In the East Market neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, a handful of chic bars and boutiques are filling into the historic brick buildings on Broadway St, hinting at the neighborhood’s future. A few blocks away, inside a 6,000-square-foot warehouse, a half-dozen men and women were hunched over sewing machines in the warehouse, stitching seams and swapping advice. The room was crowded with project tables, couches, and the remains of various arts, crafts, and electronics projects. One participant triumphantly waved a finished garment in the air as I entered: “I made a shirt!” he exclaimed to the others.
Welcome to LVL1. It’s a makerspace, and places like it — also called hackerspaces, FabLabs, hacklabs, community workshops, and dozens of other local variants — have popped up in cities from Berlin and Boston to Baghdad, Beirut, and Beijing. No matter what they’re called, they’re open workshops where sharing—of expertise, tools, and space—is highly encouraged. Today, there are more than 1,400 such spaces around the world, and they’re spreading fast.
Brad Luyster, president of the organization, showed me around. Multiple 3-D printers and a vinyl cutter occupied counter space in the main room, while downstairs a cement-floored basement held woodworking tools, drill presses, computer-controlled (or CNC) mills, lathes, pipe-bending tools, and other heavy equipment. A storage room was crowded with scavenged electronics, wood, metal, and other odds and ends, sorted neatly on shelves and in piles.
The organization’s members — of which there were about 80, back in January — pay $50 per month to use this assortment of equipment and supplies to create any kind of project they can dream up. LVL1’s collection included a large rocket, a fire-breathing animatronic toy horse, and a device that would sometimes set off applause when the bathroom door opened.
This playful, anything-goes environment is a hallmark of makerspaces around the world, but behind the goofy gadgets and gizmos is serious purpose. Hacking and making, in the eyes of many of the community’s evangelists, are an opportunity to engage the broader community in driving technology innovation forward and to focus the efforts of the technology community on serious issues like climate change.
Continue reading on Beacon