January 30, 2015 -- Progress Thailand The spark several years ago that got many into design, making, and personal manufacturing, triggering the maker movement, was seeing MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld present what he called a Fab Lab. The idea stemmed from a class Prof. Gershenfeld titled "How to Make Almost Anything." The course's popularity grew, and so did the variety of students and projects passing through it.
Eventually the Fab Lab became a permanent fixture at MIT. Then, as a
kind of local institution, it began spreading around the world helping
teach and empower people with the tools of personal manufacturing. Prof.
Gershenfeld's book "Fab The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop" is a must read for those wanting to learn more about the early years of Fab Lab.
From Fab Labs emerged many new ideas, not just in terms of projects, but
also in terms of integrating these types of institutions within local
communities. The FabCafe
is one of these new ideas. Because of the academic and social mission of
Fab Labs, managed as a sort of franchise, there are limitations to how
it may integrate into any given community. FabCafes seek to preserve the
concept and spirit behind Fab Labs, but make them more accessible to a
wider range of people.
The first FabCafe opened in Japan. Currently there are 5, including one right here in Bangkok, Thailand.
Unlike the typical makerspace, however FabCafe includes, of course, an
actual cafe with a menu of drinks and food developed in-house, along
with the atmosphere of an up-scale boutique cafe. It is clearly geared
toward designers and artists, and there is a very practical and social
side to it all too.
FabCafe's Social Dimension
The founder, Chutayaves Sinthuphan, an architect by trade, is passionate
not only about what the individual tools found inside a Fab Lab or
makerspace can do, but the paradigm shift they can help drive, together,
with other forms of emerging technologies. His ability to understand
how all these many pieces fit together and the future they will help
form, is the driving force behind many of the educational programs
either ongoing at FabCafe or planned for the near future.
The idea of interdisciplinary skills means that design students don't
just visit FabCafe to have staff print out their ideas on a 3D printer,
but rather, requires that the students learn how to use the 3D printers
themselves. And that is precisely the idea behind FabCafe's current university program that invites students from several universities each week to come and make use of the space and tools there. Students not only receive a unique opportunity to use personal manufacturing to complete their school projects, but are exposed to emerging technology today that will be commonplace tomorrow.
Taken to the extreme, this interdisciplinary concept
includes intertwining personal manufacturing with food, biology,
cycling, photography, architecture, or even furniture, all areas not
necessarily associated with the current maker movement or personal
Indeed, Chutayaves envisions an organic garden outside, a food
laboratory inside, and fab menus side-by-side the cafe menu, inviting
visitors to choose a project to customize and make their own, learning
new tools and techniques, all while enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of a
modern cafe. When asked about the prospects of DIYbio eventually being included, he pointed out that a food laboratory is just one step away from that, and that many of the tools and equipment used in in such a laboratory can in fact be found in a biology lab.
FabCafe offers several workshops, each focusing on how to use personal
manufacturing for specific hobbies already enjoyed by ordinary
people. These include workshops to develop custom designed toys, as well
as accessories for cycling and photography.
Chutayaves sees a plausible future where people enjoy multiple
interests, combining them together, and establishing highly localized
communities thriving in self-sufficiency. Businesses and institutions
like FabCafes and Fab Labs today, might become nodes in a patchwork of
localized communities tomorrow.
Having visited other makerspaces in Bangkok, and seeing FabCafe, such a
future is not only possible, it is tangibly being built everyday by the
work and imagination of this growing, creative community.
For more information, please visit FabCafe's website here, or follow them on Facebook here.
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