Editor’s note: Madison Worthy and Miriam Engle are biking across Europe, visiting different Makerspaces, and filming Self-Made, a documentary about their adventure and the Makers they meet. You can find the other parts to this series at the end of this article.
We cycled across the fifth and final border of our European bike tour on July 13. We celebrated the victorious completion of our journey in Barcelona with a glass of sangria and then hibernated for the next twelve hours.
Over the next ten days, we traveled all over the vicinity of Barcelona (not by bicycle) seeking evidence of how FabLabs are promoting environmental sustainability. At FabLab BCN, situated within the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, we met Director Tomas Diez. He spoke to us candidly about the Fab City agenda, the plan to transform Barcelona into the first fully sustainable city within forty years. He acknowledged how ambitious the plan was, and conceded that it might not be possible. Still, even if Barcelona can achieve partial environmental sustainability within that timeframe, it will be a success. Already, the city exhibits a strong sense of urbanism, encouraging citizens to maintain a healthy relationship with their surroundings. Evidence of IAAC’s influence can be witnessed all over in the creative building design and organic inclusion of natural areas.
The FabLab House is one such urbanistic project. The second iteration is currently under construction right on the seaside, and will feature ever-widening “leaves” of solar panels toward the top of the structure. It’s intended to be a sustainable restaurant and yacht club upon its completion. In its first iteration, the FabLab House generated as much or more energy than it consumed; the project was so successful it won the People’s Choice Award at the Solar Decathlon in 2010.
Diez and several designers from FabLab BCN accompanied us to the Green FabLab, 10km north of Barcelona in Valldaura, located in Collserola Park, a protected natural region. The Green FabLab specializes in environmental sustainability. “Green FabLab is producing the tools and the means to actually get a closer dialogue between nature and technology,” Diez told us. “One of the main differences between a Green FabLab and a FabLab is that here we are trying to look at the next step of those Labs right now that are using plastics and very harmful types of materials. We try to use all the materials from the natural resources that we have here, and we are also looking into the next step of fabrication, which is not only to make things, but actually to grow things.”
Ignoring Diez’s warnings of the wild boars in the area, we threw down our camping mats and relished a sleepover outside the Green FabLab. The next morning, we travelled to Mataro, where we visited Can Fugarolas, a true creative community, home to a Makerspace, a welding workshop, an autobody shop, two food cooperatives, an urban garden, a sound engineering studio, and a circus troupe. They pay a token rent, and offer a spacious location for citizens to practice their skills and learn new ones. Wouter Tebbins of the Free Knowledge Institute, an organization devoted to “digital DIY” through open source, met us at Can Fugarolas to share his views on the importance of open source. If we share our ideas freely, we can craft better products, which will contribute to a more efficient overall society.
The next day, we headed to Sitges, where we visited Francisco Sánchez at the Beach Lab. He took us on a tour of the unique FabLab, which is situated right on the beach.
Francisco more or less hacked his way into the Fab network. The Beach Lab started out as a website, and after enough people had expressed interest in checking out the space, he recruited those people to help him actually build it.
When the city tried to shut him down because of the noise, Francisco bought a coffee maker and called the Beach Lab a FabCafe. After that, he never had any problems. And when he decided to offer Fab Academy at the Beach Lab, he came up with the machines as they were required each week. The Beach Lab itself is Francisco’s finest project, and with its colorful and air conditioned interior, it attracts all sorts of people, tourists and locals alike, as they’re strolling down the beachfront. Everyone leaves having learned something.
The Beach Lab was the final FabLab on our “Tour de Fab,” and we certainly walked away from the bike tour having learned lots about the European Maker scene. We’re so impressed by the intelligence and welcoming spirit that we encountered during our journey. More important than the spaces, or the machines in them, is the community of thinkers and doers that drives the whole international movement forward. We’re so grateful for the wild and enlightening experience that was Tour de Fab. And if you want to know more about what we learned, you’ll just have to wait until our film Self-Made, the story of creative communities, comes out next year, available everywhere on Planet Earth (and Beyond?) for free download.
In the meantime, check out our blog for more details and follow us on social media.