Lab | Log

Welcome to Open Design City

ODC space

Makers at work in the ODC space.

When the folks at Open Design City (ODC) inaugurated their new workshop space two years ago, there was one word they deliberately avoided in defining their project: “hacker.”

At least that’s how Jay Cousins, one of ODC’s several founding members, told the story to me as we pushed our way through the bright, high-ceilinged workshop in the back of Kreuzberg’s Betahaus complex. “Even though a lot of the genetic code of the space comes from the hacker space movement and the FabLab movement, we didn’t want it just to be a space for ‘hackers,’” he said, skirting around desks, cargo bikes, and rogue pieces of lumber waiting to be processed. “People have a very definite image of what a hacker is and what ‘hacker’ means, so instead we said it’s a space where you share things. So it’s a space for sharing your tools, sharing your ideas, sharing your knowledge. It’s a space for everybody.”

That was exactly the definition I was looking for.

I’d given Jay a call in hopes of profiling a maker space in Berlin. I was looking for a place where visitors to the Lab who were getting their first taste of the maker movement could continue doing what they’d learned—be it programming Arduino boards, sewing bike seat covers, or 3D-printing urban interventions—with little financial investment.

I had obviously come to the right place. As we walked through the space, Jay pointed out the options left, right, and center. The place is like Santa’s workshop gone DIY. A metal cutter and other metalworking and welding tools line one wall. A cabinet across the room hides the woodworking tools. Another holds the wrench and screwdriver type objects. A CNC cutter that has been hacked (whoops, there’s that word again) to cut foam as well as the usual materials like wood and aluminum is in one corner, and a 3D printer is in another. Then there are the sewing machines, the screen-printing equipment, the baskets of screws and nails, and the wall of donated creative materials, as well as six kilometers of neon tape free for the taking. The list of resources goes on and on. There’s even access to a car or cargo bike from time to time. Most impressive of all, it’s all donated or built by the community, and it all fits into a mere 150 square meters.

Maker Bot 3D printer

The Maker Bot 3D printer.

The way it works is pretty simple: anyone can access ODC by paying the general daily, weekly, or monthly rates that Betahaus (a co-working space) charges. That rate gives one access to most of the equipment and materials in the shop, with the exception of a couple special machines that require either training and/or maintenance fees on top.

But more than that, as Jay emphasized time and time again as we jumped from workstation to workstation, it is really not just about the tools. It’s not even just about the people. It’s the mixture of people he says, and that mixture combined with making is what really makes the magic. On any given day, the space might be used by architects building professional models, activists cutting out gigantic foam letters for a protest march, or hobbyists offering screen-printing workshops to the community. ODC is used for work, for play, and everything in between.

“When hackers and Anzugs (the business-suit demographic) feel comfortable coming into the space; if you’ve got a space where people from every age group and every cultural or psychological background feel comfortable coming, then you create an opportunity for genuine interactions and new things to emerge that wouldn’t otherwise occur,” he says. “It’s a very powerful thing what people can do. Just give them room, give them the opportunity and a shared story, and they can do some incredible things.”

ODC can be found inside Betahaus at Prinzessinnenstraße 19-20, just off Moritzplatz. But it is by no means the only space of its kind in Berlin. Perhaps indicative of the city’s deeply ingrained DIY culture, there are several spaces here dedicated to various types of making. Some are partially or completely open to any who are interested, and some are focused on more specific types of making than others. Among these maker spaces are Raumfahrtagentur (or Space Agency) and the Regenbogenfabrik for those who want to get their hands dirty, and c-base and the Chaos Computer Club for those want to get their keyboards dirty.

This list is, of course, not exhaustive. In the open-source spirit, please share other spaces and resources, in Berlin or elsewhere, in the comment section below.

cargo bike

ODC members are currently holding regular workshops with community gardens and organizations to build their own cargo bikes.

Jay Cousins

Jay Cousins at ODC.