Imagine: You’re a legendary archaeologist. You embark upon a dig that quickly becomes the most extraordinary of your career. As you stumble upon one singularly exceptional artifact after another, you leap about (very careful not to break anything), overcome by the remarkable knowledge you’re unearthing. Then you remember that you can’t keep any of it. You’re excavating an important spiritual site, and though you’ve been granted permission to explore, you have to return every found thing to the people who hold the land sacred. You understand—but you’re devastated at the informational, educational and historical records that will never exist. Until you realize that Fab Lab ABQ has a solution, and you resume your joyful leaping.
As it turns out, this is not particularly fantastic or farfetched. Archaeologists find themselves in such scenarios quite commonly, especially when highway expansion projects are involved. And the visionaries of Fab Lab ABQ—a new digital fabrication laboratory located Downtown—are developing a process that will allow the replication of artifacts discovered under these circumstances without doing harm to the objects. Presently, as they work to perfect the technology at their Second Street storefront, an arrowhead sits on a pedestal. It’s positioned under a camera that can scan a 3D likeness to a computer, that can send the image to a 3D printer, that can create a perfect 3D copy.
Technically called a “Fabber” or a “rapid prototyping machine,” the printer’s arm placed tiny silicone drop upon tiny silicone drop, repeating the action until it had formed a working flashlight—out of what appeared to be thin air just minutes before.
At the inaugural Sparkplug Talks this March, Fab Lab co-founder Kenji Kondo showed footage of a 3D printer in action. Technically called a “Fabber” or a “rapid prototyping machine,” the printer’s arm placed tiny silicone drop upon tiny silicone drop, repeating the action until it had formed a working flashlight—out of what appeared to be thin air just minutes before. (The process does take longer in real life than when sped up for the sake of a film audience, but it’s still amazing.) And the Second Street laboratory is overflowing with equally mesmerizing tools, from Trotec laser cutters to the implements of fully stocked metal- and wood-working shops.
Co-founders Kenji Kondo, Katie Rast, Lisa Kondo, Daniel Wolfskehl, Karole Mazeika and Grady Jaynes were inspired by the fabrication laboratory at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. Dually influential was the natural wealth of creative talent in Albuquerque—talent that, in many cases, lacks an accessible outlet. As Lisa Kondo explains, “We all feel connected to this time, which someone recently called the renaissance of Albuquerque, and we know how rich the community is. ... But we need access to tools outside of our day-to-day repertoire that give us the ability to design and create.”
“We all feel connected to this time, which someone recently called the renaissance of Albuquerque, and we know how rich the community is. ... But we need access to tools outside of our day-to-day repertoire that give us the ability to design and create.”
Eventually, the Fab Lab-ers hope to extend that access to a broader community. They’re working with groups like the Women’s Design Collective [“A Brand-New Bag,” Jan.14-20], which offers creative entrepreneurial opportunities to and aims to build fellowship among low-income women. And Fab Lab aspires to reach students in the Albuquerque Public Schools system through a mobile digital fabrication laboratory. “There shouldn’t be just one school in a city with these kinds of technology resources,” says Kenji Kondo (Lisa’s brother). “The ability to create should be shared.”
In the midst of reaching their goals for Albuquerque's universal betterment, the co-founders proudly promise that anyone can make “almost anything” at Fab Lab. Even if you don’t know how to use a laser cutter, you’re invited to join, explore and expand your creative abilities. If you have an idea, the co-founders can help you realize it. And if you don’t have one in mind before you come to the laboratory doors, not to worry; you will as soon as you enter them.