by Ilona Prosol and Larry Jones
Remember shop class? Working with your hands, power tools and heavy equipment to turn a slab of wood into a lifelong memento: the wobbly cutting board, treasured nut bowl, or maybe the clock that still sits on your parents’ den shelf? That sense of pride that came from making something with your own two hands – who could forget it?
It’s a good feeling, which might explain, at least in part, the surge in what are now called “makerspaces” – the more we dwell in the virtual world, the more we want to use our hands, to make something real, in real time, with real implications for real people.
Makerspaces are exactly what they sound like: physical environments equipped with the tools and materials needed for people to come together and make stuff or learn how to make stuff. Though their technological advances put them far beyond the wood shops of old, their community aspect is very much the same in that they emphasize collaboration and team problem-solving. Whether in educational, business, public or manufacturing settings, makerspaces are increasingly seen as a critical component for fueling innovation in design, engineering and manufacturing, as well as more broadly, commercial and community development.
BVH has been involved in the creation of several of these spaces. A far cry from your (or at least our) high school wood shop, they’re equipped with a range of sophisticated tools and machinery to support wood, metal and plastic fabrication spaces, painting, sewing, laser cutting, welding, and 3D printing. There are oils, solvents and shavings to contend with, and complicated power and ventilation needs. While each is unique, designed for different users with a variety of goals, all owners need to consider the following issues when embarking on a maker space project:
- Understand operating procedures of various equipment in the space and planned access to the room and its supervision.
- Define hazards, especially when mixed materials such as wood, metals and plastics are used interchangeably, in order to apply proper design measures.
- Plan for enough ventilation and exhaust air–central and dedicated to specific equipment. Health and safety takes priority over energy efficiency.
- Ensure that emergency power shutoff is visible, accessible and easy. While tools and equipment have safety measures built in, centralized power shut-off is essential as are measures that require manual start-up of equipment when you lose power to the building.
- Projects are always in flux. When one finishes, something totally different might be undertaken. Users need ready access to power with multiple and often non-common voltage options throughout the space.
- Plan for variety of power connections – overhead busducts, cord reels.
- Provide extra system capacity preferably in nearby location to accommodate for rapid changes in technology and power requirements.
- Allow maximum headroom to allow for reconfiguration of the space and installation of large equipment.
- Provide sufficient structural capacity of the floor above to accommodate heavy loads, hoist beams.
- As both a safety and function issue, lighting is a key component of a successful makerspace. Dimmable, tunable and task lighting helps achieve optimum illumination and color rendering properties.
- Inquire about drainage and its treatment requirements for specialty equipment.
- Often housing noisy equipment, makerspaces are also used as teaching spaces, so it is important to design the HVAC system to noise criteria typically applied in such environment.
- Include proper architectural separation of the room from surrounding spaces.
Makerspaces are rewarding to work on. The users are imaginative and resourceful, working on ideas that could shape our future in all kinds of exciting ways. Our mission with every project is to think as far outside the box as the creative people within them so that we can make their creativity and vision come to life.
Ilona Prosol, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, is a team leader and vice president at BVH.
Larry Jones is a project manager at BVH.