In April of this year I found myself back in Copenhagen, watching Olli, an energetic 60-year-old Danish woman being taught how to wire a plug by Ahmed, a young, local electrician. We were in Tingbjerg Library situated in a suburb, or to be more precise, a ‘ghetto’ – a word shocking to me but accepted in Denmark. Tingbjerg Library and the Copenhagen Municipality had embarked on a collaborative project with CODE (Centre for Co-design Reseach) at KADK University, and as Visiting Professor I was invited to shape a three-day Fixing Festival, a format we hoped could engage the local community and demonstrate to the library governors the potential that lies in a shared engagement with making, fixing, and repairing.

The patchwork of activities we had put together ran parallel to, and sometimes slightly on top of each other. An open discussion with senior management about library strategy bumped into a felting session. School-kids attending a fixing workshop preferred watching people use the 3D printer and ‘helping’ with an installation on the staircase, to completing their particular activity. The chief librarian baked huge cakes and the kebab shop next door was kept busy. An underemployed local consulted on plans for a coffin-shaped beehive and the repair of a problem table.

Celebrating the fix / Bowls are repaired with the Humade New Kintsugi Repair Kit in a workshop run by guest designer Lotte Dekker
To anyone who walked through the (open) door, this didn’t really look or feel like an academic research project. For the research students who ran it, the PhD candidates who guided and evaluated it, and the professors who led it, it was a rich and authentic platform for experimentation as well as an important source for observation and insight. That part I could foresee. The other two parts surprised me:

The first was the openness of the local community. Sure, there was some resistance – we were tourists in their space and a number of people told us so. But many visitors accepted that the questions we were asking were interesting and would affect the future of their library – a place they value. And they recognised that we weren’t simply setting up panels and offering them the chance to make comments on post-it notes. We spent time together and made things with them and beside them. And that felt positive all round.

The signage and visual identity of the Skaberværelset creative makerspace is by designer-researcher Inês Veiga, inspired by the connected diagonal shape of the fence in the car park outside the library.
The second surprise was the openness of the librarians – from the local staff to the Head of Libraries and guest staff from other libraries, people were present, engaged, critical, and almost embarrassingly articulate. Their recognition that the old paradigms don’t work and that media and society are changing and therefore require new models, as well as their ideas and appetite for change, were humbling and reminded me once again that designers don’t own creativity and invention – we just know the process that can deliver it.

Once back at the consultancy, the Tingbjerg Library project inspired us to embark on an independent piece of research, looking at the different ways that makerspaces are starting to behave like cultural organisations. As the latter look to making and to makerspaces for lessons, so too are makerspaces finding vision and purpose in familiar territories – in education, in campaigning and storytelling, and even in conflict resolution. Our report, published in September, starts to describe new models and anticipates a point where there will be hybrids, where new and old needs, audiences, and programmes come together. It’s a brave fixed world we are heading towards.

The Skaberværelset repair corner / Daniel Charny and MA researcher Gaia Colantonio are making the prototype for a book-display seat using a chair repaired with strips of upcycled plastic bottles. For fixing the chair and tethering the book to it, plastic ribbons were used - these were made using a plastic bottle stripper (clamped on the left), which was itself make earlier by following a ‘how to' YouTube video.
Personalising repair / Camouflage stains or cover-up holes with a golden spill-shape iron-on transfer by Humade designer-maker Lotter Dekker
Daniel Charny is a keen advocate of making. Creative director at From Now On, a cultural consultancy in London, he also curates, teaches, and gives talks, encouraging people to think about the changing world and how they can help shape it. The academic research project presented here involves a library in suburban Copenhagen. Centred on a Fixing Festival held to demonstrate the wonders of hands-on projects about making, fixing, and repairing, it attracted the staff as well as the local community. This experience has served as valuable fodder for the development of more makerspaces in many other domains.

This article appeared in DAM59. Order your personal copy.
Street Pockets design workshop / The makerspace utilised an R&D format in which a social startup company working with the Kirkens Korshær charity ran a workshop for locals and design researchers to make prototypes responding to the needs of rough sleepers.
The signage and visual identity of the Skaberværelset creative makerspace is by designer-researcher Inês Veiga, inspired by the connected diagonal shape of the fence in the car park outside the library.