DIY-FabLab: Strategy Introduction

So why are we interested in the DIY-FabLab as a concept? Why not just do what everyone else who's interested in FabLabs does, and go out and buy tens of thousands of dollars' worth of expensive gear? Surely, isn't that the first step?


Imagine building your own TV; it'd be fun and informative, make you aware of what you're buying, and what goes into it. Now imagine building 1000 TVs a week; is that 1000 times more fun? Of course not, it's a repetitive, mind-numbing job.

Our current industrial structures seem to treat people as components in a technological production system designed to seek ever greater efficiency. While this is indeed increasingly effective at producing objects and profits, the structures built by these systems tend towards centralism. Global market networks tend to centralise high-tech production capacity, skills, expertise, knowledge, work, money, opportunities… Arguably, they tend to centralise everything of value! There are social and environmental side-effects of this quest for efficiency which haven't yet been resolved.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The DIY FabLab is about exploring a future where technology is co-opted to conform to more human network structures that are more localised, more highly skilled, more environmentally sustainable and more fun to take part in.

These distributed production networks will be much more effective at producing skilled, educated, engaged and self-reliant people. They'll be more efficient at producing happy people, even if their small, local scale may suggest lower efficiency in terms of producing objects and money. We believe they will also be more effective at producing sustainable innovation - because more people, and more diverse people, will be engaged with production processes. Local people will have first-hand awareness of local requirements, resource inputs, the outputs and side-effects, which will make them able to innovate appropriately. The implications for local business incubation and job creation are obvious.

Because these structures are localised, not centralised, they're likely to be far more resilient and configurable, resistant to any crises that the future may bring1).


Usually FabLabs cost many tens of thousands of dollars. They're controlled and run by experts - usually researchers and advanced students. They're expensive, experimental and exclusive. Their benefits are a million miles from the experience of everyday people, and thus far, their results are highly speculative.

Access Space's DIY FabLab is different!

  • Access Space responded to MIT's Media Lab concept with enthusiasm. Our key innovation was to resist buying the suite of high-tech computers and proprietary software which MIT suggested were essential, and to use available trash computers and free software to build a media lab ourselves. Not only was this cheaper, it also helped us to learn higher level skills and to establish how our practice could be replicated cheaply. Now we're responding in the same way to the FabLab.
  • In contrast to regular FabLabs, Access Space's DIY FabLab will not cost the $100000+ that MIT estimates - we're going to make it ourselves. It's not (just) that we're cheapskates - the build process will give us a better understanding of the technology and a deeper engagement with the issues around digitally configurable manufacture. It's vital that this technology becomes available outside academic and industrial institutions and that ordinary communities (like us) get to grips with this emerging technology, evaluate it critically and co-opt it for our own purposes.
  • The DIY process will keep it simple - we won't bother to with fancy machines that cost too much to run or aren't really useful.
  • For FabLabs to be truly empowering to marginal communities, we must establish a bootstrapping protocol, finding out how to introduce next-generation manufacturing tools for as few resources as possible. The cheaper it is, the more people can get involved, and the more impact these technologies could have in underdeveloped communities.
  • Redundant electronics are an environmental disaster. Even the best recycling efforts are simply mitigating a hugely damaging process. The most intelligent, sustainable result would be for redundant electronics to be re-assessed, re-imagined, re-purposed and re-used locally. To do that, local communities will each need their own high-tech re-manufacture centre. Access Space recycles more than a tonne of computers each month - an ideal input stream for a DIY FabLab.
  • The microelectronics and computing industries can be a social disaster. They centralise skill and expertise, leaving consumers in the dark not just about how it works, but also about its social and environmental side-effects. Imagine a different future, in which we all got to know a lot more about the gadgets around us. We'd become more skilled, better informed, and empowered to take the right decisions about what we need and what we don't need.
1) Let's not get paranoid, but let's face it, could a global financial crisis never happen? Think economy, energy supply, transport, climate, health, environment… crises in any of these realms have potential to seriously disrupt over-centralised production systems.
strategy/introduction.txt · Last modified: 2011/07/20 14:56 by james
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