“Learning from nature to change the world”. A project promoted by IaaC (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia) and part of the Barcelona Fab City network. The Green Fab Lab works towards the creation of a self-sufficient habitat and research centre at Can Valldaura.
Fablab connecting nature & technology
Green Fablab in details
All you need to know about the workshop before getting there
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A guided tour of Green Fablab
Interview of Jonathan Minchin and immersion into the workshop
MakerTour's 6 topics
Understand in depth the mecanisms and practices of this workshop
“You have to first understand that Can Valldaura is a 113 hectares territory, and part of it is the Green Fablab. The building has an history that goes back to the 11th century.” Nine years ago, IaaC architecture institute started an investigation and understanding of the place. The Green Fablab project was submitted in 2011, the property bought thanks to a grant and operations started in 2014.
It’s the second campus of IaaC school of architecture, and the second FabCity network fablab after Fab Lab Barcelona. It was created to interface with this environment as a rural fablab, looking specifically at the intersection between technology and self-sufficient environment, creating alternative modes of production. “That’s what makes it different from other fablabs, the combination of its locality and advanced tools”.
“We imagine that all Valldaura would be for researchers, Iaac students, visitors, people coming for workshops and events, creating immersive experiences during which people live there and make things locally.” People from all over the world come here to take the FabAcademy and BioAcademy programs.
“The Green Fablab has 4 lines of investigation: fabrication, energy, agroecology and biology. But this idea came afterwards, it was first thought to be more a traditional arts&craft lab.” The idea is to make things with the resources available within the property, grow some materials and be zero waste, making the machines that can enable them to explore their surrounding environment.
“The users are anyone who come, who can find us in the forest. It remains open to all cross sections of society, from Barcelona, the country, and the world.” It includes master students from Iaac, volunteers and young convicts taking part in the Open Days, participants to workshops, companies coming for corporate bootcamps, students from FabAcademy/BioAcademy programs, interns, associations from Barcelona and around!
What people are looking for coming to Green Fablab? “Particularly at Green Fablab and Can Valldaura, the answer would be : new ways to interface, in a more honest way, with nature/ecology. They want to make things, be sustainable, self-sufficient, resilient, become part of the makers and transition movement, look at different modes of production. Can Valldaura is a microcosm of the world!”
The range of things made there is quite broad, “anything almost (laughs)”: prototyping, social agriculture, housing construction, forestry, biophotovoltaic panels, constructions out of mycellium, drones mapping the terrain, open source beehives.
"It’s a community. We have our own problems and risks of course, because it’s new and moving. People can come, get engaged through residency program, internships, volunteering. But how can you build a community that can be self-sustaining? It’s not self-sufficient so far, we’re not quite there yet.”
The pedagogy and animation
2 people are running Can Valldaura every day, helped by the community: Martin Goodman, working on the site, driving the bobcat, feeding the chickens, watering the plants, farming, maintaining the house and a 113-hectare forest - and Jonathan Minchin who's in charge of everything the labs and projects!
First thing when arriving there? “Have a cup of tea, it’s the best thing! When you have a group of permaculture practitioneers, how to introduce them to A.I. specialists and technology? Let’s share a cup of tea, understand what everyone wants to do here and choose what to talk about. People need to do what they want to do, understand the others, make something meaningful to everyone. They have to become the leaders of their own design and making process, prosumers.”
There’s rythm in the Green Fablab’s life with the Open Days, FabAcademy & BioAcademy programs, corporate bootcamps and workshops (among other things)! “We can’t follow all the projects. If people are the leaders of their own design and making process, they’ll make things. And here, we collaborate and work all together!”
“Most of the projects we are engaged are documented. The protocole of documentation is Git (through GitHub and GitLab), no matter what is the publicised platform. All of the FabAcademy projects developed by the students are on Git.”
Thanks to this protocol, Jonathan can see and be updated on what the students are doing by getting the data in his computer. Everything is publicised on Green Fablab’s website, IaaC students share on iaac.net, FabAcademy students share on FabAcademy website, same process for the BioAcademy.
