Presented by: Sean Solley

Despite Berlin’s status as the German capital it remains, for the moment, a melting pot of international artisans enjoying access to affordable homes and work spaces. During a one year sabbatical I examined the cities Open Workshops; a network of co-operative spaces catering to the Maker community. I was particularly interested to examine how digital fabrication has altered Germany’s traditional overlap between technology and craft.

In collaboration with my wife, we developed a series of furniture designs that could be fabricated or “hacked” at these workshops. Each design invites “controlled “ modification. Unlike typical forms of consumption, we believe participation enhances pride of ownership and may keep goods out of the landfill. 

The process began by focusing on the unique possibilities of Laser cutting, 3D printing and CNC milling. The Arduino Microprocessor, with it’s simplified programming language, enabled us to control our lighting designs electronically.

Berlin’s many recycling initiatives enabled us to employ materials exclusive to the cities commercial surplus depots. The re-purposing of resources by digital fabrication became the focus of our work. The resulting furniture and lighting designs, entitled Erfindsam, were fabricated at the FabLab Berlin and exhibited at the DMY International Design Show in June 2015. 

Erfindsam is a German adjective, describing the innate human ability to seek out, modify and improve. Each product is designed as a series of component parts that enable non-designers to incorporate the following modifications:

The materials must be a plentiful bi-product from a manufacturing process. 

The designs should be easily assembled; with equipment available from a local hardware store.

Fastenings and supplementary components should be manufactured using local 3D printing, CNC routing or Laser Cutting services.

The designs advocate for the support of regional resources and greater reuse of local waste supplies. In recent years cities like Berlin and Barcelona, have promoted Maker spaces as a means to increase local manufacturing and reduce the environmental burden of transporting goods. In the USA, the rise of digital fabrication has revealed a lack of qualified machinists. This has prompted former hubs of industry to invest in their trade schools and develop programs for re-training of the unemployed.

These current trends lead us to believe that good design has the potential to be fabricated by communities who would otherwise be denied a foothold on the economic ladder. At present we are exploring these ideas with disability advocates, marine trade representatives, Departments of Correction and Community Colleges. The economic advantages of local manufacturing reveal a network of unexpected stakeholders. As educators we should expose our students to such complex topics by creating interdisciplinary studios; these would enable designers to appreciate the political and economic factors behind their work.

To achieve successful sustainable design strategies we must also enable the customer to understand the environmental impact of their choices. Digital fabrication reveals a way to assume responsibility for the design, manufacture and life cycle of the objects we own.

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