“Makers” in Madrid: bringing innovation through collaborative DIY

Story by Monica Vallejo

MADRID–Like any Tuesday evening, people start trickling into the workshop located in the Arganzuela district, minutes away from the center of Madrid. Javier Porres, a retired engineer, has been working most of the afternoon printing parts for his latest project. He is building himself a new 3-D printer.

“I didn’t know how to make any of these things before, but people here are always willing to help you when you’re stuck,” said Porres, who joined Makespace last November. The collaboration surrounding him was evident as people gathered around tables to work and share their expertise with others at the workshop.

People work and collaborate on different projects in an open workspace at Makespace. Photo by Joe Thomas

People work and collaborate on different projects in an open workspace at Makespace.
Photo by Joe Thomas

Since its foundation in April 2013, Makespace has welcomed “makers” from all backgrounds who share the same passion for creating things with their own hands. From high school students to retirees, the community at Makespace has grown to have almost 70 members. People pay 30 euro, or around $33 per month to have access to both prototyping technology and old-school hand tools.

“There is a large variety of people here,” said Cesar Garcia, treasurer and co-founder of Makespace. “All the people who come share a certain restlessness, curiosity and the willingness to make things themselves.” Garcia explained that members’ backgrounds range from programmers and physicists to industrial designers, architects and artists.

A look at the “makers” of Makespace. 

An emerging platform for innovation

In Madrid, the maker culture — a trend characterized by hands-on, collaborative learning that combines artisan practices with new technologies — has been gaining popularity in the last few years. Communities such as Makespace have been surfacing around the city including Medialab Prado and the FabLab at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

This past April, Madrid hosted its first Mini Maker Faire, which gathered makers from all backgrounds who showed their latest creations to the public.

“What makes a Maker Faire special is that you don’t just see something amazing,” said Ian Cole, one of the founders of The Maker Effect Foundation, an organization in Florida that researches the impact that makers have in their communities. “You stand there and talk to the creator about their idea, their tools and about the parts that didn’t work.”

Garcia, who was among the organizers of Mini Maker Faire Madrid, attributes the growth of the maker movement to the combination of collaborative spaces and showcasing events that are springing up around the city.

“Regardless of where I’ve gone in the world, one thing that ties it together is a sheer joy that comes through creation,” said Cole, who organizes the Maker Faire in Orlando and has attended events in several other cities. “It’s a feeling that comes from saying, ‘I had an idea, I learned some skills, I brought that idea to life.’”

Another event that has helped boost the maker presence in Madrid is Mulafest, an annual four-day celebration of urban cultural trends in Madrid. This year marks the third time makers will host Mulamake 3D, a space at the festival dedicated to them. In 2012, Adam Jorquera and Javier Gordillo, co-founders of Los Hacedores, a local 3-D printing school and workshop, pitched the idea and the maker presence at the event has been growing ever since. Mulamake will take place at Institución Ferial de Madrid, IFEMA, from June 25 to June 28.

Jorge Hernáez, Adam Jorquera and Javier Gordillo cofounders of Los Hacedores, a 3-D printing workshop and school in Madrid.  Photo by Joe Thomas

Co-founders Javier Gordillo and Adam Jorquera, along with employee Jorge Hernáez, at Los Hacedores, a 3-D printing workshop and school in Madrid.
Photo by Monica Vallejo

“Everything is converging and making this movement grow. There is something very positive that comes from transmitting the message that you can do things,” said Garcia. “There has been a movement of paralysis in Spain, especially after the [economic] crisis. Many people have the fear that they can’t do it, but we’re here to tell them ‘yes, you can.’”

A way of life

Artisan guilds and collectives in Spain have been around for a long time. But there is a particular technological driver that is creating a bridge between old artisan practices and new prototyping technologies.

“Makers are cutting-edge artisans,” said Alex Fábregas, founder of Builders, a local collective of do-it-yourselfers who develop projects around open source furniture design to foster the maker mentality in Madrid. “Differently from old artisans, they start and finish one product controlling a variety of disciplines.”

Currently, Fábregas is working on creating the Builder House 3.0, the third part of a shared housing experiment in which four makers from different backgrounds will live together for 34 days to personally design and produce their own furniture with the help of local artisans and a budget similar to what that they would spend at IKEA.

“Both in consuming and producing things, we want to generate richness and for there to be more of us,” said Fábregas, explaining that the purpose of the project is for makers to design spaces tailored to their needs and preferences. “We want more of us in our homes, more of us on our table and more of us in the results of our efforts.”

Other current projects overseen by Builders include Crowd Design, an open source social media website and Made in Madrid, started by architect Maria Moncada, who aims to promote co-designed, decentralized production through a network of local manufacturers and artisans.

For Priscilla Mireiles, owner of HOW, a store that opened two months ago in the Malasaña district of Madrid that connects makers and designers directly with clients, the maker culture is about being involved in the entire process of creation.

“These are things that are made for you,” said Meireles, speaking about the pieces at her store. “When you produce your own pieces, you put a lot of your personality, your history, your energy and your personal life into it — and that’s what I love.”

Collective learning

The maker culture relies on the open source mentality, in which people share their projects and the next person builds on it to improve it. With the constant decrease in the cost of technology and the loss of patents for many machines, prototyping technologies have become significantly more accessible.

“Sharing produces more results than if I grab what is mine, protect it and don’t let anyone see it,” said Jorquera, co-founder of Los Hacedores. “The patent was supposedly invented to foster and protect creativity, but the effect it has had in society has been the opposite. If anything it has put a break on it.”

Through the internet, open source and creative commons licenses makers are able to collaborate on similar projects and accelerate the rate of innovation and development.

Left: A Minecraft- themed toy designed by one of the children that attended a workshop at Los Hacedores. Right: 3-D printed toys designed by children are displayed at Los Hacedores.  Photos by Monica Vallejo

Left: A Minecraft-themed toy designed by one of the children who attended a workshop at Los Hacedores. Right: 3-D printed toys designed by children are displayed at Los Hacedores.
Photos by Monica Vallejo

“You can work on far more interesting projects, with less funding but with the whole world working on them,” said Jaime Martín, founder of Estudio Buenos Días, a co-working studio for makers located outside of the city.

He collaborates with Fábregas on some of the current projects. “It’s not only 10 privileged minds who get to work on something, but thousands of minds working together on something interesting — and that is much better.”

For makers, the motivation to create rarely comes from the desire to make money. “We do it for the love of art, trying to make something that will really be useful for everyone,” said Fábregas. “In the meantime you don’t earn much money. If you do it for the love of art, you’re doing something that you think is right and you believe in it.”

One of the downsides with open source is that companies can get blueprints for ideas and create a business out of it, taking away the spirit of collaboration.

“There are companies that grab hardware ideas, put them in a box with their label and sell them as if they were theirs without giving anything back to the community,” said Gordillo, co-founder of Los Hacedores. “Open source is a two-way street, you take from the community, but you have to give back as well.”

Although makers range from programmers to artists, they are all connected by their passion to create innovative projects to advance society.

“There is a positivity that happens. I think it’s very easy to get negative about everything that happens in the world,” said Cole from the Maker Effect Foundation. “If you’re a maker, you have a belief system. That belief system is that if you have an idea or you see something that you want to make better, you can. It’s an outlook, a way of looking at things thinking ‘I can make the world around me better.’ We tend to work together and I think there is a lot of learning and growth that comes from that.”

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