Why Makerspaces Work for Businesses and Schools

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Makerspaces encourage project-based and cross-disciplinary learning, which leads to the type of innovation that both schools and businesses should be encouraging in today’s economy.

Deloitte Digital’s office in London, designed by Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will. Image courtesy of Perkins+Will.

Albert Einstein once said “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” He’s right.

Schools throughout the 20th century were often inflexible, didactic silos of disconnected learning, abstracted or even removed from real world issues. They were more focused on teaching children what the world already knew, rather than teaching them how to think about solving problems and innovating which could translate to any circumstance. Context and the understanding of the application was not provided.

But the world has changed. Over the last several decades, the industrial economy based on manufacturing has shifted to a service economy driven by information, knowledge, and innovation. Businesses have changed how they are organized and the way they do business.

Cutting-edge economies, pioneering industries, and high-growth jobs require more educated workers with the skills to respond adaptively to complex problems, communicate effectively, handle high volumes of information, collaborate, and produce new ideas.

We have gone from the counting of tangible, physical assets in our manufacturing economy to the intangible assets of our innovation-based economy.

To create innovators, schools — and companies — need to nurture critical thinking and problem solving, as well as collaboration, curiosity, and imagination, among other things. We now understand that one way to do this is through hands-on learning and experimentation. Project-based and cross-disciplinary learning is much more engaging, and thus can lead to results that contribute to innovation which we know is what our employers are now seeking. We have gone from the counting of tangible, physical assets in our manufacturing economy to the intangible assets of our innovation-based economy.

As architects, we must create environments which aid in the development a 21st century student who is a global thinker, innovative across disciplines, interprets data, interacts well with others, and works towards the acceleration of strategic thinkers. Through the creation of physical spaces we can encourage hands-on learning. It’s the concept that became the maker movement, launched in the German technology hacker community in the 1970s, and later gave birth to companies like Apple. Over the last decade, the maker culture has grown tremendously and now schools and companies see the need to have physical spaces to encourage making, hacking, learning, and collaborating. Terms such as fab labs, innovation spaces, hacker spaces, DIY, and makerspaces can be interchangeable. Educators saw these spaces as a way to reengage students in the STEM subjects as active learners who participate in their own education.

What do makerspaces look like?

Makerspaces are environments for creating, fabricating, workshops, presentations, or lectures. They typically provide space for people to work on their individual projects, or to collaborate on group projects. Some makerspaces, more noted in public libraries, can also operate as a book and computer tool lending libraries, or physical tool lending libraries, have 3D printers and laser cutters.

At Google, which was founded in a garage, the company’s maker culture is reflected in the fact that there are no assigned seats, employees have movement to collaborate, all spaces have more than one purpose, and innovation can occur anywhere… including in yoga class.

CREATE National University of Singapore Architect - Perkins & Will
A makerspace at CREATE at the National University of Singapore, designed by Perkins+Will. Photo by David Churchill.

CREATE — the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise at the National University of Singapore and designed by Perkins+Will — is a building designed to house research centers by multiple top universities in an interdisciplinary development campus. While the campus is intra-disciplinary, the makerspaces are not. These collaborative and active spaces in the campus are aligned by focus, not by institution. Consolidating and co-locating areas of focus in an intra-disciplinary — not cross-disciplinary — way allows for the scientists to collectively work together to inspire and perform cutting edge research in strategic areas of interest. Under this scenario, the scientists are able to achieve faster results and learn from each other. The spaces are designed to blur boundaries between people and space, provide access to natural light, and to create a visually and physically inclusive environment that is transparent and flexible.

Another example of a collaborative, creative, and boundless environment that is centered on an inspirational culture is Deloitte Digital in London, also designed by Perkins+Will. With the idea that collaboration and creativity can happen anywhere, common spaces bring together all aspects of the company, from technology and design to business. Spaces are designed to be rich with technology which is transportable, flexible, and adaptable. All of the wall surfaces are designed to write on in order to promote conversation and discussion. The furniture is light and totally flexible to support groups of any size during meetings, whether formal or informal. It is understood that environments are designed for the individual, as well as a group.

These design principles directly translate to current models in our 21st century educational environments. We are looking to design spaces that promote collaboration, flexibility, project-based learning, and problem solving.

George Crane said, “There is no future in any job. The future lies in the person who holds the job.” Makerspaces like these empower the people make the future.

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