MIT-FabLab Norway is first and foremost a community center, a sandbox and melting pot where people and researchers from around the world can meet. Knowledge can be shared, creativity will be inspired by the nature and good ideas are guaranteed to emerge in a purpose-built research environment.
Community center & sandbox
MIT-Fablab Norway in details
All you need to know about the workshop before getting there
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A guided tour of MIT-Fablab Norway
Interview of Haakon Karlsen Jr and immersion into the workshop
MakerTour's 6 topics
Understand in depth the mecanisms and practices of this workshop
MIT-Fablab Norway’s story started twenty years ago, when people, technology and sheeps met. Haakon Karlsen Jr., his family and the community around Lyngen (northern Norway) made several projects to improve their sheep keeping activity in the mountains: a broadcasting system with long-range antennes to locate them, a breeding system with mobile phones and heat sensors texting farmers for them to know when female are ready for insemination!
“It was not about the machines, but the community and shared knowledge!” The impressive results and project news were spread. Meanwhile in 1999, MIT came to Scandinavia to discover “real projects from people in real need”. Haakon’s community-built “sheep phone” was elected for the projects presentation in Oslo. He told everyone this very story, which convinced the MIT to cooperate with them.
After a two-year partnership, a question stayed: how can we collaborate further? Neil Gershenfeld thought about prototyping, and building small laboratories where people live and see what they would make. Rapid prototyping laboratories! But the name was too long and complex. And the name “fablab” came up! The “Fab Contrat” was signed within the international group of people gathered in Lyngen. MIT-Fablab Norway was fablab n°2 in 2002 (the first outside of Boston and the only one with MIT in its name), Ghana (n°3) and India (n°4) followed.
The main house construction took some time, the great opening happened in August 2005, gathering 1.200 people. “And since, the door is open everyday, we don’t charge people and everyone is welcomed!”
But who’s really coming to a fablab located in the Arctic Circle, lost in the middle of the fjords? “Today, it’s Easter, people are in the mountains! Some people come here to say hello, to eat something with us, kids from the kindergarden come to play, all sorts of people come here everyday. From 92 to 5 years old.” MIT-Fablab Norway is an interesting melting pot of locals, tourists, curious people and scientists/researchers.
And how do they find out about such a remote place? “I don’t know, it can come from many ways. People talk about us, all around here and beyond. We were the first fablab outside Boston.” And they come back, often for the locals with the many events and meetings, several times a year for bootcamps for the others.
“Everyone is coming back, everyone is part of the community. How could they come and not be involved?”
“It’s a community center, and that’s what people look for when coming here.” And while it’s not an everyday busy making place, many projects happened thanks to the fablab. Every object in the fablab has its own story and Haakon enjoys taking your time to tell them all over: the artemisia plant, the Chinese doctor and the malaria in Kenya; the Saako boardgame with the four-side dice and the King pawn found in Scotland; the mountains-shaped chairs; the chocolate dried cod fish; or even the flat doghouse!
The pedagogy and animation
Even if MIT-Fablab Norway is often introduced as Haakon’s solo initiative, “it’s not a one-man show, it’s all of us.” Including his wife, his children, the neighbours, the locals from Lyngen, MIT people.
When coming here for the first time, “you sit down at the table, grab a cup of coffee and talk with me or the others. People coming through the doors have to feel welcomed, it’s not just about saying it. If you do something, you really have to mean it! People already into projects come here to tell me more about the evolutions, when they need help, or a good connection to keep on going.”
Many events and meetings rythm the fablab’s life. The most famous are the bootcamps, which started in 2005. “It was a huge success, people came from all over the world. They tried to do it through videoconference once, but it failed. People need to come together, to chat, to fish, to sit around together. The subject changes everytime.” Coming there, you’ll also discover many events like food parties, the national Science Week and even fish or music festivals!
When asked whether there are traces kept about what’s being made at MIT-Fablab Norway, Haakon answered: “No. Just a little bit, but not that much. I think we document everything on the website and the wiki. It’s a problem in the whole fabworld, there’s no place with the whole documentation.”
