Fab Lab Wgtn’s story started in 2011 at Massey University - Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa, one of New Zealand most important universities. At that time, Chris Jackson (an industrial design lecturer), was looking at post-industrial futures and what it meant to be a designer in the world of open source, open design, new softwares and ethos around making, educational practices and so on.
He came across the Fab Lab Network and got so inspired he suggested to Massey that, not only they should start their own Fab Lab, but also they should host the next annual FAB Conference! Why? Because he saw something in this movement, and strongly believed this world community of people and this Fab Lab concept were the right environment to ask his questions, explore the implications through making, and thus become and train better designers in the process.
Chris went off to Lima to attend the FAB7 Conference (the yearly gathering of Fab Labs), pitched in favor of hosting the next one in Wellington, and won! As Wendy Neale remembers it today, “he came back super excited, and all we had to do was to start our own Fab Lab (laughs). Having a Fab Lab here made sense. We have a strong 100 year history of making things here at Massey University, especially within the College of Creative Arts, which is quite a long time here in New-Zealand.”
Coming from a industrial design background, with a solid furniture design experience, Wendy became one of the earliest supporters of the project. She was away in Portugal while Chris got everyone together to launch the Fab Lab initiative (prepping the space, the equipments, start partnerships), but was soon offered to become Fab Lab Wgtn’s director! She shortened her time in Portugal not to miss this opportunity, stopped at Fab Lab Barcelona on her way back for an inspiring visit and arrived 10 days before the conference started. “And then, it was just all on.”
The FAB8 Conference took place in August 2012 at Massey University, and Fab Lab Wgtn officially opened then. “200 people coming from around the world, with an even bigger symposium, is a special thing for us living in New Zealand. We’re quite separate from the rest of the world, we have strong connections with the Pacific, Asia and Australia, but Europe, Africa and America are all so much further away and on distant timezones. But here those people were, making together, talking to each other, it was fantastic!”
After the conference, Fab Lab Wgtn became a space of Massey University, connected to the College of Creative Arts, open to any students on the campus for their papers/projects, but also any curious adult from Wellington and beyond.
For all Fab Labs, the first 3 years are of utmost importance to try to find what your community wants, how can the community help you build what that is. Here, 2013 was the turning point! The first local session of the FabAcademy - a 6-month intense program to learn how to make almost anything, distributed all over the global Fab Lab network - started in January. Over the next month, Craig Hobern started to collaborate with Wendy, gradually becoming her partner-in-crime and the second full-time employee there. Together, they build Fab Lab Wgtn’s vision brick by brick.
Today, their mission is to “nurture resilience through hands-on experimentation and lifelong learning in global open design ecosystems”. As Wendy & Craig put it, “We had to choose our forte, working with people interested in design and creativity, and how digital techniques can enhance their creative practices! Our Resilience project is a really big part of that, designing sustainable solutions for people to be able to keep living in this world in a meaningful way, with sustainable relationships, materials, processes, and educational practices. And being in Wellington makes us unique to the rest of the country and the world, with a strong, diverse and creative community!”