How to Develop a Makerspace

Talks on campus help community reflect on what defines a maker culture.

The planning committee for the 2019 Dr. Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series designed a program to inspire the Harvey Mudd community to create a culture for its new makerspace that is inclusive, creative, playful, sustainable and builds upon the College’s liberal arts environment. Speaking to the theme “Maker Cultures,” speakers invited the community to think beyond traditional makerspaces, where tools and materials are available in a dedicated space, to maker cultures that are mobile, use living materials, re-make with recycled parts and cross disciplinary boundaries.

Garnet Hertz, associate professor in the faculty of Design and Dynamic Media at Emily Carr University, investigates DIY culture, electronic art and critical design practices. He is well-known for his Disobedient Electronics: Protest, a limited-edition publishing project by artists who disobey conventions, especially work that is used to highlight injustices, discrimination or abuses of power. His talk and workshop introduced a series of core techniques and ideas from critical design to think through digital technology’s capacities and potentiality both as a corrective to its uncritical embrace and as a way to redefine the digital in daily life. At Hertz’s workshop, participants played a custom-designed card game to re-evaluate and re-invent digital technologies. Hertz embraces the term “critical making.” He says, “People who are building stuff need to be aware of what’s happening in society in general.”

Ellen Jorgensen, cofounder and chief science officer at Carverr, runs a biotech startup that safeguards supply chains and promotes sustainable practices by using biomolecules and probiotics to track and trace food and other products. In 2009, she cofounded the first biomakerspace, Genspace, in Brooklyn. She says, “I think the idea of informing the public and letting the public get involved, hands-on, is really critical to the idea of shepherding some of these new technologies.”

DK Osseo-Asare is cofounder and principal of architecture at integrated design studio Low Design Office (LOWDO), in Austin, Texas, and Tema, Ghana, and is an assistant professor of architecture and engineering design at Penn State. He presented lessons learned “Making in the Open” at and around the Agbogbloshie scrapyard in Accra, Ghana, as he co-developed the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform—an open-source maker tech initiative. He says, “When you’re working within a scrap yard, within a community where everything is based around repair, refurbishing, recycling, you realize that making is a spectrum, and it loops and it cycles between making and unmaking and remaking. This needs to be foundational in all of our ways of thinking about making, otherwise we fall into the trap of just consumerism by another form of name.”

The co-founder and director of Digital Naturalism Laboratories, Andrew Quitmeyer, studies the intersections between wild animals and computational devices and runs a field station makerspace, Digital Naturalism Laboratories in Gamboa, Panama. Before his Nelson talk “Design for Change: Critical Technical Practice and Protest through Electronic Objects,” Quitmeyer joined media studies Professor Rachel Mayeri and art and biology students in making interactive plant robots to explore plant physiology at the Bernard Field Station.

Watch selected Nelson talks