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Photography by Carmen Troesser
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PHOTO BY CARMEN TROESSER
Thermal glue shoots out like Spiderman’s web and hardens instantly, gunking up the trivet’s intricate laser cuts. Luckily, Carly Lowe has just finished crafting a Failure of the Week trophy, so the TechShop customer walks over, grinning, to claim it.
TechShop celebrates failure, learning (with classes for kids and adults), community (artists, engineers, hobbyists, and patent-seekers share ideas), and dreams.
A fine furniture–maker, Lowe is one of the “dream consultants” at this fabrication space in Midtown. Dream consultants help members translate their ideas, teaching them how to use the laser cutter, or make a vacuum mold for chocolates, or do Coptic bookbinding, or cut vinyl, or shoot a laser into resin…
Another dream consultant, industrial designer David Cervantes, is marveling over the 10-year-old he taught to use the 3-D printer: “He learned so fast. So fast.” The kids are Cervantes’ favorite clients: “I can relate to them probably too well,” he says ruefully, “by tapping into my immature, childish heart. They haven’t been introduced to any cynical barriers yet, and their imagination is on fire.”
The adults “can be the childish ones”—he stops them from pushing safety limitations and groans when Washington University students do their projects on last-minute adrenaline. “Friday at midnight they’re sweating bullets over graphite components. I said, ‘Is this a thruster?’ They said, ‘Yeah, we’re flying it tomorrow.’ They were building a rocket.”
PHOTO BY CARMEN TROESSER
Now another guy wants to rent the space to build a 10-foot rocket, adds metal sculptor and dream consultant Emily Elhoffer. Somebody’s building an ethanol still, and there’s an artist who makes 10-foot kinetic flower sculptures with petals that open at dawn to reveal solar panels, then shut at dusk. Kids are learning how to make robots; entrepreneurs are designing precision prototypes; hobbyists are crafting jewelry.
Past the free coffee and popcorn are the Soft Arts (sewing, quilting, leather, and embroidery machines; a screen printer) and then (don your goggles) the Hard Arts.
A 600-psi water jet cuts through the hardest substances. There’s a welding table with holes like pegboard, so you can position clamps anywhere you want them, and a table saw that knows if there’s flesh beneath its blade and stops instantly, 5,000 rpm to 0.
Dream consultants hang out well past their work hours, using the equipment for their own projects and sometimes learning a new technique from one of the members. Cervantes—who’s done furnishings and display fixtures for Michael Kors, Burberry, and Coach—has designed an ingenious faceted sculptural vase that inverts to hold a candle, and he laser-cut its cool triangular packaging. Elhoffer is modeling her next abstract metal sculpture, which will stand 7 feet tall. Lowe just finished an elegant custom footstool—not to mention the classical horse posed atop the Failure Trophy. As Cervantes points out, it’s not DIY anymore. It’s Do It Together.