While we were in Barcelona recently, visiting the IAAC Barcelona Fab Lab, we also visited (actually, we stayed there) the Valldaura Green Fab Lab and Sustainable Living Research hub in the Collserola Nature Park, north-west of Barcelona.

Valldaura Self Sufficient Labs is a demonstration site aimed at showing the possibilities of developing technologies and processes in order to sustainably produce energy and food from the land using only the natural resources available.

Scroll down this page for a video, and for sub-titles to the video (it’s in Spanish).  There’s a lot more information on their Goteo crowdfunding page.

If your Spanish isn’t up to the captions in the video, here are some translations:

Queremos aprender de la naturaleza lo que nunca debimos olvidar

We want to learn from nature that which we should never forget

Las ciudades nos gustan

We like cities

Barcelona nos gusta

We like Barcelona

Pero queremos imaginar un nuevo futuro para las ciudades

But we need to imagine a new future for our cities

Para ello hemos vuelta a la naturaleza, para aprender de ella

For this we return to nature, to learn from it

Queremos hacer laboratorios para una vida auto-suficiente

We want to have laboratories to explore self-sufficient living

Un lugar donde hacer todo lo que se necesita

para la vida del humano de la forma más eficiente

A place to make all that is neededfor human life, in the most efficient way

Aprender de la naturaleza para actuar en el mundo de forme natural

Learning from nature in order to to act naturally in the world.

Valldaura es una finca fundada por los monjes del Cister en 1150,

que en la Edad Media fue un palacio real

Valldaura, a farm founded by Cistercian monks in 1150, which was in the Middle Ages, a royal palace

Fue una finca agrícola a finales del siglo XIX cuando Barcelona se expandía

It was an agricultural farm in the late nineteenth century when Barcelona was expanding

Y ahora esta en el centro del Parque Natural de Collserola

And now it is in the centre of the Collserola Natural Park

Queremos convertida en un centro de investigación con laboratorios

donde re-aprender el conocimiento ancestral de la naturaleza

y conectarla con la nuevas tecnologías digitales

We want to convert is into a centre of investigation, with laboratorieswhere we can relearn ancestral knowledge of natureand connecting with the new digital technologies

Queremos relacionar la naturaleza, la tecnología y el ser humano

We are reconnecting nature, technology and humanity

Valldaura tendrá un Food Lab donde producir comida de forma orgánica

Valldaura will have a Food Lab, producing organic food

Un Energy Lab donde aprender a hacer energía con biomasa, con el sol y con el viento

An Energy Lab where we can learn to make energy from biomass, the sun and the wind

Y un Green Fab Lab donde hacer casi de todo con materiales naturales

And a Green Fab Lab where do almost anything with natural materials

Madera, barro y piedra

Wood, clay and stone

Donde aprender a reciclar los materiales

Where we can learn to recycle materials

Donde las personas puedan aprender unas de otras

Where people can learn from each other

Valldaura es una comunidad abierta, independiente y global donde inventar el futuro

Valldaura is an open, independent and global community where we are inventing the future

Donde impulsar la re-naturalización de las ciudades

Where we are driving the renaturalization of the cities

Tu eres parte de esta historia

You are part of this story

I recently spent a weekend talking non-stop to an architect and Fab Lab enthusiast.  He introduced me to the idea of the Wiki House:

WikiHouse is an open source construction set.

The aim is to allow anyone to design, download and “print” CNC-milled houses and components, which can be assembled with minimal formal skill or training.

Here’s Alastair Parvin:

Architect Alastair Parvin presents a simple but provocative idea: what if, instead of architects creating buildings for those who can afford to commission them, regular citizens could design and build their own houses? The concept is at the heart of Wikihouse, an open source construction kit that means just about anyone can build a house, anywhere.

TED Talks

Wiki House


So what if we could take the ideas of the Wiki House, the knowledge and experience of some architects trained in one of the foremost schools of architecture in the world (and who already understand and use Fab Labs) and come up with a downloadable design for producing an energy-efficient (both in terms of running costs and building costs) and easily and quickly built Fab Lab (and/or Fab Cafe)?

We would want to include some solar power: maybe not quite as extreme as this:

… but we can learn from their experience.

And the roof needn’t be so conventional.  In the past factories had saw-tooth roofs: the steep side was to the north, and allowed in light.  They needn’t look old-fashioned or ugly as this Swiss house, or this renovated factory in (of course!) Barcelona.

I have been researching other Fab Labs around the world, and I reckon that, here in the UK, we could learn a thing or two, not only from what are doing, but also from what they aren’t doing.

For instance, every Fab Lab seems to go it alone, and buy all their machinery from commercial suppliers, paying an absolute fortune.  But, if we established a linked network of Fab Labs, then we could use Open Source designs so that each new Fab Lab could go on workshops at an existing Fab Lab, and make most of their machinery.

After all, Fab Labs are supposed to be about Making?  And collaboration and co-operation.  And community effort.

It’s not a new idea, “Rep Lab” (the self-replicating Fab Lab) has been around for a while, as a part of the Open Source Ecology project.  And that spawned the idea of the Global Village Construction Set.

GVCS might be getting a bit grandiose for regular old Fab Labs, but wouldn’t it be great to make any corporate or grant funding go ten or 100 times further?  That’s the promise of Rep Lab:

Many of you may have heard of the MIT Fab Lab – a mini factory where you can make just about anything. If you have $100k to spend, you can get one for your home.

What if we reduce the price of this tool set by a factor of 10? While we are at it, why not add about five times the functionality in that price? That is exactly what we plan on doing: RepLab – the open source Fab Lab. Read the wiki entry on this here, and see the other articles on RepLab here.

How else might UK Fab Labs be different?  Well, there’s the idea of using sustainable, energy-efficient buildings, not only to reduce the running costs of each individual Fab Lab, but also as a beacon for the local community, and also a resource within the community to make dissemination of the ideas easier and more effective.

That’s two ideas off of the top of my mind: more later.

I’m going to the Sustainable Business Exhibition tomorrow, In Bournemouth.  I have had a dream for some time now, that Fab Labs UK could be in purpose built, “drop in” units, built with sustainability and the environment in mind.

I’m hoping that I might find some people there who might agree.

Gary Wilson, Creative Director of HPW Architects is giving a talk “The benefits of improving energy efficiency in new builds and retro-fit projects“; their “Leisure” portfolio looks like just the sort of thing we’re looking for.

For some time I have been interested in the work of a company called Potton, who make “self-build” buildings, and I’m wondering if their Kingspan product range might not be able to give us a very quick and easy way to get a Fab Lab — a sustainable Fab Lab — up and running quickly.

And I’m also hoping that we might find a corporate sponsor who could help us get a Fab Labs UK road show going.  In Holland they have the Fab Lab Truck (that page is in Dutch, but if you view it in Google Chrome, it will be automatically translated).  The Fab Lab truck tours the country, sparking interest, demonstrating the concept … which is maybe why Holland has 50 times as many Fab Labs per head of population than the UK does!

The concept of the mobile Fab Lab has been around for quite a while.

I was thinking, maybe (he says, tongue in cheek) of something a bit like this: