacturing machines can be compared to the first generation of computers; large and housed in specialized rooms, used by skilled operators for the industry, interesting a limited audience38. Over time, computer became smaller (with the creation of microprocessors), cheaper and more personal. Once individuals were

Anderson; C., "In the Next Industrial Revolution. Atoms Are the New Bits" Wired, Feb. 2010, , Accessed June 15, 2012. 33 Gershenfeld, N., Fab - The Coming Revolution on your Desktop - from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, Basic Books, New York, 2005. 34 Media Lab creates Center for Bits and Atoms with NSF grant, MIT News, November 28, 2001,, Accessed June 15, 2012. 35 Gershenfeld, N., (2005), op. cit 36 Anderson; C., op.cit. 37 Morris, J., "Personal Fabrication and the Future of Industrial Design, Industrial Design Sandbox, blogpost,, Accessed June 15, 2012. 38 Gershenfeld, N., When Things Start to Think, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999.


able to write programs by themselves, companies could no longer dictate the parameters of hardware and software39. Today, the objective is to do the same with big machines that shape the material products that constitute our physical environment: Big companies use big machines to make things we may not really want. Personal computing has not gone far enough: it lets us shape our digital environment, but not our physical environment. By giving computers the means to manipulate atoms as easily as they manipulate bits, we can bring the same kind of personalization to the rest of our lives40. In the 1990s, Gershenfeld went on a journey to acquire a milling machine with motors, a keyboard and one screen: something between a manual one and an industrial CN industrial milling machine41. This is how he started to promote the access to user-friendly machine tools (not mainframes-sized devices) that constitute the main ingredients of Fab Labs. These technologies usually found in the industries become accessible first via Fab Labs to the masses in the form of personal fabricators. Later on, they would become one (the Ultimate Personal Fabricator), similar to the Star Treck replicator that would copy all the molecules of any given object, and enable users to play with the physical world of atoms on their desktop: This is the dream of the personal fabricator, the PF, the missing mate to the PC. It would be the one machine that could make all your others, a practical embodiment of the perennial science-fiction staple of a universal matter output device42. Materiality here is perceived as the next step to achieve in our digital revolution. In Shaping Things, the American science fiction author, Bruce Sterling explores our environment of tangible things and the relation between objects and people. According to Sterling, we have moved from Artefacts (object made by hand) first to an infrastructure of Machines in which people are customers and secondly to an era of commercially distributed objects defined as Products. In an infrastructure of Products, people are consumers. We are currently living in a Gizmo era: highly unstable, user-alterable, baroquely multi featured objects, commonly programmable, with a brief
39 40

Ibidem. Ibidem. 41 Gershenfeld explains in When the Things Start to Think the poor state of remaining machine shops at MIT in the early 1990s. Students have embraced the digital revolution and machines tools were left neglected. 42 Gershenfeld, N., (1999), op. cit.


lifespan43. A new kind of objects, Spimes, is coming, which is defined by Sterling as: manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. Spimes begin and end as data. They are designed on screens, fabricated by digital means, and precisely tracked through space and time throughout their earthly sojourn. Spimes are sustainable, enhanceable, uniquely identifiable, and made of substances that can and will be folded back into the production stream of future Spimes44 This term coined by Sterling is the result of technosocial transformation we are now experiencing and which is the theme of this thesis. Emerging technologies and digital fabrication combined with identification and location technologies are responsible for shaping a new kind of objects that become smart parts of an interconnected web of things, similar to the emergence of the Internet45. On a cultural point of view, the need to assemble atoms through personal fabrication techniques is a response to the divide existing between our digital world and our physical world. Hardware hacking and physical computing are practices undertook to crack computer as a material black box46. This interest in materiality is a reaction to information hiding, which is a consequence of the development of WYSIWYG interfaces. What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) interfaces enable user to direct manipulation47 in giving more importance to the visual rather to the content. In this sense, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun argues that the computer that most nonvisual and nontransparent device has paradoxically fostered visual culture and transparency48. According to Chun, ideology lies where the operating system gives the illusion of rendering the invisible visible. The invention of already made software means that we do not know anything about the machine itself. What we see and know is only the interfaces. According to Alexander Galloway, in the context of ubiquitous computing we came to prefer the image rather than the reality considered being too immaterial or untouchable in the name of
43 44

Sterling, B., Shaping Things, The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2005, p. 11. Ibidem, p. 11. 45 Stikker, M., Introduction, Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., op.cit, p. 16. 46 Whitelaw, M., 'Transduction, Transmateriality and ExpandedComputing', (the teeming void) [blog post] (May 03, 2009):, Accessed June 17, 2012. 47 Chun, W., On software, or the persistence of visual knowledge in Grey Room 18, 2004, pp. 26-51. 48 Ibidem, p. 18, 2004, p. 43.


easiness: this is a large trend in software design to hide numerical encoding of data behind more privileged semantic formats such as natural language or graphics49. The anthropologist, researcher in artificial culture and computer collector Nicholas Gessler has a collection of Things That Think50, which is composed of computational devices including a nineteenth-century Jacquard loom, Danny Hilliss Connection Machine, punch cards used for weaving patterns in fabric, cryptographic devices and many other apparatuses that date back from the early history of computing. In the context of ever-increasing disappearance of materiality regarding information technologies, Gesslers media archiving of tangible objects can be seen as a reaction to this phenomenon. Computation is increasingly hidden on microchips and sealed in plastic beyond the sizzling screens of our laptops51. In How We Became Posthuman, Katherine Hayles argues that in a posthuman view, information is privileged over materiality. In cybernetic theories, the body is solely viewed as container for information. According to Hayles, these principles led to the idea of information separated from the material. The posthuman view privileges informational pattern over material instantiation, () there are no essential differences or absolute demarcation between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals52. New generations of hackers engage with materiality and their hacking practices are pursued in places like hackerspaces or open community laboratories; a term coined by Harvard professor Yochai Benkler. In the following quote, we understand that there is a recent demand to bring together digital and physical realms in hacking practices:


Galloway, A., Language wants to be overlooked: On software and ideology in Journal of visual culture. 50 Gessler borrowed the expression Things That Think from MIT program research- Things That Think - on the future of digitally augmented objects and envirnments. 51 Wertheim, M., "Things-that-Think: An Interview with Nocholas Gessler".Cabinet - A Quaterly of Art and Culture, Issue 21, Spring 2006, pp. 21-26, p. 21. 52 Hayles, K., How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp, 2-3.


Previous generations of hackers tended to be enthralled by virtual reality and flows of information. This was often felt as a longing to escape the shortcomings of corporeal and material existence. In contrast, to the new generations of hackers, bodily fluids and rusty scrapyards are their playgrounds of choice. All along, this renewed appetite for the world is pursued while honouring the ideas and methods of free software development and hacking53

The divide between the digital world and the analogue world is now challenged by a series of DIY activities that aim to the persistence of materiality such as hacking, physical computing, and media archaeology. The fabrication movement is intensifying the relation of computing and physical media towards production. Ultimately, fabbing shows how material matters54. Personal fabrication is then introduced as the possibility to shape our physical environment as we already do with our digital environment. At the end, the reunion of computing and materiality could be carry out by personal fabrication: Personal computing has not gone far enough: it lets us shape our digital environment, but not our physical environment. By giving computer the means to manipulate atoms as easily as they manipulate bits, we can bring the same kind of personalization to the rest of our lives55.


Machine Tools that Make (almost) Anything

Digital fabrication, the use of computer-controlled tools in the making of physical objects, is usually based on two methods: solid free-form fabrication and CNC (computer numerically controlled machining tools)56. Most of the following machines are usually found in Fab Labs. Computer-controlled cutting tools (CNC), introduced as subtractive cutting machines in Fab - The Coming Revolution on your Desktop, are vinyl cutters, laser cutters and CNC milling machines. Vinyl cutters are sign cutters functioning with vinyl for graphics such as stickers and can also run with copper foil (e.g. making printed circuit board, antennas), paper and other

Delfanti, A., and Sderberg, J., "Editorial Notes", Journal of Peer Production - New Perspectives on the Implications of Peer Production for Social Change,, Accessed July 17, 2012. 54 Whitelaw,M., op.cit. 55 Ibidem. 56 Pfeiffer, D, op.cit, pp. 5-6.


materials. The laser cutter is an amplifier for light57, used for cutting non-metallic sheet material such as acrylic and soft materials. This tool can serve in the elaboration of Press-fit construction kit. Press-fit construction is a way of building object without the use of adhesives or fasteners58. Other state-of-the-art tools such as the waterjet cutter can cut almost any kind of material (glass, metal, stone). The CNC mills rotate a cutting tool on three axes and can contour threedimensional shapes59. There is the small-scale one, small milling machine, which is used for 3D milling and 3D scanning as well as for circuit board milling. The big CNC mill makes big things (furniture, large carvings) on a big working area. Along with cutting tools, we have additive-fabrication technologies or solid-free fabrication60, which is a way of building things without waste (unlike subtractive cutting tools)61. Rapid prototyping and manufacturing (RP&M) tools such as 3D printers have gained a lot of popularity these past few years, mainly: firstly, they can create three-dimensional objects by laying down successive layers of material, which is a very attractive method. Secondly, a large and active open-source community has been promoting 3D printers by making them more accessible to individuals. They are cheaper, smaller and most importantly opened (ReRap, MakerBot, Ultimaker, Fab@Home). Nonetheless, these printers should not be considered as rapid prototyping, writes Gershenfeld, since it takes time to print something (from hours to days)62. According to him, another approach - equality fabrication - is much more interesting. Techniques such as vacuum forming or blow moulding simply give material a new shape. Another limitation to 3D printing lays in the difficulty to build complete working systems63. The next idea would be to use an ink-jet printer head to squirt droplets of a liquid binder onto a fine powder64 Gershenfeld adds: powders and plastic that conduct electricity can be used to deposit logic

57 58

Gershenfeld, N (2005), op.cit. Wallace, S., "Letters from the Fab Academy, Part 1", (Make Magazine), January 14, 2010,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 59 Gershenfeld, N (2005), op.cit 60 Pfeiffer, D., op. cit, p. 6 61 Gershenfeld, N., (2005), op. cit 62 Ibidem, 63 Ibidem. 64 Ibidem


circuits, motors can be made with magnetic materials, combinations of chemicals can store energy, and so forth65. For the event, World Science Festivals Innovation Square that was held in Brooklyn in June 2012, Neil Gershenfeld gave a speech with the title Whats Wrong with DIY66 during which he directed critiques towards the Maker Movement and its focus on 3D printing (although he had himself been a pioneer in DIY culture): The maker movement is pioneering a revolution in personal fabrication, but is also propagating a variety of technical misconceptions. The pioneer of 3D printing takes a step back to survey what some of these are, and discusses viable approaches to truly linking informal and formal learning67 3D printers are just machines among the long line of computer-controlled tools that are not anymore revolutionary, says Gershenfeld. According to him, the real revolution would be putting the information into the material itself68. The next phase of the digital revolution will occur into materials. Printing three-dimensional objects is a slow process, and the material properties arent great. And while 3D printing is additive versus subtractive, the materials are still analogue: instead of cutting material, you squirt material. The much bigger transition is from analogue to digital in materials. Thats the real revolution coming69. This revolution represents one of the four stages in the transition to programmable materials, says the physicist70. The first stage occurred in the 1950s when MIT connected the first computer to a milling machine (the creation of Computer-controlled machines). The next phase is characterized with machines that can make other machines71. The third one (still to come) is described as the move from analogue to digital materials. Finally, the ultimate goal is the internal programming of materials: this will enable mankind to get rid of machines.
65 66

Ibidem Mentoring Makers: Whats Wrong with DIY, World Science Festival,, Accessed June 19, 2012. 67 Ibidem 68 Hsu, J., "Why A DIY Pioneer Dislikes 3D Printing" in Live Science, 05 June 2012,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 69 Wolfe, J., Interview with Neil Gershenfeld, "The Fab-ulous Tech in Our Furture",, November 11, 2011,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 70 Ibidem 71 Machines that make machines toolheads control people The Center for Bits and Atoms, , Accessed June 17, 2012.


