by Krisztina Salló, Kim Wilken, Sophie Emilie Beha
In recent years places have emerged in Budapest that seem like a mixture of co-working spaces and workshops. With workshops on tailoring, woodworking or digital fabrication, they offer learning-by-doing education, and for a fee they also provide space and machines for those who want to work on their own projects. On first sight, these places perfectly fit into the sharing economy movement. According to the definitions of sharing economy, the term refers to economic and social systems that enable shared access to goods, services, data, talent and knowledge. The aim is to form a more collaborative and sustainable society, which reacts to different social, economical and environmental problems. Are the Budapest hubs trying to tackle these global issues? Can a local community solve or urge to solve global problems? Or are open knowledge, sharing economy, informal education and DIY just trendy expressions of the last few years? To answer these questions we visited Fablab, Technika and Pinkponilo – three open hubs in Budapest that offer workshops on digital fabrication, sewing and woodwork.
Fablab Budapest was founded seven years ago as the 41st of a worldwide network with currently 1232 existing Fablabs in 30 countries. According to one of the founders, Dávid Pap, they started with “a screwdriver and a hell of an optimism”. Now, after seven years, they can offer a lot of equipment and state of the art technologies, including laser cutting printers, CNC (computer numerical control) machines, leather sewing machines and 3D-printers. Now they “can make almost everything”. Dávid emphasizes that Fablab is only open to committed people: “This is not a tinkering space, you can not come here to fix your sofa.” Usually, interested people are attending a workshop first to learn how to work with the complex machines. Then they can use the machines to work on their own projects – free after Fablab’s motto “Materialize your dreams!”
Pinkponilo held their first workshop in September 2017. Except for their collection of 200 Pinkponilos the project has nothing to do with the iconic toy (in hungarian ’póniló’ means pony). Pinkponilo is a common hub for sewing and clothes repairing workshops. The founders and graduates of Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Anna Kudron and Viktória Szabó are working together with young designers to prepare fashionable pieces for the workshops, such as skirts, a japanese kimono, gym bag or lace underwear. „It is handmade, DIY, but the look is not “oh, it is so cute, but I will never wear it.“ It is something you can really use, you can show, something you can be proud of”. Pinkponilo tries to offer two to four workshops per months.
Technika is founded by the Hello Wood educational platform and design studio and the Politechnical Secondary School, an alternative school, on whose site Technika is still located. According to Technika’s website, „it is the first open DIY wood workshop in Budapest, available for university students, carpenters, children and enthusiastic beginners.“ In introductory or intermediate courses, Technika teaches how to use specific woodworking tools and machines. In furniture making courses, participants also learn techniques but take an object home – for example a nightstand, tray or shelf. The furniture follows mostly Scandinavian design. For people who have their own ideas, Technika can provide a community workshop space and the necessary tools. If help is needed, they also offer private lessons. We talked with project and program coordinator Lívia Ásmány, who told us that Technika is about to move to a different location to share the space with Hello Wood.
A reaction to current problems
During the conversation with the hub managers, we got a feeling that the emergence of all three spaces is related to social problems and the urge to change something. Pinkponilo’s founders Anna and Viki were living abroad when they developed the idea of a workshop place with textiles. They had two different sources of inspiration – Viki was a student in Cologne when a Primark shop opened, which led her to think about and criticize the cost of fast fashion to the environment. Anna on the other hand saw how clothes were sewed in small boutiques in Istanbul instead of huge textile factories in Bangladesh. With the opening of Fablab Dávid Pap reacted to the prevalence of theory loaded formal education he experienced as a student of economics and tried to offer an alternative path of learning and creating by offering digital fabrication workshops. The team of the Hello Wood educational platform realised that they have a large amount of tools, machines and knowledge from their summer workshops to share with others and so they founded Technika, to give their equipment a permanent use.
Starting a business is risky
All three of these institutions started from scratch: The Budapest Fablab is a bottom-up institution that is not funded by one big sponsor but by individuals: „You need the three f’s to start a business: founders, friends and families, for Fablab we say: fools, friends and families“. Now Fablab cooperates with Siemens and other companies to generate income. Pinkponilo applied for government support with their concept and received 5000 euros, which they had to invest within a short time. With the money Anna and Viki were able to buy some of the equipment they needed – from sewing machines to textiles. With the already purchased materials at hand, they found their location in the Paloma courtyard, where several Hungarian designers have their showrooms. In order to earn money alongside the workshops, Pinkponilo designs and tailors for private individuals or theater productions and leases the space to other designers or workshops. Technika on the other hand benefits from the connection to Hello Wood because they do not have to purchase the machines themselves. Because of the barter contract with the school they have low rental costs. Nevertheless, it is still a challenge to generate the necessary attention for the project.
Providing extra education
In return for a low rent Technika follows an educational mission. While talking to Lívia, children and teachers came to the workshop place to work on private or school projects: „We want them to work with their hands and to realize a project“. All three places respond to a deficiency in formal education, because the state school system does not teach the skills needed to make creative ideas happen. As Dávid explains „In formal education institutions people don’t learn by doing but by theory. It is a huge problem that universities don’t teach practical skills“. The hubs provide an alternative for anyone willing to learn. The workshops do not require any prior knowledge and offer a possibility for extra education.
Fablab, Pinkponilo and Technika claim to make technologies more accessible and thereby offer another educational opportunity. Yet, none of the places‘ capacities seem to be exhausted. They want to increase their outreach and resonance. Fablab for example tries to recruit more design students via a student ambassador-program. Pinkponilo faces even more difficulties as they mainly address women with their workshops since sewing is still considered to be a female activity. They are aware of this and try to change Hungarians‘ minds about the prevailing gender stereotypes in sewing and fashion design. „With the design of the zero-waste jacket for men we try to reach a male audience, but it’s really hard.” But why is it so hard to attract more users for the hubs, given that they have emerged as a reaction to real existing social problems?
The hubs’ offers are not aimed at people who need education because they do not have any, but at those who have one and want to continue their education in another, more practical field. They do not necessarily react to an essential problem, but to a luxury problem. The workshops are mainly aimed at high school and university students as well as other members of the middle-class. The participation fees of the workshops and the usage fee for machines come at prices not everyone can afford. This is why one might think that this kind of education is not offered to all people.
The sharing trend
When we asked our interviewees about the concept of sharing economy, none of them seemed to be too enthusiastic about the term, „sharing economy is a buzzword like sustainability was in the nineties”. (Fablab) Still, all of these spaces meet the basic criteria of sharing economy: The hubs do not require the Budapesters to own the machines, infrastructure and knowledge, instead they gain access to these goods through the hubs. Thanks to these hubs, more people can access these technologies. „Yes we belong to what is called sharing economy but we are also an enterprise. You can’t realize your project for free here but we are sharing what we have and in the best case all sides benefit.” (Technika)
The sharing trend does not seem to be a bad thing: the hubs certainly have the potential to fill the gaps of the formal education system and give creative minds a space. By sharing machines, experiences and skills with others, teamwork is promoted and communities emerge. The workshops provide participants with information on materials, their manufacturing process and quality characteristics and thus create an awareness of various problems: „In our workshops the participants experience how much time and effort it takes to make a piece of clothing and they realize that a t-shirt can not cost only ten euros. The workshops are the best way to demonstrate that.” (Pinkponilo)