Next Stop: Boston
After 2.5 days of New York, coming to Boston felt like visiting its little sister. Of the 1.5 days we spent there, we spent some time decompressing and following up all we had seen in NYC, and then visited two amazing, somehow related, but completely different places:
The Artisan’s Asylum is located in Somerville in a huge industrial space – 31,000 ft² packed with cubicle-like work spaces to rent, workshops for wood, metal, glass and painting, class rooms and, above all, tons of tools and artifacts. We were shown around by Brandon, who’s a resident maker there, working on an awesome web-to-hardware-interface called the Rascal. We saw furniture, crazy pimped bikes, a beer machine, lots of artwork, lots of electronics – and one half-sized prototype leg of giant robot Hexapod. Ergo: everything a maker’s heart desires. What we found most impressive in all this was the atmosphere of total openness, the wild mixture of seriousness and craziness – just have a look at the photos we posted to be impressed, too! Surely managing such an – in both senses of the word – open space is a challenging task, and after only 8 months of existence, the Asylum seems still to be on its way to a sustainable model of operation. Best of luck for that – and we’ll surely be back!
And then yesterday, we saw the future: The mothership of making, the eternal kindergarten, the place where E Ink, tangible interfaces and the look-around-the-corner-camera were invented. We were shown around and introduced to a few of the researchers by our friend Valentin, who is working on fluid interfaces there. We briefly talked to David Mellis, one of the creators of the Arduino, and Amit Zoran, creator, among other things, of the amazing Chameleon Guitar and the FreeD, a handheld digital milling device for craft and fabrication. Walking through the Media Lab created an amazing feeling of immersion: All rooms of the Lab are either packed with project artifacts ranging from pimped ping pong tables to robots to folding cars, or they are ideation spaces mainly consisting of whiteboards with ideas and scribbles all over them. There seem to be no boundaries between soldering and mathematics, robotics and sewing, physical and virtual, and the underlying infrastructure allows the researchers to create almost anything they imagine, laser cutters and the like being almost a banality there. Accordingly, everything we saw showed a consistently astounding level of sophistiaction. We could feel the buzzing of ideas and technologies there, soon to be spun out into startups or to be used in new industries – but we can also imagine that working in such a highly creative context puts some pressure on anyone working there. No wonder the motto for Lab researchers is “Demo or Die”…
In the end, both the total openness of the Asylum and the grand sophistication of the Media Lab seem to be incredibly important instantiations of maker spirit to us – and seeing both ends of the spectrum immediately one after the other was a really inspiring experience.