On the FabWiki72, we find the Equipment Portal73 divided into two sections: Core Equipment and also found in some labs. Core subtractive machining is composed of Laser Cutter, CNC Large Scale Wood Router or Soft Materials Mill, Vinyl/Sign Cutter, Precision Desktop Milling Machine. Although MIT Fab Lab page does not mention 3D printers among the list of core capabilities, FabWiki adds them in their list. DesktopFab (3D Printing Company) is mentioned as the latest example of 3D printer. However, it is also mentioned that the Ultimaker, an open source 3D printer, replaces now the DesktopFab. ReRap is another open source type of printer that can be found in Fab Labs. Embroidery machines are not part of the official list but they are many times found in the labs. Then electronics workspace must be present as well. Finally, Communications/Network system (connection with Fab Lab Video Conference Server, the Polycom or is the last requirement in equipment. There is no indication for an alternative network system besides the MIT one. In Fab Labs, these machine tools (equipment) are devices for making artefacts. Fab practices are defined by the use of this equipment and specific methods - P2P and open design principles - in the making of tangible things. Here, ethnographic approach enables to make sense of these practices in describing the architecture and tools of the laboratory. In this sense, the field of ethnography of science developed in the mid 1970s notably with Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgards Laboratory Life (1979) changed the way we perceive scientific practices. Ethnographic studies of the scientific laboratory explore scientists environment, their culture, beliefs and practices74. In their ethnography, Latour and Woolgard concentrated on the physical components of laboratories such as instruments, architectures and texts. They argue that in constructing scientific knowledge, scientists utilize inscription devices to transfer material into other forms (texts) the materiality of the process gets deleted75. In Fab Labs, CNC machines and 3D printers produce material from digital model. Contrary to scientific laboratory, materiality is valued in Fab environment. To the question How is scientific knowledge produced? Latour


FabWiki is a wiki for and by the whole fab community. Hosted by NM Kvikan,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 73 Portal Equipment, FabWiki,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 74 Law, J., After Method: Mess in Social Science Research, International Library of Sociology, Routledge, London, 2004, p. 19. 75 Ibidem, p. 20.


and Woolgard argue that reality is being constructed into scientific practices76. In the same line, we could state that Fab knowledge is constructed into Fab practices. The specificity of the environment itself, methods being used and further the whole process being described, documented and shared online are Fab practices.


Fabrication Laboratories: a growing trend

Gershenfeld pioneered a special laboratory that he named Fab Lab (FABrication LABoratory), based on the analogy between mainframes and PCs: minicomputers were the intermediate step and so will be a Fab Lab on the road to personal fabricators77. At the very beginning of the class How to Make (Almost) Anything, this MIT professor was astonished with the vivid interest of many students across the campus to attend this course. Hundreds of students (engineers, artists and architect) and many with little technical skills showed up to make their own things. The scientist realized how engineering combined with arts and crafts could attract so many people that want to make things just for the fun. The result was quite unique and unexpected: a biologist built an alarm clock that is a real challenge to turn off, a student made a computer interface for parrots, an artist created a portable personal space for screaming (the Screambody), a professor in architecture designed a Defensive Dress, a student printed a bike with the use of the waterjet and even children designed their own toys78. These creations were possible to realize with the help of diverse and state-of-the-art machine tools located in the fab class at MIT. The trouble was that, albeit this revolution was meant to be personal, not anyone could has the chance to go to MIT. Therefore, the next step was to provide mass access to these technologies.

76 77

Ibidem, p. 21. Gershenfeld, N., (2005), op.cit. 78 For a complete description of these works, see Gershenfeld, N., (2005), op.cit.


In 2002, the first Fab Labs were set up in rural India, Costa Rica, northern Norway, innercity Boston and Ghana. They are part of the project of an international network of small-scale labs, launched by the CBA to explore the implications and applications of personal fabrication79. Instead of waiting for the personal fabricator, the idea was to investigate personal fabrication with the establishment of many Fab Labs around the world. These labs were settled to remote or local areas because one of the main goals of this program was to give local and small communities access to tools that would enable them to define and tackle their own problems: instead of giving solutions, create environment so that people can find out their own solutions80. The first Fab Lab outside MIT campus was set up in Boston in the South End Technology Center at Tent City (SETC), which was initially a community center engaged in democratizing new technologies and providing free or low-cost computer training. Their core idea is to help residents move from being consumers of information to producers and creators of knowledge81. Commons-based peer production is put forward as the key in desktop manufacturing innovation. Therefore, SETC was an ideal location to set up a Fab Lab: their commitment to improve community needs with the help of computer-based technologies was in line with Gershenfeld and his teams view. Commons-based peer production is a term coined by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benklers The Wealth of Networks to describe a new model of socio-economic production made possible in networks environments: A new modality of organic production: radically decentralized, collaborative, and nonproprietary; based on sharing resources and outputs among widely distributed, loosely connected individuals who cooperate with each other without relying on either market signals or managerial commands82

79 80

Gershenfeld, N., (2005), op.cit. "Developing various small rural technology project using Fab Lab", Proposal for FAB LAB at Pabal,,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 81 Who We Are, South End Technology Center @Tent City,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 82 Benkler, Y. The Wealth of Networks. How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 60.


The first Fab Lab outside the United States was established during the summer 2002 in Cartago within the site of The Costa Rica Institute of Technology. It was part of the project Learning Independence Networks (LIN), developed earlier by Grassroots Invention Group83, to help developing nations to build their own technologies instead of importing them. Building a laboratory was the next step to work on projects in rural Costa Rica such as wireless environmental sensing modules or making models used for education and even developing a museum exhibit for the Childrens museum84. This collaboration between local actors and MIT Medial Lab participants led to the first experiment of implementing a Fab Lab. Almost at the same period, a second Fab Lab was settled in Pabal, a western Indian village, which houses the science school Vigyan Ashram. Dr. Kalbag who studied science and specialized in food technology in Bombay and then in the United States during the 1950s founded this place in 1983. Like Gershenfeld, he always thought that education should also be based on hands-on learning and decided to build this school for kids who had no education. They would learn science and technology based on the method Learning While Doing85. It was already a Fab Lab before the concept was invented (only with no hi-tech tools). In 2001, Gershenfeld visited the village and got interested with the multiple rural technologies Dr. Kalbag and his students had developed and built themselves (low cost housing, earth resistivity meter for ground water prospecting, tractors, food storage, etc)86. Vigyan Ashram needed a Fab Lab to work on different projects to improve the life of the community such as developing a milk sensor to test good milk and spoiled milk, a wireless fence to protect the farm, a water table alarm for wells that would indicate a rising level of water and finally bio fuels. The MIT sent for a total of $ 25000 a laser cutter, a small milling machine, a vinyl cutter, a scroll saw but also computers, a projector, a digital camera, an electronic table and drawing tools and drivers with open source software87.


Mikhak, B., Lyon, C., Gorton, T., Gershenfeld, N., McEnnis, C., Taylor, J., "FAB LAB: An Alternate Model of ICT for Development", Available online, development by design (dyd02), Bangalore, 2002, Accessed June 17, 2012. 84 Mikhak, B & al, op.cit. 85 "Developing various small rural technology project using Fab Lab", Proposal for FAB LAB at Pabal,,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 86 Ibidem 87 Ibidem


In 2003, another lab went above the Arctic Circle in Haakons farm to continue Haakon Karlsens work in collaboration with the company Telenor on the production of radio collars and antennas to aid nomadic herding in northern Norway. The sixth laboratory was set up in the campus of the Takoradi Technical Institute in Ghana during the summer 2004. Once the machines, provided by MIT, were installed in the new Fab Lab, the very priority was to collect the huge amount of solar energy available in the country: Our goal is to identify community problems and find solutions to them; e.g. to convert the abundant renewable energy such as solar and wind to power machines and mechanize our agriculture and local art and craft industry88 Making solar collectors can be used for cooking, cutting or refrigerating instead of relying on scarce electricity. Solar-powered machinery is also something the industrial designer, Markus Kuyser, has been experimenting with in building a solar-powered 3D Printer and a sun-powered cutter89. The Sun Cutter is a low-tech analogue light cutter that cuts 2D parts like a laser. These cutting-edge technologies using natural energy question current industrial manufacturing and address the issue of sustainability, a topic largely discussed among the makers and open design enthusiasts. The students in Takoradi successfully developed a solar rechargeable lighting System, local television antenna, wireless Internet networks and a Fufu Pounding Machine that serves to prepare the most popular national dish90. Since the establishment of the first Fab Labs, many others have popped up and the phenomenon is growing rapidly and independently from MIT. Even though there is no formal procedure, MIT monitors the process and lists all official Fab Labs worldwide91. In South Africa, the concept of fabbing became a national agenda. In 2005, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) under the auspices of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy Implementation Unit (AMTS-IU) launched many labs across the country. Deputy Minister of

Report From the Ghana Fab Lab, Center for Bits and Atoms,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 89 Markus Kayser work,,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 90 Fabrication Laboratory, Takoradi Technical Institute,, Accessed June 17, 2012, 91 Toxler, P., op.cit.


Science and Technology Derek Hanekom founded a Fab Lab at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria: the first AMTS Fab Lab. The Innovation Hubs Fab Lab focuses on research that can be transferred to the other Fab Labs in the country and each one has a specific focus (e.g. community-based projects such as Fab Lab Soshanguave or arts and crafts (Fab Lab Cape Town))92. The AMTS has entered in partnership with MIT to collaborate on different research projects. So far, there are six Fab Labs and one Mobile Fab Lab located in South Africa. While this thesis is being written, the Fab Lab community is expanding rapidly. Ninety Fab Labs are already operating in the world and another thirty-one are due to open soon. Among the ninety existing Fab Labs, a total of thirty-three are located in the US (seven more upcoming). In the rest of the world, there are thirty-nine existing Fab Labs in Europe (and seventeen upcoming). The Benelux has the largest density of fabbing initiative with already nine Fab Labs established in the Netherlands (in Amersfoort, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Enschede, Groningen, The Hague, Maastricht, Utrecht, Weesp) and two in Belgium. Countries like Austria, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom harbour one or more Fab Labs within their territory. Other Fab Labs will be opened soon in Finland, France, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Belgium, Latvia, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain. In Asia, there is one Fab Lab in Afghanistan, five in India and one in Indonesia. Africa also beneficiates of a decent number of Fab Labs in the continent, with six ones located in South Africa, one in Ghana and two in Kenya. One in Egypt and another one in Namibia will be opened to the public. One Fab Lab was set up in Costa Rica in 2002, other settled in Colombia and in Peru, and the next one will be opened in Suriname. Two Fab Labs will also be rolled out in Vancouver, Canada and finally one in New Zealand. The official and detailed list of all Fab Labs worldwide is displayed on the MITs Center for Bits and Atoms website93. There are some important steps to follow in order to become a Fab Lab MIT. First, the intended Fab Lab must be equipped with the machines mentioned above and must respect the Fab Charter. Eychenne reports an interview with Sherry Lassiter program manager of Fab Lab network who lists four important characteristics, which are openness charter machines and

Zaayman, N., "Welcome to the Fabulous World of Fabrication", Innovation News, n2, pp 24-25, University of Pretoria, 2007, p. 24. 93 Fab Lab List ,, last update May 6, 2012,, Accessed June 17, 2012.


process Fab Lab network94. Open access is the most important key in any fabbing initiative. The place has to give individuals free access to tools. The Fab charter has to be displayed somewhere in the facility and must be respected. Fab Labs must share core capabilities to facilitate any project, which means a: computer-controlled laser cutter, for press-fit assembly of 3D structures from 2D parts. A larger (4'x8') numerically-controlled milling machine, for making furniture- (and house-) sized parts. A sign cutter, to produce printing masks, flexible circuits, and antennas. A precision (micron resolution) milling machine to make three-dimensional moulds and surface-mount circuit boards. Programming tools for low-cost high-speed embedded processors95. Finally, it is important to participate to the network and share knowledge and design. Therefore, there is a videoconference system available between Fab Labs. It is highly recommended to organize workshops and collaborate on different projects. Each year there is a big event for all Fab Labs worldwide. The eighth edition, Fab8, will be the next meeting and be hosted by Massey Universitys Creative Campus in New Zealand from the 22nd to 28th August 2012. The respect of these rules gives the right to use the Fab Lab logo and the possibility to raise funds96. However, there are many other so-called Fab Labs and even big brands are opening these facilities in order to boost their business97. According to Gershenfeld, the cost of equipments and materials to start a MIT style Fab Lab (in the MIT Fab Lab network) is around $2500098. Nonetheless, this price can vary with the type of the Fab Lab itself: Massimo Menichelli reports that usually the costs without MITs involvement is about $50000 - $5500099. However, there are few examples of very cheap investments using only open-source machines (e.g. Fab@Home 3D printer or RepRap printer) or even the project willing to establish a fully OS Fab Lab.


