After six months in beta, Fablab Setagaya, the 18th and newest addition to the Fablab Japan network, is officially open since November 1, 2016—and gradually finding its place in the middle of a micro village of arts and crafts in the southwest of Tokyo.
Tokyo, from our correspondent (words and photos)
At first sight, nothing out of the ordinary: a small room in the middle of the corridor, just after the restrooms, to the right of the lobby. Inside, a laser cutter, three 3D printers, two 3D scanners, a CNC that cuts aluminum and wood, a dozen rolls of ABS hanging on the wall, several flat screens displaying Fusion 360, Geomagic Sculpt, Zbrush, Rhinoceros or Scratch software, shelves full of created objects, a central table, a few stools. Then, written in giant letters on the blackboard beneath the clock of this former classroom: Fablab Setagaya at IID.
The latest addition to the Fablab Japan network is an initiative of Ikejiri Institute of Design (IID), whose Japanese name (世田谷ものづくり学校) literally translates as “Setagaya artisanal craft school”. But, contrary to what its names may suggest, IID is not actually a school.
This seeming inconguity is the entrepreneurial project of IID, the company that manages the building, to create a school in a more figurative sense. Up until 2004, the building was a public middle school in the Ikejiri neighborhood of Tokyo’s Setagaya ward. IID’s concept was to convert the educational structure into a space for start-up incubation, offices, co-working, training, presentations, shops, galleries, studios… all related to design, decorative arts, artisanal or digital fabrication. A hyperlocal space open to the public for “working, playing, learning”, like a commercial version of the similarly converted art center 3331 Arts Chiyoda.
IID has since applied the same concept of converting closed public schools to support local, industrial and creative revival by opening two other “multiplex” schools—in Sanjo, Niigata prefecture, and in Oki on the island of Okinoshima near Tottori in western Japan.
Kazumasa Kanei, the director of Fablab Setagaya, one of IID’s most recent initiatives, says that the building itself hosts over 500 workshops and other activities each year, attended by several thousand people, who have since become familiar with this third-space for arts and crafts. IID will also host, for the third time this year on December 11, 2016 the STEM Meeting, a half-day conference dedicated to discussing the issues of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education, organized by Fablab Kamakura as a regular follow-up to the 1st FabLearn Asia in December 2015.
On the building’s ground floor, across the hall from a tiny shop specialized in snow globes, Fablab Setagaya is finally settling into its dedicated space. The ad hoc prototyping room, formerly known as PTA (Physical Thinking Area) after it was first launched in 2014, was rebaptized as a beta fablab in April 2016, offering free access to the machines.
With its new status (not to mention its presence at FAB12) and its official opening on November 1st, comes paid access to its professional equipment. Kanei sees more foreigners and people from outside the neighborhood, no doubt due to the fact that the space is now searchable online via the keyword “fablab”. In one corner, Makeblock’s charismatically educational mBot perches on a shelf, smiling at a posse of fabbot clones, the transparent mascots of FabLearn Asia, all cheerful reminders of the children’s workshops held in the same room.
This Sunday afternoon, from 4pm until closing at 7pm, is the weekly Open Lab. Anyone who has been trained on the equipment can use the machines free of charge for up to one strictly reserved hour, in exchange for sharing their project on the lab’s website.
N Asami, a woman who enjoys crafting small objects with a cute bear face, came to use the laser cutter to make custom Post-it notes. In the following hour, a man came to cut sheets of cellophane in order to make a decorative mobile. Next week, the artist Yuka Otani has reserved the machine for etching on glass. From time to time, an employee of Japan’s space agency JAXA comes to use the CNC to cut metal for his personal research.
Ryota Yokoiwa, the fab manager with a degree in quantum physics from Kyoto Institute of Technology, counts among his duties training people in Autodesk Fusion 360. His expertise has led to curious “commissions” from the locals. One client asked if he could help him 3D print unpurchasable parts for name-brand audio speakers, while another gentleman requested a very particularly shaped belt buckle… One individual, who was keen to learn to do CAD himself, after 30 minutes of training succeeded in modeling a relatively simple shape, but which represented the realization of an invention that he had been dreaming about for the past five years.
Ryota, who also claims to be a writer and inventor, is always patient and available for assistance, but in no way guarantees the final result. So far, just for fun, he himself has invented a book stand made from laser-cut pulp, a 3D-printed CalorieMate holder specifically tailored to fit the iconically packaged health bars… because there’s nothing like a little prototyping niche in the middle of the schoolhouse bazaar.