Makerspaces connect people and projects in Vancouver

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      East Vancouver artist Jodi Stark turns found and reclaimed wood into jewellery, picture frames, and tables. Lately, she’s been dabbling in metalworking.

      Stark spends much of her time at the Vancouver Community Laboratory (1907 Triumph Street), a 7,000-square-foot warehouse owned by a nonprofit organization. Like other members of the CoLab, as they call it, each month she pays $100 and volunteers for five hours in order to use the communal space and tools.

      “I think that making things is something that really touches at a primal aspect of being human that we tend to be disconnected with,” Stark, a director of the CoLab, told the Georgia Straight during an interview on the second floor of the space. “To me, it’s been really empowering just making the furniture in my house and being able to customize to my needs and my aesthetic, and also take a bit of a step outside the regular consumerist behaviours.”

      The CoLab, which opened at its current location in 2013, has over 40 members who handle everything from cleaning and repairs to accounting and fundraising. It’s one of several makerspaces that have been started in the Vancouver area in recent years.

      According to a 2013 report out of Michigan State University, makerspaces are “places where like-minded persons gather to work on personal projects, share tools and expertise as well as learn from each other”. Makers—to use the term popularized by Make magazine—pursue projects involving ceramics, electronics, knitting, machining, sewing, woodworking, and other methods. The report notes that makerspaces are modelled after hackerspaces, which are membership-based workshops typically focused on computer, digital-art, science, and technology projects.

      Zen Maker Lab is found underneath Reza Ghaeli and Cyri Jones's startup incubator.
      Stephen Hui

      Reza Ghaeli and Cyri Jones run North Vancouver’s Zen Launchpad, an incubator for computer-hardware startups. They also cofounded the first makerspace on the North Shore after raising $12,000 on Indiegogo. Opened in April, Zen Maker Lab (272 East 1st Street) occupies the 2,000-square-foot warehouse below the incubator.

      Zen Maker Lab has four 3-D printers, two laser cutters, one CNC (computer numerical control) router, and an electronics station. Ghaeli, who’s an adjunct faculty member at the New York Institute of Technology’s Vancouver campus, demonstrated the operation of a laser cutter by slicing a koala-bear shape out of wood using a digital file. He told the Straight that Zen Maker Lab aims to do whatever it can to support members’ commercial and noncommercial projects.

      “We want to help people to succeed, so we support them with not only just this space and the machines, but also the expertise and support and design side and everything,” Ghaeli said, after wrapping up a kids’ day camp in the Lower Lonsdale makerspace.

      Zen Maker Lab has around 20 members. Individuals pay $50 per month and startups pay $150 per month. Cofounder Jones, a business instructor at Capilano University and the British Columbia Institute of Technology, told the Straight they view the makerspace as a social enterprise, so they’re planning to spin it off as a community contribution company.

      “Everyone should be able to walk or ride a bicycle or something to a place like this, rather than having to drive halfway across the Lower Mainland to get to a space,” Jones said.

      In April, the Fraser Valley Makerspace (4612 216 Street, 2nd floor) opened in Langley. Vancouver’s MakerMobile, a makerspace housed in a van, debuted at the 2012 Vancouver Mini Maker Faire—one of many maker gatherings held annually around the world.

      MakerLabs cofounders Derek Gaw and Dallas Luther run the Lower Mainland’s largest makerspace.
      Stephen Hui

      With 70 members and a 10,000-square-foot warehouse, MakerLabs (196 Kingsway), which opened in May, is the Lower Mainland’s largest makerspace. Membership costs $100 per month.

      MakerLabs cofounder Derek Gaw, who operated Chinatown’s pop-up Laser Cutter Cafe in 2013, told the Straight the Mount Pleasant makerspace hosts woodworking, laser-cutting, and CNC–routing classes. He explained how CNC routers—MakerLabs has three—work.

      “As opposed to a laser, where it’s using a beam of infrared heat to burn and vaporize material, this one’s using a drill,” Gaw said. “The special thing about CNC drills is they primarily cut sideways as opposed to up and down. So they can cut shapes out of much thicker material more easily than a laser cutter can.”

      The Urban Reef art installation, which took over the 800 block of Robson Street last summer, was constructed at MakerLabs. Dallas Luther, the other cofounder of MakerLabs and a former director of the Vancouver Hack Space (270 East 1st Avenue), gave the Straight a tour and invites everyone to drop in for the same.

      “We’re trying to facilitate some intergenerational skill-sharing, and we try to be as broadly accessible as possible,” Luther said. “We want to draw in all different kinds of backgrounds, disciplines to the space, and we’re excited about what’s come out of that.”