Eychenne, F., Fab Labs. Tour d'horizon,,,866&lang=fr, Accessed June 17, 2012. 95 Fab Lab FAQ,,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 96 Eychenne, F., op.cit. 97 Menichelli, M., Business models for Fab Labs,,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 98 That cost will come down with technology progresses, writes Gershenfeld: Gershenfel, N., (2005), op.cit. 99 Menichelli, M., Business models for Fab Labs, op.cit.


On FabWiki, all Fab Labs worldwide are listed according to a conformity rating and defined as planned, under development or operational100. This conformity rating is used to check if a facility meets the conditions for use of the Fab Lab label. This conformity rating is community-assessed. In order to get the highest rate, AAAA, a lab needs to: provide at least some free/open public access, refer explicitly to the charter on site and website, share all core of tools and processes, participate to network initiatives101. Fab Lab Amsterdam fulfils all these conditions and is listed with AAAA rate. Among 148 Fab Labs on the list, only 16 locations are rated AAAA.

Figure 1 Fab Lab Conformity Rating,, Accessed June 17, 2012

Fab Labs are required to become self-sustaining within two to four years. However, Troxler reports that none of the Fab Lab investigated (10 in total - founded between spring 2007 and summer 2009) had reached this stage102. Usually, Fab Labs receive funding from public sources or their hosting institutions. Nonetheless, running these places is not an easy task. According to Fab Lab managers and assistants, the question of funding remains the number one concern103. Gershenfeld reports the difficulty for him to raise funds from traditional institutions such as the World Bank, National Academy of Sciences, Capitol Hill or Pentagon that were not willing to pay for this: Fab Labs challenge assumptions that are fundamental to each of these institutions. Instead of spending vast sums to send computers around the world, its possible to send the means

Fab Lab Conformity Rating, FabWiki,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 101 Ibidem. 102 Toxler, P., op.cit. 103 Ibidem.


to make them. Instead of trying to interest kids in science as received knowledge, its possible to equip them to do science, giving them both the knowledge and the tools to discover it. Instead of building better bombs, emerging technology can help build better communities104 Center for Bits and Atoms supports through the National Science Foundation the assistance of new Fab Labs with selected partnerships105. Additionally, micro-venture capitalism Fab Fund has been launched to provide global access to capital and markets for businesses that manufacture their products in Fab Labs106. These special laboratories are being more and more organized in regional networks (e.g. USFLN United Sates Fab Lab Network Stichting Fablab for the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, - FabLab4Germany Netzwerk Fab Lab Network India Fab Foundation Switzerland - Fab Lab South Africa). As mentioned afore, different types of Fab Labs have been emerging these past few years. The very first ones went to remote areas in order to enhance community quality of life. Over time, these places attracted other categories of people or groups as stated in Diane Pfeiffers Fab Lab definition: [Fab Labs are] studios supplied with basic digital fabrication, electronic and computing tools. These hands-on facilities are created in partnership with institutions, organizations, and governments around the world. Open to potential artists, inventors, engineers, and designers, Fab Labs enable individuals to make objects that meet their own personal needs107 Troxler makes the distinction between labs providing facilities and labs providing innovation support108. In researching business models of selected Fab Labs located in urban neighbourhoods in industrialized countries, he defines two types of labs based on their value proposition: For the Fab Lab as a facility, the value proposition is providing the best value in terms of the digital production processes; for the innovation Fab Lab the value proposition is providing the best outcome for its users and their innovation journey using the right mix of ingredients determined by the facilities and (networked) competencies available109
104 105

Gershenfeld, (2005), op. cit. Fab Lab FAQ,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 106 Ibidem. 107 Pfeiffer, D, op.cit, p. 25. 108 Toxler, P, (Berlin, 89 October 2010), op.cit. 109 Toxler, P., Wolf, P., op.cit.


Usually, Fab Labs offer infrastructures mostly for students even though they all indicate to address to all kind of clientele (students, researchers, companies and the general public)110. Places that tend to develop their innovation ecology follow closely users in their projects and also engage more in public relations activities. According to the data made available by the website, Fab Lab South Africa, the Free State Fab Lab in Bloemfontein receives 80% learners, 12% students, 5% general public and 3% entrepreneurs. In Cape Town, the Product Support Space hosted by the Cape Crafts and Design Institute (CCDI) is specialized in craft and design. It helps producers in their project. This is a typical example of Fab Lab providing innovation support. Students are still the majority (44%) but besides, there are 37% of craft producers and 26% of others. A community-based Fab Lab such as Kimberly Fab Lab receives a majority of learners (62%) and then general public (20%), students (15%), entrepreneurs (3%). A lab hosted in universities has subsequently a majority of students (e.g. the North West Fab Lab receives 80% of students, 18% of learners and only 1% of general public and 1% of entrepreneurs)111. Eychenne defines three types of Fab Lab, which are for education, for private-business and finally for public and pro ams112. The education-based facilities are hosted in universities or schools (e.g. Fablab@school Standford, Fab Lab Barcelona, Fab Lab Costa Rica, Fab Lab Nairobi). Fab Labs are essentially places to prototype ideas in small scale and are not suited for production, retailing or repairing. As an open access facility for innovation, machines cannot be used too long113. Nonetheless, commercial activities can be incubated as stated in the Fab Charter: Commercial activities can be incubated in fab labs but they must no conflict with open access, they should grow beyond rather than within the lab, they are expected to benefit the inventors, labs, and networks that contribute to their success114 (Fab Charter). Fab Labs can have different purposes, according to their location, either in universities, schools, museum, centres, institutions or startups. From educational, innovation, prototyping, artistic, business to community-oriented ambitions, these small-scale facilities become more and more diversified overtime. However, the very concept of Fab Lab remains strictly defined around
110 111

Ibidem. For a complete and detailed list see: S.A FabLabs Footprint, SA FabLab,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 112 Eychenne, F., op.cit. 113 Ibidem. 114 The Fab Charter,, Accessed June 17, 2012.


openness and P2P principles: Philosophically it would be ideal for all labs to be fully open all the time with free access and fully participating with other global labs. However, this may not be practical for every lab at this moment115.

On the seventh of May 2012, I started the ethnography at the Fab Lab of Amsterdam, which is located in the Waag Society building in Nieuwemarkt, Amsterdam. I had already been twice to the Fab Lab before starting this research. My first visit was during the event Social Cities of Tomorrow that took place in mid-February 2012 at the ARCAM (Amsterdam Centre for Architecture). As part of the program, participants could design prototypes and choose to do it either at the Fab Lab or at the Sensemakers. I was curious to see how a Fab Lab looks like and then I joined the group bound to the Waag building. We received an opportunity to discover the place and the machines while Bas van Abel, the creative director of the Fab Lab, gave a quick presentation of the main principles of fabbing and Open Design such as DIY - Personal Fabrication - Documentation - Open Source - Transparency. My second visit took place during the event Hypercrafting fashion/reflect & get inspired (3/9/2012) on smart textiles with the TechCraft students of Eindhoven University of Technology. These students were discussing with Bas van Abel the relations between smart textiles and open design in general. At this occasion, Bas gave a stirring speech on the mission of the Open Design Lab. The Open Design Lab is a cooperation with: Premsela, The Netherlands institute for Design and Fashion, Creative Commons Nederland, MIT Centre for Bits and Atoms, Etsy, Droog Design DMY, Open Design City. To cut a long story short, previous to the start of my research proper, I already had two occasions to get acquainted with a very new community promoting the experience of making and sharing. This thesis is built on a participant ethnography. In media ethnography, various researchers use an interactive method that was originally based on interactive documentary


Fab Lab Conformity Rating, FabWiki,, Accessed June 17, 2012.


filmmaking116. Unlike observational method, interactive way focuses also on the presence of the researcher. According to Patrick D. Murphy, interactive and reflexive117 forms are capable of producing a more contextually inspired, descriptively thick, and, ideally, politically transparent way of writing media culture118. Among ethnographic approaches within media studies it is worth to mention The Internet An Ethnographic Approach, in which Daniel Miller and Don Slater conduct ethnography on the Internet in Trinidad. Unlike in previous Internet literature, they view Internet as numerous new technologies, used by diverse people, in diverse real-world locations119. Internet is also embedded in material culture and social spaces. Miller and Slaters research is interesting in the sense they look at a specific medium to study a specific culture and how this culture is shaped by Internet technologies: In this sense, we are not simply asking about the use or the effects of a medium; rather, we are looking at how members of a specific culture attempt to make themselves a(t) home in a transforming communicative environment, how they can find themselves in this environment and at the same time try to mould it in their own image120

The hobbyist subculture emerged around personal computing and gained a bigger dimension with the Internet technologies. In making together, hobbyists create and transform continuously their communicative environment. Regarding this phenomenon, Christopher Keltys Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics ethnographic study based on exchanges concerning Napster, explores how geeks imagine their social existence121 Kelty chose the term recursive public as a defining characteristic of geeks. According to Kelty, recursive public is a particular form of social imaginary through which this group imagines in common the means of their own association, the material forms this imagination takes, and what place it has in the

Murphy, P.D., "Writing Media Culture: Representation and Experience in Media Ethnography", Communication, Culture & Critique, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp. 268-286, September 2008, p. 278. 117 Reflexive method also called autoethnography is a mode of representation that involves a privileging of the process of representation, expressed through poetic exposition, and an open voice, Ibidem, p. 280. 118 Ibidem, p. 282. 119 Miller, D., and Slater, D., The Internet - An Ethnography Approach, Berg, Oxford, New York, 2000, p. 1. 120 Ibidem. 121 Kelty, C., "Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics", Cultural Anthropology (20)2: 185-214, 2005, p. 186.


contemporary development of the Internet122. The term recursive public is worthy of note in conducting an ethnographic approach on maker subculture and digital fabrication. The makers represent not only a community online, in sharing and discussing everything linked to DIY and hacking activities, but also offline in places like hackerspaces and Fab Labs and during events like Maker Faires. These offline locations are, in a sense, the materialization of their social imaginary. A participant ethnography in reporting on series of practices in the lab gives an insight of the community itself. Ethnography on laboratories or ethnography of practices enables to look behind the official account of method123. In addition, Troxler discusses the limitations of his own research and advises to conduct a study based on participant observation when exploring Fab Lab community: The three studies into the Fab Lab community used different sources of evidence; yet the approach is lacking at least one fourth element, the study of actual users of Fab Labs. Such a study based on participant observation and other methods should be able to clarify attitudes and behaviour of Fab Lab users as important stakeholders of a hybrid innovation model124 Indeed, Fab users in making, documenting and sharing their design in the Fab Lab website also define the typology of the lab. However, this study does not investigate Fab users as mentioned by Troxler, the existing literature already focuses too much on users - but rather explore the location itself, the atmosphere and Fab practices. In this sense, the participant ethnography is valuable to get better insights of what is going on exactly in the lab. When I start my research, I had neither knowledge nor implication in maker subculture and fabbing practices. For two weeks on, Ive immersed myself in the lab observing and interacting with Fab community (Fab staff and participants). Fab manager, Alex Schaub, was always enthusiast in describing everything in the lab, from equipment, projects, people, Fab Academy class to his own reflections on personal fabrication. Fab users were also devotee to explain their creation and in every case they allowed me to take pictures of their design. Previously to my research, I had the chance to meet Lucas Evers from Waag Society in the context of my studies in New Media at the Universiteit van Amstderdam. Lucas is currently
122 123

Ibidem. Laws, J., op.cit. 124 Toxler, P., op.cit.


leading Waag Societys Wetlab, which is one of Waag services that focuses on life sciences and biotechnology. During my ethnography, I attended the event DIY Bio: Open PCR125 held by Lucas in the Zuidlab next to the Fab Lab. It gave me insights on hobbyist subculture and DIY biology. I also went to Waag Open Get together event organized for interns and artists who work or have worked at Waag Society. The theme was to digitally customize food with all the machine tools located in the lab. The last event I attended was Fab Academy Final Projects Presentation that took place on May 30th, after my period of research.


