Design isn’t just about thinking, it’s about doing. Even if you haven’t studied as a Designer you can become a Maker. Taking an idea out of your head and into a workshop is the first (and hardest) step but it just got a whole lot easier thanks to the opening of The Wellington Makerspace for those of us here in Te Aro.
Co-founder Lee Bennett has “always made things” ranging from Virtual Reality to special effects and prop building for film. In starting up the new workshop at number 6 Vivian Street he invited Steve Almond, who trained as an Industrial Designer at De Montfort University in the UK, to partner with him and grow the business.
Street access is tucked into a small alcove almost hidden from view next to Nood. Once you climb the stairs you are greeted by a lasercut steel door, exactly what you would expect from a creative studio that houses computer aided tools such as a CNC router or laser cutter as well as a welding station and a host of standard metal & woodworking machines and hand tools.
Lee believes “people are losing the ability to make things” and the answer is to work with kids. His vision for the space involves bringing in school children to teach them to tinker, take things apart, and learn to create and put things together. He wants kids to think “it’s cool to make things” and envisions that in a world of natural disasters it is a good skill to have. “If there were an earthquake there would be a lot more community resilience” if we were all makers and tinkerers.
This, of course, falls in line with the number 8 wire mentality in New Zealand. But here in cities Lee thinks we are a “consumer culture” buying the things we need or want. He will agree that in rural areas people are fixers, tinkerers, and makers but sometimes “it is seen as odd to make things here [in Wellington].” Let’s not lose our ability to fix, create, and build. Cities around the world have joined the maker movement and in recent years creative districts have grown, workshops open to the community have sprung up, and events have become more and more common.
The Wellington Makerspace doesn’t just stop with providing a space and teaching people how to use tools, it goes one step further in enabling the creation of fanciful ideas. Lee’s dream is for people to come in with “lofty blue-sky ideas but without the skills” to pull it off. That is where he and his team step in with years of experience from a variety of industry. “People come in with a project they think they need. We throw it around and when we are done we have come up with a better idea together.” In thinking about a project Steve will ask “Who is it for? Why and in what environment?” He believes an object should be “designed for the exact purpose it is intended.” I get the impression that Lee & Steve love a challenge, the crazier the project the better. If you dream it they will help you make it. (But be warned they do not get too enthused about helping you make a boring coffee table, unless your coffee table has robotic legs to walk around on…)
It is easy to get caught up in all the fancy computer aided machines where you draw something on a computer and then have a machine make it for you. In our world of instant gratification Lee sees a trend of people wanting “to push a button on a machine to make a hole instead of just using the drill press.” I think there is something gained in a process where you are shaping an object by hand. You will notice things about the material (and I will admit sometimes it will cause frustration), you will change your mind about the design as you go. And of course there is the sense of pride when you have completed your project.
Even if you aren’t in Wellington you can probably find a workshop nearby. Dust off that old idea you have always meant to make, before you think of throwing something out consider fixing it, or sit down with a cup of tea and let your imagination fly. Then take that first step into a workshop and become a maker. Don’t put pressure on yourself for it to be perfect before you start. Just start and see where you end up.