Introduction To The Maker Movement: Build, RVA

Back in the 1970’s, Tinker toys and Erector sets were two of the most effective outlets for creative inspiration for kids. Where does a person begin if they want to become an active creator today? Well, starting small and progressing is a simple solution to this problem. Years have passed since those creative toys got people building things, and DIY (Do It Yourself) innovation has evolved.

What started as a small movement has today grown to millions of participants. Joan Voight in Adweek states, “the maker movement is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude.” Instead of being consumers of mass-produced merchandise, more and more people have the opportunity to become makers and change the world. From technology hacking to machinery to puppeteering, makers have expressed a desire to be creative, and the number of creations has skyrocketed. 

Build, RVA is the modern-day American barn. These collaborative spaces were once used for storage, as workshops, or for housing. Nowadays, American barns are scarce, and Build, RVA was created to continue innovative thinking for hungry makers. In downtown Richmond, Build, RVA is stationed with the proper tools and space to experiment and create. People have endless opportunities to make things, and they are able to either bring their own tools or use the ones provided for no additional costs. There are small exceptions, such as costly computer software, but other than that, only the membership fee is required.

Photo credit: Melanie Barker.

Augmented Reality Sandpit.

On Thursday January 7, a few of my Collegiate School classmates and I took a trip to Build, RVA. We are currently in a Senior Seminar class called DIY Maker Mindset, taught by Upper School librarian Melanie Barker. Senior Evan Justice (‘17) said that he “was looking forward to the class because of the experience I will have with problem solving and exposure to fun tools.” Interested in the “making” process, the class met up with Co-founder, COO, and Director of Community Engagement and Programming at Build, RVA Mary Arritt and Co-Founder, Director of Technology, and Scientist-In-Residence Jonathan Frey to take a tour of Build, RVA.

The first thing we saw was an Augmented Reality Sandpit. With the use of Kinect 3D video processing framework and a Virtual Reality toolkit, this sandpit has the intention to offer real-time topography models for effects and simulations as well as a hands-on, self-contained exhibits in museums. I never knew a person had the ability to change the outlook of mountainous scenery simply by moving around the sand

We then went into a backroom with laser cutters, CNC Mills, a welding station, woodworking, and more. These machines offer different ways to mold together and engrave different materials. However, misusing these machines could put you in danger. Arritt preaches that they “value safety first, so we provide you with proper training and protective equipment so that people don’t hurt themselves or the machines they operate.” Once you acquire the proper training and safety precautions, you are able to use any machine at any time.

One gadget that I found interesting was the electric saw located in the back of the warehouse. It looks like a regular saw, but the safety of the machine is what drew me in. When someone’s finger gets close to it, everything immediately shuts down. Hidden in it is a mechanical arm that shoots outward and rams into the side of the saw, shattering it to pieces. You won’t have to visit the hospital, but you will have to pay damage fees.

One of the last rooms Arritt took us to was this large, collaborative makerspace. This space is purposely large so that makers can spread out their work and play around with their ideas. Frey explains that “[Build, RVA] provide[s] play space for workers to play with LEGOs or shoot hoops or play darts simply to help with creativity. If you are thinking about an idea, it allows them to step away from that idea and focus on something else. Then, the idea will come to their head naturally without getting burnt out.” Loaded with different activities, such as LEGOs and basketball, Build, RVA gives workers the opportunity to maximize their potential and better their ideas.

If you come to Build, RVA, there is no wrong. If you are a computer hacker, or a welder, or would like to come up with innovative ways to grow produce, then Build, RVA is the place for you. For example, our Senior Seminar class will be coming up with ways to interact with different maker tools while also being able to reflect on our experience being introduced to the maker world. According to Barker, “the tinkering, planning, iterating, and sharing that you apply to each idea can be used again and again both in school and in life. It’s been my experience that once one learns how a couple of things work, one starts applying that reverse engineering to all the systems in one’s life.”

Photos by Patrick Kirchmier, unless otherwise noted.

About the author

Patrick is a senior at Collegiate.