Materiality of the Maker Revolution

Digital Fabrication: a new trend in DIY culture On my first day in the lab, three young people are working on their own things, seated on

the big tables of the Fab Lab Amsterdam. The place has been invaded with state-of-the-art machines, computers and a vast array of tools for five years now. Victor comes from France and works there as an intern. His true passion is graphics and hes got the idea to make a nice vintagestyle booklet on selected Fab Lab past projects. In order to get this DIY result, he decided to use a Risograph GR1750 also called stencil printer. Vincent, a Dutch student, regular Fab user and former intern is building an old-time style radio based on the thesis of a Design Academy student: The Alzheimer Open Source Radio. Fab Lab Manager, Alex Schaub is focused on the work of a young Italian girl whos polishing a bass guitar. For almost a year now, Alex with the help of others is making a Fab Lab 3D electric bass guitar. There is a lot of excitement going on as they reached the final step in the making of the instrument. So far they dont know whether it will work or not since they still have to add strings and insert electric components. People in the lab enjoy making their own things in a DIY/DIT approach as they move from one machine tool to another. In materializing their project, Alex and Vincent had to use specific manufacturing tools, which can be found in small size here in the lab.


Evers, L., DIY BIO: Open PCR,, May 30, 2012,, Accessed July 17, 2012.


Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and real hobbyist126, has been reporting and writing on the democratization of manufacturing and distribution for a couple of years now. The article, Atoms are the new Bits (January 25, 2010)127, detailed the ongoing availability of tools from factory production to individuals. According to Anderson, this shift should take about twenty years: The past decade was about finding new post institutional models on the web. The next decade will be about applying them to the real world128. Post institutional models mean the vast access to information, products and crowdsourcing of ideas and design that invaded the web in the first ten years of the 20th Century. The Web 2.0 Revolution has enabled users to become producers of everything happening into the digital world. According to Israeli designer and design educator Ronen Kadushin, a revolution in product development, production and distribution is imminent due to the Internets disruptive nature and the easy access to CNC machines129. On the introduction of the digital tools into the physical world, writer and analyst, Clay Shirky invokes that an increasing number of physical activities are becoming so data-centric that the physical aspects are simply executional steps at the end of a chain of digital manipulation130. Hands-on work is in fashion again and this time DIY culture is characterized with CNC machines, electronic assembly, 3D printing and CAD software. A community of a new kind of tinkerers is developing fast online with a series of platforms - such as Ponoko, Shapeways, Thingiverse, Instructables - wikis, social networks, groups, magazines and blogs (Make Magazine, Craft Magazine, Boing Boing) but also offline during events and gatherings such as the Maker Faire or in places like Hackespaces, TechShops, 100k-Garages and Fab Labs: Theres a demand for personal fabrication tools coming from community leader around the world, who are embracing emerging technology to help with the growth of not only the food and the businesses in their communities but also the people. This combination of


Chris Anderson launched DIY Drones, an online community of hobbyist for making DIY drones. In 2009, he cofounded the non-profit company 3D Robotics to create open source hardware for drones. Anderson is a key figure in the movement of makers: he also founded GeekDad, a blog on DIY activities. 127 Anderson; C., op.cit. 128 Ibidem. 129 Kadushin, R., op.cit. 130 Shirky, C. 'Re: (decentralization) Generalizing Peer Production into the Physical World'. Forum post, 5 Nov 2007,, Accessed June 17, 2012.


needs and opportunity is leading them to become technological protagonists rather than just spectators131. According to Anderson, desktop manufacturing became accessible to the masses thanks to the explosion of cheap prototyping tools and to the economic crisis that radically changed the business practice of Chinese factories. They are increasingly flexible, web-centric, and open to custom work132. A website like that gives individuals direct access to manufacturers in China is an important feature to take into account in the emergence of a maker community worldwide133. With the first issue of Make Magazine in January 2005 and the invention of open source hardware (Arduino single-board, microcontroller) the same year, the makers got the opportunity to be part of a worldwide movement: the maker movement. In this chapter, we investigate the maker subculture and its manifestation in fabbing ecosystem. In other words, how the love of making things, hacking, tinkering, circuit bending and doing/making everything so-called DIY is a significant peculiarity of Fab Labs. We first look at the meaning and the emergence of the maker subculture and the development of hackerspaces and shared machines shops. Secondly, we explore how the maker community is shaped and organized. In a third point, this chapter details a Fab approach of architecture, art and fashion. Finally, we see how hobbyists moved from do-it-yourself (DIY) to do-it-together (DIT) activities with examples of making music instruments and biotech.


The Maker Subculture

The maker subculture is a contemporary subculture, representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker subculture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more

131 132

Gershenfeld, N., (2005), op.cit. Anderson; C., "In the Next Industrial Revolution. Atoms Are the New Bits" Wired, Feb. 2010,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 133 Ibidem.


traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. Wikipedia134 In 1968, the first issue of the American magazine The Whole Earth Catalogue was released. Subtitled Access to Tools, this catalogue listed a vast range of products for sale with references to the vendors and their prices. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, The Whole Earth Catalogue was the bible for the DIY movement in providing amateurs information on equipment and supplies, allowing them to make their own things. This directory was available for everyone frustrated with industrialized mass production135. According to Pfeiffer, The Whole Earth Catalogue offered something very precious to the non-professional practitioners: the access to tools and information136. In the second half of the 20th century, there was a boom in DIY activities with many magazines, television and radio shows dedicated to this topic. From a necessity to a leisure practice, DIY activity has radically changed to become more and more sophisticated overtime. Nonetheless, it became also easier with self-assembly processes and kits. Since the 1960s, manufacturers have developed and promoted easy methods that led to the simplification and commodification of DIY practices137. Since the fifties, there was a constant trend in the DIY movement to evolve with the new technologies138. The introduction of computation science and later the Internet technologies has enabled users to become designers with the help of easy-use and predesigned templates. On the one hand, DIY and amateurism practices may be an aesthetic choice - unpolished look and design promoting a romantic style and being also a political act against the machines. On the other hand, everyone can reach the perfection now with user-friendly technologies that give an almostprofessional result. Todays DIY emphasizes customization over craft

. The cult of the


Maker subculture, Wikimedia Foundation, 2012,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 135 Postrel, V., "Your Design Here", Print, A Quarterly Journal of the Graphic Arts, March/April 2007,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 136 Pfeiffer, D., op.cit, p. 34. 137 Atkinson, P (Ed.) Do-It-Yourself: Democracy and Design, Special Issue of the Journal of Design History, 19(1): 2006, p. 5. 138 We could trace back the origins of this movement to the 18th century, see Atkinson, P (Ed.) Do-It-Yourself: Democracy and Design, Special Issue of the Journal of Design History, 19(1): 2006. 139 Postrel, V., op.cit


amateur140 - the shift from being consumers to being producers - that first hit the online world is slowly moving to the offline or, in better words, the physical world. A new kind of amateurs - the makers - seeks to specialize in engineering-oriented technologies and mastering industrial machines such as CNC tools and 3D printing. The rise of this making subculture is rooted in the phenomenon of hackerspaces emerging themselves from the counterculture movement. Hackerspaces, also called makerspaces, hacklabs, creative spaces are facilities where likeminded individuals (hackers) can learn and share technologies outside the traditional education centres141. Hackerspaces members define these locations as community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects142. They are open labs based on peer learning where people can learn around computers, technology and electronics with an emphasis on nonmarket (or anti-market) orientation. Collaboration between such places is called hackatons. Along with hackerspaces, 100kGarages and TechShops are another type of shared-technologies places. Such as Fab Labs, 100kGarages is a community of workshops with digital fabrication tools for precisely cutting, machining, drilling, or sculpting the parts for your project or product, in all kinds of materials, in a shop or garage near you143. ShopBot Tools Inc launched these Garages in 2008 in collaboration with Ponoko. These distributed manufacturers produce users design for a fee and no shop access. TechShop is a chain of workshops that started in the California Bay Area in 2006. There are currently five TechShops in the USA. Strictly commercial, this shared machine shop is based on a membership system that gives users the right to use the tools and equipment to build their own things. In the vein of Fab Labs, 100KGarages and TechShop have the same inexpensive machines (laser cutter, 3D mills) using open source software. The concept of shared machine shops was defined in Karl Hess Community Technology published in 1979: The machine shop should have enough basic tools, both hand and power, to make the building of demonstrations models or test facilities a practical and everyday activityFor inner-city residents the shared machine shop might be a sensible and practical doorway to

Keen, A., The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values. New York: Doubleday Currency, 2007. 141 Troxler, P., Libraries of the peer production era, Open Design Now - Why design cannot remain exclusive, Creative Commons Netherlands; Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion; Waag Society, 2011, p. 90. 142 Hackerspaces,,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 143 Troxler, P ((Berlin, 89 October 2010), op.cit.


the neglected world of productivity as well as being a base for community experimentation and demonstration144. Peter Troxler puts on a graph the fabbing ecosystem. 100kGarages and TechShops are solely infrastructure while Fab Labs and Hackerspaces are much more places to undertake projects with a strong commitment to commons-based principles. Unlike 100kGarages, Fab Labs, TechShop and Hackerspaces let individuals to access their machines (generative). ProtoSpace is a Fab Lab based in Utrecht, founded in collaboration with the Dutch Inventors association Novu, and sponsored by many non-profit or governmental organizations. Diane Pfeiffer salutes its innovation model: From an American perspective, it is interesting to see that this facility is sponsored through a joint initiative of eleven organisations, many of them non-profit or governmental, but favor access for new commercial entities and unaffiliated individuals145 and contrasts this with the US scenario: While there are approximately twelve Fab Labs in the US, most are not this well funded. Instead, in the US numerous small, local maker clubs are emerging alongside occasional for-profit (and not Fab Lab) enterprises such as TechShop in Palo Alto, CA and Portland, OR146.


Hess, K., Community Technology, New York, Cambridge, Hagerstown, Philadelphia, San Francisco, London, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Sydney: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979, p. 96. 145 Pfeiffer, D. op.cit, p. 18. 146 Ibidem, p.18.


Figure 2 Toxler, P., Commonsbased peerproduction of physical goods. Is there room for a hybrid innovation ecology? presentation at the Third Free Culture Research conference (Berlin, 89 October 2010), at, p. 10.

A community of makers has been evolving around open source hardware projects and companies namely Arduino, MakerBot Industries, ReRap Project, Fab@Home and many others. These artisans 2.0 attend Maker Faires; subscribe to Make (the 21st issue covers desktop manufacturing147) and Craft magazines and share their design online. The annual Bay Area Maker Faire is a celebration of do-it-yourself culture where Pro-Ams gather in big number to see all kind of DIY stuff from robot pets, homebrewed 3D models, crafts, biotech, electronic gizmos. They are hackers, crafters, artisans and tinkerers. Leadbeater and Miller put forward the love of making things as the first condition to be considered as a Pro-Am: A Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. Pro-Ams are unlikely to earn more than a small portion of their

Vol. 21: Desktop Manufacturing, Make, February 2012,, Accessed June 2012.


income from their pastime but they pursue it with the dedication and commitment associated with a professional. For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory; it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations148. In 2008, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) published the study The Future of Making: the Way Things are Made Is Being Made on the emerging DIY culture of makers (Pro-Ams). IFTF identified six drivers of change that foster this movement (social networking, eco-motivation, the rise of the professional amateurs, access to tools, open-source everything and quest of authenticity)149 and six trends that will change how we design and produce things (desktop manufacturing, lightweight manufacturing, citizen R&D, networked artisans, grassroots economics and open innovation)150. Everyday, In Fab Lab Amsterdam, I could see people making things and for hours on end being busy with the machines. This is the case of Michael who comes from France and works in Amsterdam as a network technician. Regular user of Fab Lab Amsterdam, he also attended some classes of the Fab Academy. The first time I saw him, he was already using the ShopBot for the third time. He was making a TV table. Like a good Pro-Am he likes to customize things. He chose to represent the flag of Brittany and other patterns he likes on the pieces of wood. He explained me that when all parts will be done, he will simply assemble them. This method is called press-fit construction also known as interference fit or friction fit. Building this kind of furniture seems as easy as assembling Lego parts. Nonetheless, mastering a big milling machine takes time. Eva never used this tool before but she is showing much zeal in learning how to run it. Shes listening carefully to Victors explanations while shes taking notes of every step. Shes German and she studies marketing and design here in Amsterdam. Its her first time in a Fab Lab. For her final project, she wants to make a presentation on Craft Garage Concept, which is a Popup Store concept that travels several cities and exposes hand-crafted products of independent designers and connect them to the creative community151. Eva first designed at home a whole series of items (scissors, needles, sewing machine, hammer, hanger, etc) on Illustrator. She wants

Leadbeater, C. and Miller, P., "The Pro-Arm Revolution: How Enthusiasts Are Changing the World", TEDGlobal, 14 July 2005, Oxford, UK. 149 Pescovitz, D., The Future of Making Report, Ed. Jess Hemmerly, Institute For The Future, 2008, p. 2. 150 Ibidem, p.3. 151 Craft Garage presentation, Fablab Amsterdam Projects,, Accessed June 17, 2012.


to use the big milling machine to cut through a sturdy type of wood for her objects. The first step is to export the Illustrator file as .dxf file to open it on the ShopBot program. Then she could start running the machine. Eva is very happy with the result and now she has all her items cut. She just needs to refine edges with coarse sanding paper. In total, Eva came twice to Fab Lab Amsterdam: the first time just to check around and ask if it would be possible to make this project with the big milling machine and do some tests. The second time, she was left alone doing the job. Thats a fabbing principle: you must learn to do it yourself. Alex and interns are always happy to help but it is also important to make something yourself at some point. Eva used the machine during open days; she paid for nothing except the material she bought in a wood shop. Therefore she had to document her work and design on the website. She had a very first good experience with fabbing and said she would come again to make her own things like jewellery.


