Makerbot, RepRap and Wikinomics

About a week ago, the brooklyn-based company Makerbot Industries, led by its ubiquitous CEO, Bre Pettis, released a 3D printer called the Replicator 2 (image below) at around $2,200 per unit.

While the Rep2 was being developped, I bought the parts of my RepRap Prusa Mendel (image below) for £500 from a company called RepRapPro which was created by the inventor of the RepRap 3D printers, Adrian Bowyer. RepRap is an open-source project, meaning that all the components of the machine are disclosed online. This project is also based on the idea of a “self-replicating” machine. In fact, I could print some of the parts of another machine (the white parts below are printed).

Makerbot was founded by some of RepRap core developers, Zach Smith, Bre Pettis and Adam Mayer with some investment from Adrian Bowyer. In August, Makerbot received around $10M in funding from Angel Investors such as Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.

All the previous printers and CNC machines that Makerbot developped were open-source but the Rep2 will not be. Have a look at the post from Bre Pettis regarding this topic, and more specificaly, read the comments after it as well as the post by Josef Prusa, core developper of RepRap. The following reply of Adrian Bowyer to Bre Pettis’ post sums up what he thinks about the replicator: “Ask yourself: which will be the more numerous 3D printer (or laser cutter): one that can self-replicate, or one that has to be made in a conventional factory?”

This debate is not only fascinating but illustrates a possible conflict between the notion of Open-Source technology and sustainable business.

This summer, I read the book Wikinomics,  by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (cover below). They praise the concept of Open-Source as a positive revolution for companies, giving the example of IBM which spends $100M a year on the development of LINUX, an open-source operating system. They say opening up patents and copyright law will allow for collaboration on an unprecented scale which will benefit everyone. They call the new consumers, the “prosumers” as they will no longer buy passively but will know the inner-workings of their products and will be able to improve/hack them.

This is already happening with Arduino, Processing, FabLab, Hackspace…etc…communities in which people hack the Microsoft Kinect (video below) or Samsung/Android phones or any other devices with an open API (application programming interface) to create a new collaborative technology or pieces of art.


This whole debate resonnates within the architectural world in which Architects are often replaced by enthusiastic self-builders. With information being increasingly available online, knowledge will not necessarily be in our mind anymore but mostly on the web. What will remain in our minds is intelligence and decision on how and where to apply it.

Many questions arrise from it: How do we help self-builders or prosummers and do we want to help them? How do we offer our talent, our own experience to people that can technically do what we are suppose to do just by googling it? Can a business still be sustainable if it discloses all its innovations?


Pavilion of Gifts

One of the most fascinating aspects of Burning Man is the idea of gifting, the event of exchanging goods that takes place between participants with no commercial aims. This notion plays a fundamental role in the relationships that occur between people but also between people and their physical, built environment. The event of gifting is an action between one person which creates a reaction to the second one. This interaction can equally inform the spatial conditions and appearance of an architectural structure when such an event takes place within it. The aim of this project is to create a system which equally participates in this exchange procedure and which interacts with visitors in giving and receiving gifts. The ‘Pavilion of Gifts’ aims to manifest the different conditions of the event of gifting as it will actively participate with visitors. New spatial and social relationships will occur, where most of them are unpredictable but very interesting and original.

The design of the pavilion derives from the geometry of spirals. Spirals, are found in nature in plants and animals and their form is defined by mathematical expressions. The ‘Pavilion of Gifts’ employes a series of spirals, which when set together will form an aesthetically attractive and beautiful pavilion. The structure of each spiral is formed by a series of wooden triangular in shape pieces, all of the same shape but different in size. Because of the bending and flexible capacities of the material, the spiral will be formed with no extra components or joints. Each wooden piece is designed to fit with the next one with no extra component. In between of this wooden spiral, bags will be attached with a hidden circuit of LEDs which will make them to illuminate when left empty.

People passing by will fill in the illuminated bags with whatever they like and they will be free to open another bag and take the gift which is set from someone else within it. The illumination of the pavilion will be defined by the gift exchange procedure and will vary constantly. In this first approach the visitor would create an interactive relationship with the structure.