Posts tagged fab lab
Community Technology

Karl Hess was a complicated man. Raised by a single mother in 30's-era Washington, D.C., he dropped out of high school and got into the news business at age 15. By his early forties he was writing speeches for Barry Goldwater; he then swung to the other end of the spectrum, joining Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and collaborating with the Black Panther Party. Eventually, he struck out for unknown territory, espousing a radical form of libertarianism that bordered on anarchism. He wrote a number of books, including Community Technologywhich first came out in 1979 . 

I first learned about Hess in an article that used a term, shared machine shops, attributed to him. I got a used copy of Community Technology put out by Loompanics Unlimited, a reprint house covering topics like drugs, smuggling, anarchism, and survivalism. These titles proved controversial enough to attract the attention of the F.B.I., and they went out of business in 2006. These sit slightly to the outskirts of the sort of seventies-era DIY manuals that I have soft spot for -- ShelterHydroponics Hot HouseThe Passive Solar Dome GreenhouseThe Prodigious BuildersNomadic Furniture, and How to Build Your Own Living StructuresThey are all lightly political, explicitly practical, and more than a little self-righteous. 

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R Credenza

For a little over a year now, I've been chasing around some concepts about flat-pack design: its history, its widespread adoption, and design research into modern methods. Parallel to these explorations, I've been using a CNC router and digital file hosting to test out new methods of manufacturing. My first product, the Zip TIe Lounge Chair, went live on OpenDesk last May. Made from a half-sheet of plywood and 44 zip ties, it uses common industrial materials and a universal design language that can be digitally distributed and modified. It was my first open-source object. I was optimistic about its possibilities, imagining a future where Amazon would CNC furniture right in its distribution warehouses for same-day delivery. 

I was lucky enough to have it crop up on a few design blogs and featured in Make magazine. Released for free under a Creative Commons license, it has accumulated 2,000 downloads over 10 months. Via social media, I found that at least two people have built one, in Barcelona and Ohio (both using makerspaces). The miserable download-to-build ratio (.09%) illustrates the trouble with truly open-source, digitally fabricated furniture: it's still a lot of work, using machines that are not widely accessible. The chair looked too severe, shaped by the machining method and material constraints. More than a few commenters took issue with the durability and aesthetic of the zip-tie fastening. Six weeks in a gallery show proved their point, as UV light and lots of sitters broke the ties across the front of the seat.  

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