Making a Community

On the website of NYC Resistor, a famous hackerspace based in downtown Brooklyn, one can read: We meet regularly to share knowledge, hack on projects together, and build community. If youre interested in joining NYC Resistor, come to some of our public meetings or join the NYC Resistor mailing list152. As already mentioned above, a worldwide community of makers who communicate online enjoy hacking together and share knowledge in hackerspaces and other locations, infused with an almost utopian spirit of cooperation and sharing153. They go to events hosted in these makerspaces on the evenings and/or weekends. For many members, such activities have become a major focus of their social lives154. From hackerspaces usually located in rented lofts or studios, social centres or university campuses to official Fab Labs, participants have fun together as they work on the development of open source hardware in a DIY fashion. These environments are the main component of this community, where makers construct their identities. What is important
152 153

NYCRESISTOR,, Accessed June 17, 2012. Tweney, D., "DIY Freaks Flock to 'Hacher Spaces' Worldwide", Wired, March 29, 2009,, Accessed July 14, 2012. 154 Ibidem.


to understand about this amateurism and hobbyism is the way in which the practitioners construct for themselves customized environments for learning and critiquing (which implies the development of the unique communities of differentiated specialists)155. Kelty argues that Internet technologies are tools for self-organizing publics that enable to extend the public sphere to coding, hacking, redistributing and sharing156. Draw on the analysis of geek community; the concept of recursive public can also be transferred to new areas where social imaginary is constructed. According to Kelty, free and open-source software give new groups (musicians, scientists, filmmakers, activists) the possibility to engage with openness and therefore express their concerns not only online but also offline157. Here, we could strengthen this argument when talking about makers building a recursive public genuinely materialized in places like hackerspaces. The Austrian artist Johannes Grenzfurthner, writer and founder of the international art and theory group monochrom makes a critical study on hackerspaces in the article Hacking the Spaces written in collaboration with Frank Apunkt Schneider158. In writing the historical context of hackerspaces originally expanding from the counter culture movement and conceived as niches against bourgeois society, Grenzfurthner and Schneider argue that hackerspaces today function quite differently as they initially did159. Back in the seventies, these open spaces were imagined as tiny worlds to escape from capitalism or authoritarian regimes. The idea was much more based on micro-political tactics than on hippies spirit: Instead of trying to transfer the old world into a new one people started to build up tiny new worlds with the old world. They made up open space were people could come together and try out different forms of living, working, maybe loving and whatever people do when they want to do something160 In a capitalist society, alternative concepts always end up to be commodified such as indie music becomes mainstream. According to Grenzfurthner and Schneider, the same happened to

Thacker, E, The Global Genome, Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2005, p. 315. 156 Kelty, C., op.cit, p. 20. 157 Ibidem. 158 Grenzfurther, J and Schneider, F, 'Hacking the Spaces' on monochrome 2009,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 159 Ibidem. 160 Ibidem.


hackerspaces when the political approach faded away on en route into tiny geeky workshop paradises161. This trend is closely related to the mainstream ideology of creative destruction. In the ideology of creative destruction, knowledge workers (cultural producers) adopt and standardize something they think is cool in order to destroy the old. The Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter extensively studied and then popularised the term of creative destruction in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) as a theory of economic innovation. However, Marxist theories had already developed this in updating the Hegelian notion of sublation (Aufhebung) in describing the process of the accumulation and annihilation of wealth under capitalism. Later, this term gained popularity with neo-liberal ideologies of a condition of efficiency and productivity. Scholar Alan Lius Destructive Creativity paper examines how destructive creativity stands for new governing aesthetics responsive to the postindustrial ideology of creative destruction162. In the era of informationalism (the Information Age also known as the Computer Age) and in the corporate culture, knowledge workers thanks to new technologies are responsible for shaping and standardizing information culture in constantly destroying the old163. According to Liu, destructive creativity or what he calls viral aesthetics is the critical inverse of the mainstream ideology of creative destruction. Lius analysis is interesting as it explores the notion of creative destruction (and subsequently the notion of destructive creativity) in a postindustrial and information society, and can be viewed in parallel with Grenzfurthner/Schneiders description of hackerspaces. In hacking the Spaces, they argue that some features of open space movement were suddenly highly acclaimed, applied, and copy-pasted into capitalist developing laboratories164. Following the rule of creative destruction, counterculture characteristics became economically valuable and alternative life forms were applied ideally as a rejuvenation of what was old165. On the same line, Grenzfurthner/Schneider addresse critiques towards hackerspaces community in saying that geeks and nerds turn to become liberal-democratic defenders166. However, Coleman and Golub argues that hacker morality is in fact multiple and does not entirely comply with liberal values
161 162

Ibidem. Liu, A., The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. 370. 163 Ibidem, p. 321. 164 Grenzfurther, J and Schneider, F., op.cit. 165 Ibidem. 166 Ibidem.


or has to be viewed as a cultural sensibility rather than in a traditional perception of liberalism167. In an anthropological research on hacker practices, they explore how hackers reformulate and critique liberalism in their everyday practices: Thus hacking, so often marginalized or misunderstood in popular culture as a subcultural group separate or diametrically opposed to mainstream society, is in fact one crucial location whereby the fractured and cultural character of liberalism is given new life and visibility in the digital age168 According to Grenzfurthner and Schneider, hackerspaces are no longer imbue with political agendas and turned to be only nice and chill small laboratories. He advocates that open spaces first need to develop a political agenda that lends some revolutionary glam to what we are doing on a daily basis making gadgets, networking through the world, or utilizing our technological and programming skills169. Secondly, it is important to fight against exclusionist tendencies in the hackerspace movement being mostly a group of white and male techno handicraft working nerds170. On May 9th 2012, the Waag Open Get Together event was held in Fab Lab Amsterdam. Former and current interns, Fab Academy students, people who work in Waag Society and enthusiasts gathered and brought food to have a DIY dinner (fig. 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58). Alex asked me if I would like to stay for the event of the night. I stayed to chat, eat and drink with the other participants in the Zuidlab. After a while, they all went to play with food in the lab. They customized sausages, bread, eggs, mint leaves with the ShopBot, laser cutter, embroidery machine and 3D printer. Over the evening, there was a lively interest to try out every artistic combination. People divided themselves in small groups for each machine. The laser cutter was very successful that night: from Space Invader character and stars on eggs to Frikandel Speciaal (Dutch delicacy) inscription on sausages and a flip-flop press-fit construction made wit Lebanese bread. Some participants were playing with the embroidery machine and coco bread and Victor was working with chocolate on the ShopBot. Alex was trying to fix the Ultimaker in order to print with Nutella. Unfortunately, the result was not so good.

Coleman, G., Golub, A., 'Hacker Practice: Moral Genres and the Cultural Articulation of Liberalism', AnthropologyTheory 8.3 (2008): 255-277, p. 256. 168 Ibidem, p. 258. 169 Ibidem. 170 Ibidem.


All participants who went to play with food, were comfortable in using machine tools and designing quickly their design on Illustrator or other programs to import vector drawings. Most of them were previous interns, Fab Academy students or simply regular Fab users who have acquired digital manufacturing knowledge. They were interested in each others creation and new ideas popped up all the time: after inscribing Frikandel Speciaal on the sausage, one participant went outside asking a fries vendor to fry it. Then he brought it back to the lab and amused the others with his little experiment. Later in the evening, a group of two or three people designed stars on eggs with the laser cutter and then they made fried eggs. They took pictures every five or ten seconds to capture the whole process of cooking and see how patterns are changing. The purpose of this evening was to sustain the network of Waag Society. This type of meeting is clearly inscribed in an effort to build a community of makers who enjoy do-it-together activities. Creativity was the key of this event. Anyone could go and fabricate something just for the fun of it and show it to the rest of the participants. It was also the occasion to learn from peers and experiment all together. On Waag Society website, there are regularly such kind of events that constitute a mean to keep up the community.


Making Architecture, Art and Fashion

A Fab Lab is first and foremost a facility for physical model making, housing rapidprototyping machines. Some years ago, one could think that ever-improving simulation software; Computer-aided design (CAD) that makes prototyping possible in the digital domain171 had made physical models obsolete. However, a return to the making of physical models has lately been observed172. This reverse movement is due to improvement of the digital fabrication techniques that translate digital information to computer numerical control (CNC) machine tools and 3D printers: As modeling and fabrication come closer together, more models are being made, and, despite less hand production, the process might be more engaging than ever. Rapid

Atkinson, P., Orchestral Manoeuvres in Design, Open Design Now - Why design cannot remain exclusive, Creative Commons Netherlands; Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion; Waag Society, 2011, p. 69. 172 Werner, M., Model Making, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2011, p. 10.


prototyping technologies short-circuit the design process: the model is no longer necessarily referential, and its role more often now better described by the term prototype173. Fab Lab Amsterdam also organizes workshops for architects and model makers such as Hypercrafting Architecture174 held in March 24th, 2012. During this event, participants got introduced with tools for prototyping such as the laser cutter (e.g. press-fit construction) and ShopBot and software like Grasshopper. The idea was to focus on hands-on experiments in creating small-scale models and prototypes. One day in the lab, a Dutch architect named Eric de Lyon came with a colleague to make a model for his new project. His colleague was executing de Lyons design on the big milling machine: it was a physical model for the competition Freiheits und Eindheitsdenkmal in Leipzig (fig. 28, 29, 30). This competition is for a Monument to Freedom and Unity to commemorate and honour the contribution of the citizens of Leipzig in the Peaceful Revolution of Autumn 1989. In making a model of the project, the architect could not only better visualise the result but also offer to the audience something tangible to see. Architecture has always thrived on the tension between representation and material assemblages175 and now it seems that we experience the dawning of an era characterized by a new proximity between digital models and physical output176. De Lyons idea was to make a model of a design in 1:500 scales and digital production (big milling machine) was viewed as the best option. De Lyons colleague documented the process on Fab Lab Amsterdam website. The task was not an easy one since the 3D model had different levels. The challenge was to make the milling machine following the path of these levels (see fig. 29, 30): I chose to use the big milling machine in order to take out pockets of the MDF [mediumdensity fibreboard] board. The lines enclosing the pockets were dranw in Illustrator as closed paths. In order to make the model three dimensional I had to assign the different milling levels in the operating system. Here it was very important to keep track of the which levels already have been done and those still to come. Made a mistake once and had to start all over again177
173 174

Ibidem. Hypercrafting Architecture, Fablab Waag Society,, Accessed July 14, 2012. 175 Smith, G., op.cit. 176 Ibidem. 177 Hubraum, C., Model for Design Public Space, Fab Lab Amsterdam, August 5, 2012,, Accessed August 10, 2012.