One of the best documentations there is the Open Beehive project. You can buy the beehive that Jonathan will make for you, or you can download the design and files. But the whole documentation is on GitHub.
Anyone who can use this platform can do it. Jonathan don’t know all the people working on it. “That’s actually the point. Greg from FabAcademy here is working on it, people in London, a German guy is paid to do the sensing devices, people from Latin America.”
Another project linked to documentation is Living Archives! "It is a platform is currently being developed by one of the interns. Kind of a wiki tied to a location. If I go to a tree within the forest, I can access the data of its history. The plan is to consolidate the data coming from the different devices, know when the plants are planted, with the machines you can reference the use for a project.”
The business model
The Green Fablab project was funded through a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Tourism and a bank loan. Cost of buying the property, constructions work and projects funding? Almost 5 million euros. The fablab in itself cost 100.000 euros to set up. Most of the machines were bought or obtained through partnerships like with Trotec.
Architecture work was lead by Vicente Guallart (cofounder of IaaC institute), Tomas Diez was in charge, and Jonathan came as a coordinator. 2 people work every day in the fablab nowadays. The core community is made out of 120 people, welcoming a thousand visitors every month with the students, volunteers and others.
Part of IaaC university, the Green Fablab has a 56k euros yearly budget, and makes money through hosting, workshops, FabAcademy program without any regular grants. And it fully benefits from Fab Lab Barcelona partnerships!
In a near future, the lab team will keep on developing FabAcademy and BioAcademy programs, getting fundings from projects, and becoming a place where companies come to think and experience the idea of self-sufficiency at many levels.
Their indicators of a lab’s success? “More people with an understanding and operative knowledge of the place, our community resilience, the FabAcademy students, the projects we help to take off and the ones we’re involved in!”
“A green fablab is a laboratory that can explore and bridge a better relationship between technology and nature, understanding supply chain, playing with nature on a small scale. We think of it as the next generation of fablabs, looking at their impact, the materials we use and create more sustainable processes.”
The raw materials used come from outside the door. “The protocol is “as local as possible”. It’s difficult to do that in a full way, we still have to order stuffs. We try to recycle as much as possible, there should be no waste. But it’s still not true with PLA, ceramics and metal.”
The Green Fablab also works on its energy consumption with Hydrogrid, its water system. “It works like a network of services, where the highest and lowest point of water are the cleanest. The five types of water are cycled around these two points as many time as possible.” Regarding electricity, they developed Energrid. “Behind every socket, there’s an integrated monitoring system built by Guilhem Camparadon (our technical god). We can track the consumption of any power consuming device and control appliances in real-time. With the interruptors, you can turn off the electricity consumption for a whole room.”
Their view on planned obsolescence? “Nobody wants that. We should make things that live. And there’s two ways to do that: campaign against it, or design things that last!”
The great practices of Green Fablab
The good initiatives of this workshop which should inspire everyone
The future development and projects of the workshop
The challenge for the Green Fablab is to progress on its zero waste and self-sufficiency mission and manage its community and activities on a daily basis. Two temporalities to handle carefully because one cannot happen without the other, a subtle balance requiring a dedicated team!
Inspire and help the opening of Green Fablabs in the world?
The Green Fablab must be of the most inspiring initiatives in the fablab world, looking at how many people mentioned it to us during our tour. But it remains a unique initiative so far. Who will be the first to “follow their lead” in their very own way?
Wait, there's more to read!
A few links and ressources about the workshop
- Movilab's link: http://movilab.org/index.php?title=Maker_Tour
- It all started at the Green Fablab : http://aquapioneers.io/it-all-started-at-the-green-fab-lab/
- MakerTour (9): Norway et Valldaura, des fablabs en vert et blanc : http://www.makery.info/2016/05/13/makertour-9-norway-et-valldaura-des-fablabs-en-vert-et-blanc/
- Valldaura, lab autosuffisant sur la montagne : http://www.makery.info/2014/07/22/valldaura-labo-sur-la-montagne/
for their warm welcome and the time they dedicated to the initiative!