When Jon and I walked into Happylab Salzburg, our first impression was, “Gosh, this place is so clean.” A sharp contrast to most Fab Labs, Happylab Salzburg has significant space and clearly identified workstations. Tools rest in ordered array, everything labelled and color coordinated.
Jon and I have arrived in Germany. We visited Fab Lab München during their weekly member meeting, and found the Lab engaged in hearty activity. I was eager to search for differences in the German approach to fabbing versus the Italian approach, but in truth I found more similarities. When we walked in, members were huddled around the laser cutter, but their attention was directed at a machine slightly to its left. One member muttered something about love and hugged it.
What’s going on behind the scenes, beyond the 3D printers, the bright flash of laser cutters, beyond the network of nerds? “Fab Lab is a philosophy,” Andrea Pirazzini told me in Fab Lab Padova. You may be a maker, you may be a fabber, you may enjoy creating things with your hands and hanging out with machines, but the overall implication of what’s happening here is far greater than the individual person, or even individual Labs.
My favorite element of my research has been meeting the people. Typically, when you travel you go out and see a lot of cool buildings, play the tourist, take a pile of selfies, but you don’t interact with the locals. This time I’m skipping the cool buildings, I don’t have time to be a tourist, and I’m lucky to have Research Assistant Jon, who has very long arms, along on most interviews to snap photos for me while I take notes. (Side note: Italians love to take selfies, so all I have to do is smile, look in the right direction, and wait for the photo to appear on Facebook.) I’m meeting and engaging locals, the fascinating and driven people involved in Italy’s Fab Lab culture. Last week we visited Opendot Lab in Milano and I finally met Luisa Castiglioni, with whom I’d been communicating by email for months. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Enrico Bassi, the Lab coordinator.
Andrea and I sped west into the blood orange sunset, jagged Alpine peaks clawing the horizon. It took a long time for the sky to lose its visceral glory and a long time for my heart to stop palpitating with the anticipation of once again being surrounded by mountains. I’d arranged this rideshare from Genova to Torino through BlaBlaCar, and when I disembarked his Fiat, Andrea gave me a goose egg from his personal farm, which I later presented to my Couchsurfing host Fabio Manniti like an offering in a fairy tale. If we sat on it all night, maybe a dragon would crack through the shell. We scrambled it with with dinner instead.
Is there such a thing as a “typical” Fab Lab? Not really, but Fab Lab Genova breaks every mold there is anyway. We met Masa at 10AM on a Saturday outside the Buridda, a building which could be best described as a squatters workplace. Fab Lab Genova is just one of many projects operating out of Buridda, along with a boxing club and circus troupe. People don’t live there, but their equipment occupies the space, free of rent.
The same fraternal atmosphere that exists in your favorite bar permeates a Fab Lab. During our two-day visit to Fab Lab Cascina, in the swooping Tuscan countryside west of Pisa, Lab manager Fiore Basile welcomed me and Jon with a big grin, and the other members present rushed forward to shake our hands. The interview had begun before I even had a chance to remove my coat, they were so enthusiastic to show us around their space. The European Fab Labs I’ve been to are distinctly devoted to cultivating a space where locals (and foreigners) can feel comfortable experimenting and inventing.
Fab Lab Olbia is one of the newest Fab Labs on the grid. The first Lab in northeastern Sardinia, Fab Lab Olbia opened up about three months ago, boasts ten dedicated members, two 3D printers, and runs entirely out of Silvano Palmas’s basement. Managed by Antonio Burrai, Fab Lab Olbia is a project composed of equal parts love and brains. Love of technology, and brains for, well, just about everything that can be destroyed and then reassembled. Antonio, a structural engineer who balances his time between Rome and Sardinia, had the idea last summer, inspired by the Fab Lab Roma makers. He assembled a team, among them Silvano, an electrotechnical expert and scuba diving instructor, and Francesca Masu, who handles the legal side of the operation and is in the process of securing funding. Shortly thereafter they adopted Raffaele Enna, who Antonio joked came “floating down the river outside” to become their mechanical engineer.
MadRim Productions is in Europe! Madison arrived in Copenhagen three weeks ago, and I joined her there a couple days later. Since then, we’ve attended conferences, seen the Dalai Lama and the Crown Prince of Denmark, gone walk-about and work-away, hitchhiked across borders, and made many, many friends.
Have you ever splurged and bought something fancy for yourself? And has that object you scrimped and saved for, perhaps borrowed money to purchase, has that object ever broken? And when you returned to the vendor for a quick fix, you were told it would cost $600 just to have some microscopic part shipped from Santa’s Workshop, and then another $300 for the labor to replace it, plus some other random fees and taxes. Before you knew it, the bill to fix your precious object is in the triple digits, might even cost more than your original investment.