Further in the description, MDF is described as a good material for milling but it would be better to use a more solid material (such as chemical wood) next time178. Model making and digital fabrication enable designers to have this very close connection with objects and materials. According to Bruce Sterling, rapid prototyping is a form of brainstorming with materials. It's not simply a faster way to plunge through older methods of production, but a novel way to manage design and production179. Once users engage with fabbing practices they have to think of which materials and which techniques to use. Going through Fab Lab documentation of design process give an insight of these questions and reflections. Here, we understand the relationship between subject and object. Artists also like fabbing. The Dutch artist Lukas van de Vrande ( is a regular user of Fab Lab Amsterdam. He has already come in the past to use the Ultimaker 3D printer for his Personal Candle Holder. There is a video of the whole printing process on his website. For Lukas, the result could be a lot better, the plastic doesnt cool down quick enough and starts to drip180. This statement is relevant in the actual debate concerning the enormous amount of lousy designs now available on sites like Ponoko and Shapeways. Lukas van de Vrande points out that low-cost 3D printers can engender bad design. This is also a consequence of masses that participate now in design processes. According to Renny Ramaker, director of Droog Design in Amsterdam, digital fabrication also causes a huge volume of unattractive and clunky design181. He adds: This trend will not end well () I am worried that it will spread like a virus. In my opinion, the internet has brought us a lot of ugly stuff182. This time, Lukas is busy with the laser cutter in making hundreds of layers of carton for his new artwork, a kinetic sculpture De Zoenmachine (The Kiss Machine)183. He has already built one few years ago but only made by hands (no machine involved). He told me that working with
178 179

Ibidem. Sterling, B., op.cit. 180 Vrande, van de, L,Ultimaker 3D Printer,,, Accessed July, 15, 2012. 181 Klaassen, R., & Troxler, P., Do it with Droog, Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., Open Design Now - Why design cannot remain exclusive, Creative Commons Netherlands; Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion; Waag Society, 2011, p. 133. 182 Ibidem. 183 There is a video of Lukas van de Vrandes De ZoenMachine,,, Accessed July, 15, 2012.


the laser cutter was really great as he could spare a lot of time (680 layers in one day). Lukas was not the only one artist I saw hanging out in the lab. There was also one guy working on electronics and Arduino. His name is Cappy Jack (Cappy Jack ( and he told me that he was making a sculpture working with an Arduino Uno with a Lady Ada wav shield. This sculpture would react to 360-degree approach to ultrasonic sensors with sound (fig.27). Cappy Jack looked at ease with electronics manipulation and he said that hes working with computer since 1977 (Xitan computer). He comes regularly to the lab for his installations (sculptures, etc) using the laser cutter, the Ultimaker and piezo scanner. This is the first time that he builds a sound machine. Access to low-cost manufacturing tools enables architects, artists and designers now to experiment faster with a series of new kind of physical objects. Here, there is a description of one project realized in Fab Lab Amsterdam, which gives a better understanding of such practices in the frontier of generative design and art: Ziga Testen (designer) and Nicholas Matranga's (artist) collaborative practice revolves around their shared interest in applied arts and design. They have collaborated on a series of projects focusing on design as material of their work instead of it's means. They are currently working on and developing a series of conceptual alternative cuts to the ubiquitous Helvetica typeface. Among the proposed expansions to the existing family such as Helvetica Backwards and Transitional Helvetica we are currently working on the Levitating Helvetica. In practical computer typography terms this is simply Helvetica without kerning so all letters stack on top of each other within the 2D space of the screen. However for the upcoming exhibition in Rome where we will be presenting some of our works we would like to develop a 3D prototype of a possible type specimen of the Levitating Helvetica. A sketch of the possible outcome of this endeavour is presented in the attached image. Needless to say all our proposals are useless in practical terms and they are mostly simple playful footnotes and comments on our (designed) environment184 In new media art, digital fabrication and generative art are becoming a trend but also raise curatorial questions with the emergence of new hybrid industrial design/sculpture objects185. During my research, I could observe that a majority of students that would use the lab were usually studying fashion design. I could notice the same in going through projects on Fab Lab Amsterdam website. Also, several fashion projects can be found in the lab (see the

Ziga Testen, 3D Type Specimen Sculpture, Fab Lab Amsterdam, February 1, 2012,, Accessed June17, 2012. 185 Smith, G, op.cit.


description of the lab in the first chapter). A series of events and workshops on fashion, craft and digital fabrication are regularly held in Waag Society (Fab Lab Hypercrafting event). For obvious reasons, manufacturing tools are appealing for students and fashion designers. They usually use the embroidery machine and the laser cutter. There are also examples of prototypes made with the 3D printer. Among fashion creations made in Fab Lab Amsterdam, there is the example of highheeled ankle boots realized by a student for her third years collection at the Royal Academy of The Hage (fashion department)186. The leather was cut with the laser cutter. It was great to combine the craft of hand-made shoe, with the technology of the laser cutter187, writes the user on the documentation part. Another project was aimed to investigate the combination of print and machine embroidery on recycled hospital textiles188 or also fashion designer Ellis Biemans who designed with the laser cutter a robotic-like outfit made with fine silk fabrics and Plexiglas shapes189. Many other examples can be found on the website and there is also a decent amount of jewellery creations. Along with Eva there were other students coming from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) and using the lab for their final project. During open days, there was once a girl working with the laser cutter in inscribing some patterns onto leather and also a bunch of female students and their professor making some products (jewellery) for the launching of their magazine, Tiger Dragon Slayers from the Underworld190.


Charlottesophia Shoe Making Third Year Collection, Fab Lab Amsterdam,, February, 7, 2012, Accessed July 17, 2012. 187 Ibidem. 188 Katikaki, Embroidering Creatures, Fab Lab Amsterdam, January, 19, 2012,, Accessed July 17, 2012. 189 Ellis Biemans, Emroidered Robots, Fab Lab Amsterdam,, Accessed July 17, 2012. 190 Products, Tiger Dragon Slayers from the Underworld,, Accessed July 17, 2012



From Do it Yourself (DIY) to Do it Together (DIT)

In the last part of this chapter, we look at two significant examples of do-it-together projects made in Fab Lab Amsterdam: Shark Bass and Open PCR. We choose to introduce these examples in order to describe DIT practices as an important feature of the maker subculture. Do-it-Together (DIT) or Do-it-with-others (DIWO) initiatives are based upon open source and Internet technologies that enable users to easily collaborate in networked society. In this sense, The Materiality of the Maker Revolution chapter tends to demonstrate how usually defined as online practices and behaviours are also happening offline materiality. What is interesting here is that everything on the Internet is also coming outside of the screen and expanding into the physical realm. Therefore, we observe peer-to-peer production practices occurring in Fab Labs and other physical locations. On the first day of the ethnography, I was immediately introduced with the project Shark Bass (fig. 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47) that has already started a year ago (around April 2011). The idea emerged with the question Can you produce a high quality electric bass guitar using the Fablab methodology?191. When I arrived in the lab, the bass had already taken shape and the final step was about to begin polishing, inserting strings and electric components and finally plug it in. This project brings together Fab Lab manager Alex Schaub, product designer based in Amsterdam Alice Mela, product designer based in Rotterdam Carsten Lemme and industrial designer based in Eindhoven Thomas Van De Werf. Not only Alex is a Fab Lab expert192 who worked before in designing production machines but he also studied art and music and received a degree as Master of Music in 2001 at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague. His knowledge in music and instruments led him with the help of other specialists to design his very first bass guitar, which is based on the Fender Jazz Bass.

Schaub, A., 3D Bass Guitar, Fab Lab Amsterdam, April 23, 2011,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 192 As a Fab Lab expert, Alex Schaub takes part to the opening of many Fab Labs worldwide and hes asked for advising many Fab Lab initiatives.


Alex was not the first one to think of making personal music instruments with digital manufacturing tools. Journalist and blogger Clive Thompson recounts his attempt to design his own guitar in The Dream Factory article published in Wired in September 2005193. Thomspon designed an electric guitar in remixing various classic guitar designs by drawing the outlines on eMachineShops software (eMachineShop 3D CAD software)194. eMachineShop is an application that produces physical 3D copy that were previously designed online (online machining). The idea is to provide low-cost fabrication of custom parts via the web for both engineers and nonengineers. Once Thompson had finished to design his bass, he had to choose materials on the same application. There was no wood thick enough and he had to opt for a block of clear acrylic with unbuffed raw aluminium for the faceplate195. Finally, he could send his creation to the company that would print his guitar with a 3D milling machine. After a week, he got his personal fabbed bass but Thompson was not fully happy about it and noticed several design errors that he tried to fix manually. As the final pieces come together, I find Im getting excited again. For all its imperfections, my creation looks surprisingly close to my original vision less a straight-head guitar than a piece of mildly psychedelic Soviet machinery196. The whole process took only a week for Thompson to get his object ready. The Shark Bass project was much longer (approximately one year) and in collaboration with others. Even though eMachineShop offers to individuals the possibility of personal fabrication in designing their own things, it does not offer the possibility to engage with hands-on manufacturing and fabrication: The eMachineShop software () included artificial intelligence that operates like a virtual machinist. In the background invisible to the users it runs a precise emulation of the real-world machines that fabricate parts to determine whether the job is possible and how much itll cost197 On the other hand, Alexs guitar was not really made in a rapid prototyping manner but was the outcome of a greater level of personal involvement with the end product from participants. The creation of structured knowledge - peer production - and hands-on approach has given a more sophisticated result in conformity to users desire. Thompson, who received a guitar not

Thompson, C., "Clive Thompson on 3-D Printing's Legal Morass", Wired Magazine,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 194 Ibidem. 195 Ibidem. 196 Ibidem. 197 Ibidem.


entirely similar to his first idea, writes in Wired the dangers of designing solely on computers198. The process of making Shark Bass has been documented on Fab Lab Amsterdam website199, respecting, therefore, open design principles. DIY biotechnologies are also practices that are many times undertook with others usually in small labs (garages). Emerging from open source hardware development and from Pro-Am movement trying to build low-cost open source tools and infrastructures for experimenting and sharing scientific knowledge200, biohacking represents a new contestational form of scientific practices. Lucas Evers who leads Waag Societys Wetlab organized, with Life Science technologist and founder of the Dutch DIY Bio community Pieter van Boheemen, the event DIY Bio201 to which I participated during my research. The goal was to assemble the Open PCR and gain practical DIY Bio experience (fig. 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75). Open PCR kit is the first open-source PCR (for sequencing DNA) available for $512 and including the first Arduino USB storage device202. The idea of the kit recalls the first computer kits that were sold in magazines during the 1970s. Hobbyists would buy computer parts and assemble them. Such practices led to the emergence of a hobbyist subculture, developed around personal computing203. Now the same is happening to bio-knowledge and we could get a glimpse of it that evening in Fab Lab Amsterdam. A couple of enthusiasts and experts (not so many people) gathered together in the Zuidlab to assemble not only the Open PCR (developed by Jankowski and Perfetto204) but also the
198 199

Ibidem. Alicice, 3D Bass Guitar, Fab Lab Amsterdam, December 1, 2011,, Accessed June 17, 2012. 200 Delfanti, A., and Sderberg, J., op.cit. 201 It was the fourth edition of DIY Bio organized by the Waag. 202 Evers, L., DIY Bio: Open PCR, Waag Society, May 30, 2012,, Accessed July 17, 2012. 203 Thacker, E, 'A Biotech Hobbyist Manifesto', in Natalie Jeremijenko and Eugene Thacker (eds) Creative Biotechnology: A Users Manual, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Locus +, 2004, pp. 38-39, p. 39. 204 Open PCR- The $599 Personal PCR Machine,, Accessed June 17, 2012.


