By Esther Goh,
Nick Taylor embarked on a single project with Ponoko.com three years ago and the making of stuff hasn't stopped for him since. Along with Lee Bennett and a "loose association of friends and relations", Taylor has rented an entire floor of a building on Vivian Street and is set to lift the lid on the spanking new Wellington Makerspace at the end of the month.
The Makerspace is part of a new wave of maker-culture sweeping the globe and is intended to provide a place where punters can turn designs and inventions into physical things, and show them off. It's also about helping members get products to market – via local weekend markets, the web, or retailers.
This particular space has a specific interest in green, open and decentralising digital
technologies. There are rooms for 3D printing, soldering, editing, and general tinkering, plus a chemistry lab and a composites room. It's kitted out with digital fabrication equipment and manual tools including gear ranging from soldering station to welders to CNC routers, laser cutters, and angle grinders. It also has relationships with suppliers of raw materials, and thus, access to them at low cost.
Time spent at the space (open 10am-9pm Tuesday to Saturday) is available by the hour and every Friday evening is a drop-by session. Taylor says people can use the space and tools on a one-off basis two days a week. If they're going to turn up more than four or five times though, there are dramatic savings to be made by signing up as a member; 'uber-makers' gain access five days a week and have a say in the running of the space. There's a handful of regulars already and more are expressing interest by the day.
"There will probably be people who would just like to do one project ... but what seems to happen, is that people have lots and lots of ideas locked up inside ... and when they see the capabilities and what other people have done, these ideas start bubbling to the surface over time."
Taylor (who describes himself as a freelance web developer, moderately unsuccessful web startup founder, moderately unsuccessful rockstar, inventor, Gen-X slactivist, blogger and a bit of a hippie with a tatty patchwork quilt of odd and part-time jobs in his wake) and Bennett (ex-Navy aircraft engineer, teacher, Weta Workshop props/sculpture creator with a degree in robotics who has a penchant for building things) have thrown in their day jobs to pursue their makerspace vision.
Taylor says the space already has a relationship with the Massey University facility in Wellington and aims to become part of a global network.
"Our direction is slightly different to either hackerspaces or the M.I.T Fablab model in that we aim to fund this by making marketable products straight off the bat rather than government funding, or being a prototype/job-shop," he says.
He sees three "tsunamis" approaching in the guise of peak oil, climate change and mass extinction.
"We'd be lucky to survive any one of these – and it's looking like all three are hitting at once. The bottom line with what we're doing with the Makerspace is to provide resilience to our societies, so we're not utterly dependent on institutions (ranging from foreign manufacturers to our own governments) that are unlikely to survive what appears to be headed this way," he says.
"In spite of all that, we're massively optimistic ... miracles come out of left-field ... and another part of what we're about, is to help those miracles proliferate.
"I personally think, for example, that the energy crisis is going to go away within the next 10 years – probably as a result of gen-tech algae converting sunlight into that massively successful means of storage, oil. If we've learned anything from the 20th century though, it's that we absolutely cannot allow our life-support systems to be controlled by a handful of old men
at the top of sociopathic hierarchies.
"So that's what we're about I guess – applying internet-style resilience to every aspect of the human life-support system. Bringing it all back to a human scale: favela chic, slow food, the new aesthetic, and instant P2P global communication."
In the meantime, he and Bennett need to figure out how to get a 1.5 ton machine up a flight of stairs in time for the grand opening – something he likens to "trying to build Stonehenge on a hill".