      This Imaginator 3-D printer is just one of the tools at MakerLabs.
      Stephen Hui

      When the Straight visited the CoLab, Kim Cooper and Marten Sims of the Vancouver Design Nerds Society were putting the finishing touches on Nest. A few days later, they installed the public artwork, featuring a circular bench inside a wooden bird’s nest, outside the Creekside Community Recreation Centre.

      Stark noted the CoLab will be a venue for the Eastside Culture Crawl in November. She finds it exciting to work on projects alongside people with diverse skills and interests.

      “You come into the shop and one day someone is making sunglasses out of wood and another day someone’s making a heart-shaped bicycle,” Stark said. “Really, there’s so much cool stuff that’s happening here and so much inspiration.”



      Emily Smith

      Sep 24, 2014 at 11:28am

      This is so great to see. Thanks for featuring Vancouver's Maker community so well, Stephen! :)

      I Sure Am Glad

      Sep 25, 2014 at 10:03am

      That middle class people have time to make their own furniture, instead of dealing with issues like rising inequality. Oh, wait, this is an example of rising inequality. I am glad to be a member of the leisure class who _could_ spend my time making my own furniture, but, seeing as I have a conscience, I buy at Ikea or wherever and then use my time to building a better world, not to building consumer goods that are more efficiently produced on scale.

      Utterly pathetic, middle class children wasting their time self-indulgently making furniture and "heart-shaped bicycles" while their brothers and sisters starve in the streets.

      Maker and proud

      Sep 25, 2014 at 12:00pm

      Dear I Sure Am Glad

      The Makerspace I attend provides access to tools for everyone. So far, our space has been able to survive on donations alone, so there have been no fees to attend. The people who attend are split 50/50, we have engineers, programmers, tailors, artists as one half providing FREE lessons to the other half. Enabling them to try various trades without having to pay tuition fees. Most of the people come out for fun, but some are exploring new career paths. People don't want to commit to paying tuition just to try something out, and in some cases people haven't had any exposure to technical studies and have no idea where to get started. We have one member who was working a minimum wage job for years. He's now enrolling in Robotics and will likely be an engineer.

      The problem with our society is our middle class is disappearing. We're helping elevate people so that they'll have the skills and the pull to make changes to this world, and you think that's a bad thing? Give your head a shake.


      Sep 25, 2014 at 2:21pm

      Hahaha, I'm not sure "I Sure Am Glad & Holier Than Thou" has any concept of what actually causes inequality or that creatives are rarely "middle class", some of us even need makerspaces to eek out a living rather than slaving away at minimum wage for large corporations. But yeah, keep on fighting the good fight!

      @Maker and proud

      Sep 25, 2014 at 4:51pm

      YHBT. HAND.


      Sep 26, 2014 at 10:41am

      "We're helping elevate people so that they'll have the skills and the pull to make changes to this world, and you think that's a bad thing?"

      Our problem today isn't that we're losing kids who know how to make furniture---it's that we have an economic system that is ridiculously inegalitarian. Building bikes and furniture isn't going to hurt, but it surely doesn't help. At most you'll get one more kid with some skills enabling him to climb the ladder---you're not going to do anything to get rid of the ladder this way. And in my experience, the "maker personality" is A-OK with a class-based, stratified society where "productive" people are given more than "non-productive" people.

      Finally, anyone with disposable income to spend on this sort of thing, especially on materials, is rather middle-class. Not baby-boomer middle class, but certainly middle-class in today's sense. Being middle-class is all about having disposable income and time. And if you have that, it is because someone else is occupying a rung in society without any leisure time/disposable income. You're not telling me these people are building their own furniture because it's cheaper and quicker, are you? It's because they have disposable time/income. Middle Class.


      Sep 27, 2014 at 4:55am

      *recognizing that there are trolls*
      So,Hullabaloo, you think having $50bucks for membership and $50 for materials makes someone middle class? that's depressing (I say that as someone without a job, a mountain of debt & who cannot afford to rent an apartment in Vancouver)

      That sure is Sad

      Sep 30, 2014 at 2:44am

      Being a consumer of shoddy, disposable goods from corporation that boasts one of greatest concentrations of wealth somehow makes you a force for equality? The greatest inequalities in the world are often synonymous with off-shore manufacturing and the cheap thrills consumerism you seem to promote. Makers, more than most groups in our society, understand the means of production and are taking measurable steps to correct inequality on many fronts - especially in regards to education and the environment. Enjoy resting your feet on your FRUKTBAR coffee table, the makers are in the workshop building the better world they wish to see.