Amplino (a new generation of PCR) developed by Pieter van Boheemen, cell biology master student Wouter Bruins and mechanical engineering/bioinformatics student Jelmer Cnossen. Amplino is a low cost quantitative PCR to use for malaria diagnostics205. All of them participated to the event and Jelmer even used the laser cutter that evening to build the Amplino. People were busy with their hands but also had time to raise discussions on DIY Bio. In a do-it-together style, participants experienced with biotech knowledge and kits. However, the majority of the audience was actually expert and, to my understanding, there were very few novices (myself included) participating to the event. Nonetheless, these specialists were interested in hobbyist practices. According to Eugene Thacker, biotech hobbyist projects employ a kind of tactical media that supports amateur practice and argues that amateurism and hobbyism are important here because imply an interest in learning and interest in reappropriating, repurposing206. On the same line, Eric Kluitenberg argues that amateur practice is not only about access to the means of production but also access to the very systems that define what counts as knowledge, and how and where value is created207. The goal of biotech hobbyists is to bring non-specialists to hands-on experiences and shared knowledge. This is not about developing biotech for the people or solving social problems208. DIY and DIT biotech approach is much more in line of what the art collective and tactical media practitioners, Critical Art Ensemble, was doing back to the early 2000s: making biology hackable and appropriating scientific knowledge and practices that had been monopolised by scientists and corporations. These tactics that aim for a contestational biology are bringing biology to public examination209. A non-specialist (hobbyist) engagement with biotech can count as legitimate knowledge in the contestation over the meanings of biotechnology in our society210. Critical Art Ensemble engages with amateur practice and argues that such practice is capable:

205 206

Amplino,, Accessed June 17, 2012. Thacker, E, The Global Genome, Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2005, pp. 314-315. 207 Kluitenberg, E., Legacies of Tactical Media. The Tactics of Occupation: From Tompkins Square to Tahrir, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 2011, p. 14. 208 Thacker, E, 'A Biotech Hobbyist Manifesto', op.cit, p. 39. 209 Delfanti, A., and Sderberg, J., op.cit. 210 Thacker, E, 'A Biotech Hobbyist Manifesto', op.cit, p. 39.


To see through dominant paradigms, are more freer to recombine elements of paradigms thought long dead, and can apply everyday life experience to their deliberations. Most important, however, amateur are not invested in institutionalised systems of knowledge production and policy construction211

We have seen in this chapter that not only manufacturing knowledge and production but also biotech practices have been appropriated by the masses (or the most skilled non-specialists Pro-Ams). In doing so, a set of common practices and ideals are shared by these makers. Transparency in making process and shared knowledge is based upon open source and P2P principles. In the last chapter Openness- we look closer at this philosophy of transparency that drives Fab methods or what is also called Open Design.

Fab Moments are your projects you need to document on Fab Lab Amsterdam website: Here you can find a variety of projects developed at the Fablab Amsterdam. Projects listed here may still be work in progress. Browse through the documentation and you may find similar processes of digital production that you had in mind for your idea. This may help you to optimize your project idea. You can find more projects in the Archive212 According to the Fab principles, it is highly important to provide open access in the design

blueprint of whatever you have created during your stay in any Fab Lab. Sharing your design is at the core of open design principles. This is something we comprehend when we see, on bookshelves in the lab, Open Design Now Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusives books, published by Waag Society, Creative Commons NL and Premsela. Fab Labs give free and open

211 212

Critical Art Ensemble quoted by Kluitenberg, E, op.cit, p. 39. Projects, Fab Lab Amsterdam,, Accessed August 17, 2012.


access to fabrication and merged from our network society, in which the flow of information is connected with the production of the visible matter around us213. The idea of openness has become very fashionable these days and has been spreading to a multitude of areas. This does not apply only to software, but also to hardware, design, services, relationships, companies, data, workflows, industries, and even the Web. Indeed, if its open it must be good214. In our Internet society, open-everything is becoming a condicio sine qua non and the Internet itself is regarded as an open and free medium for the distribution of massive quantities of information215. In June 2012, the Netherlands Media Art Institute held the exhibition - Yes, Were Open - on the subject of openness in art. The concept of open artwork calls into question authorship, intellectual property and copyrights. In this last chapter, we investigate openness in design. The idea of openness raises many concerns, questions and debates. This is partly due to the vague notion of the term itself when it is used for production beyond software: What exactly is the Openness in Open Design? Should open apply to the design itself (pusblishing the blueprint), to the methods of production (Open Source), to all of its users (amateurs and professional designers alike)? Should openness always involve this open everything?216.


Open Design Open source beyond software represents things beyond the software arena. In the non-

physical world, these things are consolidated under the single definition of open content such as


Van Abel, B., "If you can't open it, you don't own it - Guimares 2012, Open City Project", Watershed, July 2012,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 214 Mansoux, A., Its not easy being open, REX alumni magazine OPEN DESIGN (fifth edition of WdKA's alumni magazine), p. 21. 215 Dullaart, E., Heck, P., "Yes, We are Open", Netherlands Media Art Institute,, Accessed July15, 2012. 216 Herst, D., Form follows user, REX alumni magazine OPEN DESIGN (fifth edition of WdKA's alumni magazine), p. 27.


the very popular wikis, open science and open education, cultural goods, maps. In the area of tangible goods, open design (OD) refers to the open development of physical objects217. Researchers Kerstin Kalka, Christina Raasch and Cornelius Herstaat attempt to give the first statistical analysis of open design projects218. Draw on a comparison to open source software; they observe strong similarities between OSS and OD: We indicated that, in open design communities, tangible objects can be developed in very similar fashion to software; one could even say that people treat design as source code to a physical object and change the object via changing the source. This suggest the practical applicability of transferring the Open Source model to different industries beyond software219 However, they also observe that openness of software components is more important than openness of hardware components. Nonetheless, they also notice that the phenomenon of open design is rapidly evolving and a growing number of physical artefacts start being designed collaboratively via the Internet220. We find more and more advocates of open design who wish that the same principles of distributed creativity and free cooperation which free software development builds on will also come to define material production221. Bas van Abel - co-founder of Waag Societys Fab Lab and the Instructable Restaurant (an open source restaurant) is a firmly believer in open design principles. He is at the head of Waag Societys Open Design Lab and also co-editor of Open Design Now, the first book entirely dedicated to this field. Abel pleads to open source products in the same line of Free Software and Open source movement. How to define open design? Some describe open design as design whose creators allow it to be freely distributed and documented and condone modifications and derivations of it222 or CAD information published online under a CC license to be downloaded, produced, copied and modified. An Open Design is produced directly from file by CNC and without special tooling223.
217 218

Balka, K, Raasch, C, Herstatt, C, op.cit. Ibidem. 219 Ibidem. 220 Ibidem, p. 22. 221 Delfanti, A., and Sderberg, J., op.cit. 222 Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., op.cit, p. 10 223 Kadushin, R., Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., op.cit, p. 108.


Others define open design as a new economic model for design that distributes power among creative professionals and local manufacturers, rather concentrating it in centralized industrial brands224. Open design is closely related to participatory design already introduced by some progressive designers during the 1970s. Users were asked to participate in the design process in order to improve the functionality a product. The term itself first appeared at the end of the last century with the founding of Open Design Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to promote an alternative method for designing and developing technology, based on the free exchange of comprehensive design information225. Some designer such as Tord Boontje already distributed the digital design of his chair in the early 1990s. At the end of 1990s, Reinoud Lambers launched the Open Design Circuits, a website at Delf University of Technology for the purpose of creating open source hardware and its community in the spirit of free software. The idea of open design is therefore, closely related to these initiatives launched in the last decade of the 20th century. Among professionals, open design practices are approaches to openness. Some designers choose to engage with openness on only specific steps in their work and others such as Jens Dyvik are called Open-Source designer for publishing all design steps and inviting users to modify their creations. Israeli industrial designer and design educator, Ronan Kadushin wrote the Open Design Manifesto stating that: A revolution in product development, production and distribution is imminent due to the Internets disruptive nature and the easy access to CNC machines. Open Design is a proposal to make this happen. Its aim is to shift Industrial Design to become relevant in a globally networked information society226 Therefore, certain designers prefer to do open design due to ever-growing new technologies. They perceive their approach as a necessity in todays designing process. However, open design is also part of a political agenda that advocates for more transparency in our products. This is the mission of Open Design Lab of Waag Society that aims to empower people
224 225

Kennedy, G., Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., op.cit. p. 118. Open Design Foundation,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 226 Kadushin, R, Open Design Manifesto. Presented at Mestakes and Manifestos (M&M), curated by Daniel Charny, Anti Design Festival, London, 18-21 September 2010.


to make and understand products and processes, for more transparency227. In the same line of open datas promises seeking greater transparency, the agenda of open design is to increase transparency in the production chain228. In asking the question, Why should we be able to open up the products we own?229, Abel points out the necessity to move from closed systems to opened systems. Based on the Makers Bill of Rights230, Abel developed a political statement against closed systems, which is summarized in one phrase: if you cant open it, you dont own it. This idea to open source products pledges to reveal what Finnish designer Dan Hill called the dark matter: The notion of dark matter just like in the universe, in the civic sphere there is dark matter points to the systems and processes that make things happen but that we cannot see and only know about because of the effect on how things are done [] The only way that dark matter can be perceived is by implication, through its effect on other things. With a product, service or artifact, the user is rarely aware of the organizational context that produced it, yet the outcome is directly affected by it231

Abel argues that the invisible -the dark matter- represents the organizational context that produces a product. In our current economical system, invisible hands design our goods. It is the connection of these invisible hands that makes it possible to be surrounded by mass production design. Here, open design disrupts traditional design in making the invisible visible. Circuit bending and hacking practices are inscribed in the same line, willing to open up the black box and make the computer reappears itself. According to Menichelli, not only economic but also design theories are gradually showing more interests in local dimensions as designers want to provide sustainable solutions, which is at the opposite of the mass production design and economies of scale232. John Thackara, the founder and Director of The Doors of Perception who organizes

227 228

Open Design Lab, Waag Society,, Accessed August 17, 2012. Stikker, M., op.cit, p. 19. 229 Van Abel, B., "If you can't open it, you don't own it - Guimares 2012, Open City Project", Watershed, July 2012,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 230 The Makers Bill Of Rights, Makezine,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 231 Hill, D., quoted by Van Abel, B., "If you can't open it, you don't own it, op.cit. 232 Massimo Menichelli, openp2pdesign.org_1.1. Design for Complexity, p. 13, 2008


events in which, grassroots innovators are connected to designers and technology innovators, even states: Openness is more than a commercial and cultural issue. Its a matter of survival233. A matter of survival - Thackara and other advocates of open design invoke the need to make social design. Responsibility and sustainability are important features and the actual end users must be involved in the process: As a purely creative exercise, open design promotes the unprecedented sharing of knowledge between the professional and amateur designer, breaking down unnecessary barriers. When carried out for the common good rather than for capital gain or profit, open design allows the sharing of creative skills between developed and undeveloped nations for humanitarian benefit, countering the ramifications of global product consumerism234

Finally, open design blurs the distinction between professionals and amateurs. This trend that has been largely discussed in this thesis is also something taken into account by professional designers such as Paul Atkinson who explains how DIY activities act as a democratizing agency235. In other words, non-professionals who dedicate their leisure time to create their own things can gain freedom from designers and professional helps. On the same line, designers themselves can gain freedom in practicing open source design, which implies a strong emphasis on free access and sharing and ultimately, the need to opt for copyleft licences such as Creative Commons. Intellectual property rights - copyrights and patents - that highly privatize public knowledge and creativity, beneficiate only to the corporate world and to a few-best selling artists236.

233 234

Thackara, J., Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., op.cit, p. 44. Atkinson, P., Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., op.cit, p. 24. 235 Atkinson, P (Ed.) Do-It-Yourself: Democracy and Design, Special Issue of the Journal of Design History, 19(1): 2006, p. 5. 236 Smiers, J., No More Best Sellers, Van Abel, B., Evers, L., Klaassen, R., Troxler, P., op.cit, p. 100.