“As I said, my job is not to follow everything. There’s no IP here. People come here to tell me more about their projects. It’s often super hard to document everything, take pictures all the time, especially with inventors, with their own individual chaos. Fablab attracts inventors, and have just a few entrepreneurs. And that’s all on labs.”
For now, the users do it for themselves and Haakon for his own projects. “Everything is open here. If you have the same machines, you can reproduce it as many times you want!”
The business model
Starting MIT-Fablab Norway and building up the different houses cost 2.1 million euros, which was almost 100% covered by Haakon (a successful entrepreneur!). With the help of 3 builders, the construction work took a year. Most of the things were made there and Haakon bought the rest. But the fablab machines were paid by the MIT through their partnership.
Today, Haakon and his family take care of the place everyday, helped by the community. Up to 7.000 people come here every year, powering the accommodation activity (beds & food). It is their main income source thanks to tourists and trekkers, along with talks and conferences Haakon does abroad. The fablab is a non-profit foundation, while the farm complex is a company. Yearly budget? 200.000 euros. To sum it up, it is both a touristic cottage AND a community lab collaborating with MIT.
What about its future? “I never have a plan. That’s true. I follow the stream. Let us make today a little bit better than yesterday.” Haakon’s main indicator of the fablab good health is to see the community creating the future of the fablab everyday. “All locals here know the fablab, what we have, what we do and come here on a daily basis.”
“I don’t think I have the answer on what makes MIT-Fablab Norway unique compared to the other fablabs in the world. I think we try to keep the soil, to be a fablab where people really feel welcomed when coming here.”
MIT-Fablab Norway is quite unique though. Located in Lyngen majestic surroundings, connected to the local people and history. The farm scenery and the wooden main house add some cachet to the world second fablab. Its vision is unordinary too, focusing on being a community center over a simple workshop, “ we want to be a community center, and try to be. We give back to the people what they give us.”
We then talked about how can a fablab located in the fjords can be environment-friendly. “Everything but acrilyc comes from around here, from local companies. The wood comes from the forest. The wastes are sorted, reused and put in a good fire outside sometimes. But I have to admit I don’t know how much pollution brings a fire compared to traditional garbage systems.. We also use LED lights instead of traditional lights. Save the nature, use as little plastic as possible, zero garbage, produce electricity locally. It’s super important to take care of the globe.”
The great practices of MIT-Fablab Norway
The good initiatives of this workshop which should inspire everyone
The future development and projects of the workshop
Make today a little bit better than yesterday
As Haakon said, “I never have a plan, I follow the stream. All the locals here know the fablab, what we have here, what we do here, they come here. Let us make today a little bit better than yesterday.” Sounds like a good plan for the future!
The Arctic Alps project
In a few words, the Arctic Alps project is a glasshouse on top of Lyngen Alps and a tunnel through the mountains. It is a collaboration with the world-known architect Vicente Guallart involved with IaaC and Fablab Barcelona. He has developed a master piece architectural eco-hub destination, that could be the tallest hotel complex the world has seen, with the highest top being 3500m above the ground. Here’s a video showing their crazy vision!
Wait, there's more to read!
A few links and ressources about the workshop
- Movilab's link: movilab.org/index.php?title=Maker_Tour
- MIT-Fablab Norway, là où tout a commencé (where it all began) : http://strabic.fr/FabLab-MIT-Norway-la-ou-tout-a
- The story of MIT-Fablab Norway: community embedding of peer production : http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-5-shared-machine-shops/peer-reviewed-articles/the-story-of-mit-fablab-norway-community-embedding-of-peer-production/
- MakerTour (9): Norway and Valldaura, white & green shades of fablab : http://www.makery.info/2016/05/13/makertour-9-norway-et-valldaura-des-fablabs-en-vert-et-blanc/
for their warm welcome and the time they dedicated to the initiative!