Thank you, TechShop
When TechShop announced it was closing all its locations earlier this month, the response from the maker community and other supporters was swift and filled with emotion. Many described, in deeply personal terms, the role TechShop played in not just their careers but in their lives. David Lang’s post on Medium is a great example. But in addition to the sincere sense of mourning,some took the opportunity to look forward and suggest how we might fill this void, while adjusting the model to better address what it seems so many are seeking at a place like TechShop — community. Blink-Lab’s June Grant offered particularly insightful comments that we thought were worth sharing so that we all start thinking about what might follow in TechShop’s footsteps.
Thank you, TechShop
You are (already) missed
I would like to take this moment to say thank you to an organization that literally has been central to the operation of my architecture practice. We are not a corporate firm with endless resources. We are tiny and committed to the idea that architects must continually explore materials intimately. So, November 15, 2017, I was stunned upon receiving the email announcing TechShop’s immediate closure … of all locations.
I’ve thought about this almost every day, since. About the impact on the family of people who depended on this unique resource. I despise the term “maker”, and even more the brand “creatives”. And let’s not discuss “artisanal”. But I sense that was both TechShop’s genesis and its downfall. TechShop was similar to many organizations — hipster, male-dominated, and culturally white. However, that was not a show stopper for someone like myself.
KEY: #MakeStuff #TeachMaking #WomenUndaunted
And that was my attraction to TechShop. ‘Just Do It’ was its elemental spirit. But it was more and had the potential to do more.
For a reasonable fee, a place to build and test ideas. Prior to architecture, I had spent three years welding metal sculptures in NYC. Thanks to the Jewish Educational Alliance, at just $40 a month, I had access to tools and talent (we were little non-Jewish women wielding torches after work hours). For the past 8 years, as an architect who designs and tests ideas, TechShop has been my local Bay Area resource — welding torches, laser-cutters, CNC-machines, wood shop routers, band-saws and even sewing machines.
- Enquiring minds meet. Who knew there was someone working on an alternative fence security system for African farmers. Humbled by his project, I was surprised and excited when he inquired about my design based on parametric modeling. Just two minds revealing our worlds to each other and trading thoughts. Nothing sexual, just honest enquiry.
- A place to work when I wished a different space.
The act of making and testing is central to how I think; and TechShop’s CNC class encouraged the purchase of our own CNC machine. Thank you, TechShop.
Thank you, TechShop. I literally could not have done this without you. A year later and we still get calls and emails with enquiries about how to do this at home.
Innovation Plus Application
None of the machines at TechShop required a high-school diploma to operate, nor how to operate well. That was a key factor. As construction and manufacturing becomes increasing automated, the TechShop model is an opportunity to prepare our workforce. These are my thoughts on how to connect the dots for localized impact:
- Team with a technical/vocational school such as Cypress Mandela and augment their curriculum in order to integrate digital precision into the typically manual application.
- Incorporate an advanced curriculum to gain steady revenue.
- Learn from NASA. Hire a spokesperson to spread the message. Nichelle Nichols (Yes from Star Trek) was the most successful spokesperson for NASA. During her campaign, the US saw the greatest increase in women enrolled in Engineering and Aerospace university degrees.
- Team with advanced manufacturing technology firms such as KUKA to acquire a six-axis robot arm and other emerging technologies.
- Bring back the water-jet cutter. This is a personal plea.
- Monthly Lockers
- Establish a location in Oakland (or San Leandro) because we need a place un-hampered by educational bureaucracy where we can Learn, Use and Apply Tools and Technology.
- Hire a few African-Americans and others from under-represented groups. Because frankly it was weary being on the receiving arm of that “I didn’t know black women make” look.
So in closing, “Thank you, TechShop” with the greatest appreciation and deepest sadness; yours is a closure that should not have happened. If anyone else is thinking “Let’s Fix This” … please contact me at 510-326-2176. I’d like to help solve this problem.