3.2 The idea to implement open-source principles into design aims idyllically at bringing down global capitalism. However, Aymeric Mansoux sees open source 3D printing scene repeating the same mistakes of the free-software movement in which paid and unpaid users and developers are part of this labour force developing open source product controlled by few commercial companies237 There is a misunderstanding in seeing free software as some objects or purity, detached from the harsh reality of the free market238 Media theorists Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter in Dawn of the Organized Networks also point this misconception of seeking the Holy Grail of openness. Advocates of openness should realize that open systems of communication such as the Creative Commons licences and the libertarian open source movement are actually embedded in the traditional mechanisms of making money: If there is a decision to be made, and an enemy to be singled out, its the techno-libertarian religion of the free. Its high time to openly attack the cynical logic of do-good venture capitalists that preach giving away content for no money while making millions of dollars in the back room with software, hardware and telco-infrastructures, which the masses of amateur idiots need in order to give and take for free239 Media theorists, Tiziana Terranova defines this tendency as free labor in the production of free and open source software, which is something structural to the late capitalist cultural economy240. Contrary to Richard Barbrook241, Terranova argues that there is no a remergence of communism through the gift economy (giving away content for no money): gift is itself an Limits of Openness

237 238

Mansoux, A., op.cit, p. 21. Ibidem. 239 Lovink, G., Rossiter, N., "Dawn of the Organized Networks", The Fibreculture Journal, issue 5 2005,, Accessed August 17, 2012 240 Terranova, T., Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy, Social Text, Volume 18, number 2, Duke University Press, Summer 2000, pp. 33-58, p. 38. 241 Barbrook critiques in his books neo-liberal cyber-elite and hes a real enthusiast of cyber-communism.


important force within the reproduction of the labor force in capitalism. The provision of free labor is a fundamental moment is the creation in the digital economies242. The idea of open-everything and commons-based peer production might seem to be in line with leftists ideals at bringing down global capitalism. However, the high-tech gift economy can be rapidly appropriated and used as sizeable labor force.


Distributed Education

In promoting fabbing practices, Gershenfeld attempts to correct an historical error that dates back to the Renaissance when art was separated from artisans. The practices of making things were relegated to the artes illiberales, considered just for mechanical production with the advent of the first Industrial Revolution. According to Gershenfeld, this artificial division led to the invention of unskilled labor243. Further, the division of labor between people and machines accentuated the number of unqualified workers. Thinking about how making things became the business of specialized engineers: handwork had become a pejorative term244. In our current educational system, hands-on learning is neglected and the culture of making is absent. In Fab Labs, we are taught that technologies help us in shaping our ideas and the importance of doing in the learning process. Indeed, the goal is not only learning how to make something but also to understand the process. (Re)gaining confidence is the key in fabbing practices: One of the primary methods used to address this issue is to create and maintain the climate of confidence which has an integral role in the Fab Lab framework245. Along with the possibilities of learning by doing in Fab Labs, Gershenfeld launched a Digital Fabrication Program: the Fab Academy. Based on the course, How to Make (Almost) Anything, the Fab Academy is a series of online distributed learning modules combined with
242 243

Terranova, T., op.cit. Gershenfeld, N., (2005), op.cit. 244 Ibidem. 245 Eychenne, F., op.cit, p. 18.


hands-on training in the lab. It was created for anyone worldwide who does not have access to training in advanced digital production techniques. It not distance learning, but distributed learning, as everyone has access to the same tools246. The Academy consists of a five-month part-time student commitment, from January 18th to May 30. Global lectures take place on Wednesdays at 9 am on the US East Coast. Gershenfeld hosts them and students are linked via videoconference. Instructors who provide instructional material and assist with projects provide hands-on instruction in the labs. Alex is the instructor for students in Amsterdam who had previously taken part to the Fab Academy and got graduated. Classes are ranging from learning computer-aided design, computer-controlled cutting, computercontrolled machining, to electronics design, 3D scanning and printing, and many other techniques. During my research, I could attend two classes and I followed Alex and the four students (Astrid, Cynthia, Bas and Thomas) to the second floor where we all sit in front of a big screen. We could see and communicate with Gershenfeld and the other students from the rest of the world. There were students from Fab Lab Nairobi, Lima, Toulouse, Detroit, Barcelona, and from England, Israel, India, Iceland, and many other places in the world (13 labs in total). For each week, there was an assignment to do and students would one by one present their work and the difficulties they encountered. Gershenfled would give them advices. Afterwards, he would give a lecture on the new topic. I attended the last two classes that were about applications and implications247 (May 9) and invention, intellectual property, and income248 (May 16). At this point, students were already working on their final projects that they would present during the Graduation Day. Astrid is a concept developer at Waag Society and has a background in Industrial Design Engineering. She decided to take part to the Fab Academy to enhance her skills in rapid prototyping and learn the basics of electronics. Her project is to make a contemporary craft inspiration book(fig. 86), which is a pop-up book that aims to give inspiration to novices of what
246 247

Ibidem, p. 19. Applications and Implication, Fab Academy,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 248 Invention, Intellectual Property, and Income, Fab Academy,, Accessed August, 17, 2012.


they can make in the Fab Lab249. The book contains five pages with integrated electronics, and each page links to an online step-by-step tutorial via QR code250. Astrids interest was to bridge craft and technology (hypercraft) and her project addresses both to people with technical skills and people with artistic skills: I am convinced that if people from these two perspective team up to learn from each other, it will lead to interesting cross-overs251. Astrid used all the machine tools of the lab as it is required to do for the final project of the Fab Academy. Cynthia is American and has a background in Software Engineering. She lives currently in Amsterdam. Since my arrival in the lab, I could see Cynthia being always busy with the 3D printer and I came to understand that she really loves this machine. One day, I asked her what she was exactly printing (fig. 8) and she explained to me that she was making small parts to replace broken parts of one item at her place. Since then, I realized the power that might have 3D printing in putting a term to functional obsolescence. For her final project, Cynthia decided to make a 3D Zoetrope (fig. 80) with 3D sculptures and using LED lights252. Bas works as hardware and lowlevel software developed at Waag Society. Since he really likes electronics, he made a FabScope253. Finally, Thomas who works as a sound-engineer in Paradisio (Amsterdam) and as a repair engineer for the company Artist on the Road, made a coil winder out of wood254. On May 30th, Fab Academy Final Presentations took place in the Theatrum Anatomicum (fig. 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97). Such as for the regular classes, students from the around world were linked via videoconference and presenting one by one their final project. Gershenfeld was hosted the event. Astrid, Cynthia, Bas and Thomas were joined by two other students from Aalto FabLab (Helsinki)255: Massimo

For the video of her project: Astrid Lubsen, Final Project: Contemporary Craft Book, Fab Academy,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 250 Astrid, Contemporary Craft Inspiration Book, Fab Lab Amsterdam, June 7, 2012,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 251 Astrid Lubsen, Final Project: Contemporary Craft Book, Fab Academy, op.cit. 252 For the video: Cynthia Mavros, Final Project 3D Zoetrope, Fab Academy,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 253 Bas Withagen, Final Project FabScope, Fab Academy, , Accessed August 17, 2012. 254 Thomas Hopman, Final Project Coil Winder, Fab Academy,, Accessed August 17, 2012. 255 Aalto Fablab is currently under construction.


Menichinelli and Maattaa Anu. All of them showed their work to Gershenfeld and to the rest of the students worldwide. Alex was very happy to have his bass finished so he could also present it during the event. Even tough it was not the actual Graduation Day Ceremony (that takes place at the 8th Fab Conference in Wellington, New Zealand on the 27th of August); Victor made a small diploma for each participant (and a poster for the event). It was also the occasion for him to experiment with the milling machine that he turned into a drawing machine (he attached pencils to the milling machine head) (fig. 87, 88, 89, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97).


Discussion: Towards New Developments in Fab Labs?

An ethnographic analysis helped to understand that hands-on experiments in shaping things are what really drive participants, regular users, interns and Fab Lab Amsterdam team. This close relation between the subject and the object is at the core of fabbing practices. In this Master thesis, I attempted to portray fabbing practices based on two weeks of participant observation in Fab Lab Amsterdam. I first described personal fabrication and the emergence of Fab Labs network. In a second chapter, I explored practices of making and shaping things. Basically, answering to the question - What can you do in a Fab Lab? - through the description of a variety of DIY and DIT projects. Finally, I tried to present the philosophy of openness and transparency that are behind fabbing practices and see the limits of such do-good philosophy. The last subchapter was dedicated to distributed education and to the Fab Academy. In researching fab practices and how Fab Lab Amsterdam offers the possibility to prototype ideas, I could observe an emerging model for bottom-innovation. Troxler who makes a difference between Fab Labs as solely facilities and Fab Labs that pursue innovative approach, has already described this trend. In my view, Fab Lab Amsterdam represents a highly innovative lab showing the possibility of private-collective (hybrid) innovation, as defined by Troxler. This is mostly due to the institute for art, science and technology - Waag Society that initiated Fab Lab Amsterdam. We have seen that in many cases, Waag employees participate to the laboratory life and even two of them were Fab Academy students this year. Not to mention, the role of Alex who always shows much zeal in creative projects. With a background in metal work and music, Alex developed interesting projects such as 50 -$-leg, Fab Foos and lately, Shark Bass. I also notice that regular users and interns are responsible with their creation for giving a specific identity to the lab. For instance, Vincents Alzheimer open source radio is a kind of unique example.


I would like to conclude this discussion on Victors passion for graphics and how his work can lead to new innovative developments in fabbing ecology. In a recent post, Design & DIY 5 years of Innovation Fab Lab Amsterdam, Victor presents the final of his booklet project (that I mentioned at the beginning of this thesis). This intern begins with the simple question: Why there is no print facilities in the Fablab?256. When he started his internship, Victor was impressed with all the machine tools available in the lab but he was also missing printers and printing devices. If I can print, then I can publish; if I publish, I have to make an object. Will this object be a book? A series of booklets? Posters? Flyers? As I am doing it by myself, then I should have more space for my own formats, techniques, speech, etcIt raises more questions about autonomy. A Fablab can become a publisher, as it is already a possible factory, an atelier, a learning school, an academy257 In order to make a small book on past Fab projects, Victor asked Alex to bring a stencil printer (Riso) so he could make it in this kind of vintage-style that he likes. This is an old printer and everything is mechanical, which offers a series of advantages (see Victors description in his blog post). Here, Victor explains the idea behind this booklet: I wanted to make a publication that highlights the outcome of the Fablab. There are already enough reports about what is a Fablab, what you can find in a Fablab, what is a Fablab for etc., but only few about what has actually been made. Thanks to Alexs determination and other fablabbers, the documentation is amazing. Many projects are documented, and people enjoy doing it, it is part of the sharing process. Nonetheless to my point of view the documentation is almost always process reports, how-to guides and step-by-step explanations. Few place is given to the final result258 As Victor cleverly notices, if Fab Lab is really the place where you can make (almost) anything, then any project could be realized. A common set of manufacturing machine tools must be found but there is no impediment to provide other tools and carry out projects beyond design as long as it is in conformity with DIY, free access and shared knowledge principles.

Brangoleau, V., "Design & DIY - 5 Years of Innovation Fablab Amsterdam", blogpost, Fablab Waag Society Projects, July 12, 2012,, Accessed July 24, 2012. 257 Ibidem. 258 Ibidem.



Since the very first lab in MIT, Fab Labs have scaled geographically, from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the North of Norway. Today, ninety Fab Labs are operating in the world and thirty-one are due to open soon. The idea is to democratize personal fabrication and to promote bottom-up innovation. Based on the model of open source and commons-based peer production, Fab Labs form part of the recent and ongoing movement of Open Design. In this thesis, we have explained the emergence of a network field Fab Labs that is embedded in the maker subculture. Looking at fabbing practices in Fab Lab Amsterdam gives an insight of such subculture, which is characterized by a very close relation with tangible objects. We have seen that personal fabrication is under way in what some call the next industrial revolution. Finally, we have exposed how the idea of openness is both an important feature of this movement but at the same time might also be problematic. Open spaces and Fab Labs represent the possibility of small-scale fabrication and therefore, challenge the traditional manufacturing world. However, the concept is still very new, though it is expanding fast, and further developments need to be achieved: while it seems that a common philosophy and solid structure of Fab Labs have been settled, it is still challenging to economically sustain such facilities and provide open and free access at the same time. Ultimately, Troxlers proposal of developing private-collective (hybrid) innovation model is interesting to explore especially in the burgeoning fabbing scene. Indeed, there is a lot of enthusiasm growing with personal fabrications promises. This ethnography on the environment of Fab Lab Amsterdam demonstrates how people in this lab attempt to bring innovation at the core of their praxis.


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Appendix I Space.................................................................................................................................................78 Appendix II Projects ..........................................................................................................................................82 Appendix III Events...........................................................................................................................................87