A Fab City Summit in Paris to “get fabcity out of the woods”

On July 11, before FAB14, the Fab City Summit begins the grand international sequence of the maker movement. But what is the fabcity? We posed this question to co-organizers and architects Francesco Cingolani and Minh Man Nguyen.

Interview by Annick Rivoire.

What are the objectives of the Fab City Summit in Paris?

Minh Man Nguyen: The main objective is to reunite and reinforce the network, so that the fabcity vision can federate a network in Greater Paris, in France and internationally. It’s sort of a catalyst to get the fabcity concept out of the woods. Up till now, the Summit attracted 50 to 100 people. We’re trying to get 700 to 1000 people, it’s a moment of true convergence.

Francesco Cingolani: The Summit inaugurates a new era for Greater Paris, characterized by a new way of making and building the city based on relocated production. The goal is to define a double-sided roadmap: one for Greater Paris, a very urbanistic and architectural vision that is developing and ongoing; and one for the fabcity movement, a very young network that is still being structured. This is the third Fab City Summit, also the first to be open to the public. We aim to explain the fabcity concept to the average Joe. In Paris, there will be the network of fabcity experts, but also lots of students, architects, people from institutions, real estate and families. It’s important to represent these three groups: industry, institutions and the general public.

The fabcity concept emerged from FAB7 in Peru in 2011, promoted by Barcelona. Today, this network includes 18 cities around the world. What exactly have they committed to?

F.C.: It’s a vision that we offer to the cities, which they accept. The commitment made by the institution when it declares itself a fabcity is to implement an urbanistic and economic policy that limits consumer goods on its territory to 50% by 2054. This very symbolic commitment has no political value, as in 2054, the elected officials will no longer be in office. In practice, it creates a context and a vision for a wide range of initiatives to converge toward this common goal.

M.M.N.: Currently, the fabcity network includes 18 cities, but we received about 40 applications. The new members will be announced during the Summit.

What are the highlights of this 3rd Fab City Summit?

F.C.: The Hôtel de Ville [City Hall]! On July 11, along with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who will inaugurate the Fab City Summit, the fabcity network and the politicians will go straight to the mayor’s office. It’s a strong declaration compared to all the activist movements—and we get criticized by some fablabs that say, “Who are these people exploiting the fablab brand to make money at City Hall?” The Fab City Manifesto that we will present on the 11th was written and signed with these institutions! Three questions lie beneath the entire event and constitute the framework for the day devoted to talks on July 12, which will feature more content and more speakers. The following day at Cité des sciences, more informal and less scripted, will spotlight what people in the network have been doing. There will be people making Arduino boards, working on robotics or projects developed in other fabcities. For the third part, on July 14, people will walk around with robots, making pavilions with scrap wood, and meet visitors in Parc de la Villette.

M.M.N.: We’ll announce the launch of the Fab City Foundation. Tomás Diez [founder of the Barcelona fablab and initiator of the Fab City concept], is preparing with P2P Foundation and Fab Foundation a tool that enables more fluid exchanges between cities. During the Summit, there will also be a separate time, not open to the public, devoted to the governance of the foundation. This collaborative structure, which guarantees the Fab City brand, will be able to raise funding and lead projects like H2020 [Horizon 2020, European funding] in a more organized way than now.

Why did you choose to pose questions, rather than set themes for the conference on urban farming, automation or reuse?

F.C.: These themes are topics that we’re working on, we don’t have the answers, we don’t know how robots will fit into our near future. That’s why we display the questions in giant letters on a tarp at La Villette. The first: To what extent can our current ways of design, production and consumption be reversed? Right now, our ways of manufacturing and consumption boil down to “I produce, I consume, I throw away”. Reusing is still extremely romantic—goods are not designed to be reusable. We’re going to challenge that question, by more closely linking design and new production methods, which are currently quite disconnected. The second session (and question) is how to scale up, as in the knowledge economy, a very heavy urban model and by definition non-scalable. From the point of view of the Fab City network, we’re connected to the Parisian territory, to other cities and to other networks. When an initiative works in one city, it can be exported, explained, readapted—like our foodlab at Volumes that was reclaimed by people from Ismir who were supposed to come to the Fab City Summit. Facing a certain distress within the maker community (with spaces like La Mutinerie closing, or not doing well…), how can we go from a vision of the closed lab to a vision of the global lab? The third question is about “possibility”: What collective fantasy are we aiming for? Is it an imagined world where everything is automated, or rather low-tech with social and shared aspects? If we want to have an impact, we need to build a common vision, which is currently not at all clear!

How does Paris fit in to the Fab City network?

M.M.N.: At FAB12 in Shenzhen, Antoinette Guhl [Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of social economy, social innovation and circular economy] declared that Paris is committed to the fabcity vision. The City has already put down the money to fund the Fab City Summit, a significant amount. Once that was done, private partners followed suit.

F.C.: The nonprofit organization Fab City Grand Paris allows us to put a name on what we have been talking about for the last two years: working together, getting together. We just visited a space where we could meet.

M.M.N.: We’re thinking about meeting in a physical space, for a stronger impact while maintaining diversity. We’re currently in discussion with a few real estate developers who are leaning in this direction.

In 2016, at FAB12 in Shenzhen, Minh Man Nguyen pitches France to host FAB14. © Makery

How is the Fab City Grand Paris organization contributing to the emergence of a resilient city?

M.M.N.: All the members of the organization have taken individual initiatives, all understand short circuits and the circular economy. Many of them have won bids by promoting this vision of the circular economy and involving other players. We apply the Fab City vision naturally. Some of them participated in the Reinvent Paris competition to remake the city with real estate developers and the city as mediators. The Quatorze collective has also started to do this by renovating the plazas at Gambetta and Place des Fêtes. They brought in garbage chutes and made them into urban furniture, thanks to citizen involvement and reappropriation through manufacturing. This was a project in response to another call for bids from the City of Paris, Réinventons nos places, where they clearly stated that it was a Fab City vision. What’s missing now is a private player such as Ikea, which in Barcelona in 2017 offered the Made Again challenge Space10, where designers reclaimed and revisited objects…

Made Again Challenge, Fab City Prototype, Space10, 2017:

Can you give some examples of how the fabcity is sprouting in Greater Paris?

M.M.N.: The “Cycle Terre” project in Sevran will use the backfill material from the construction sites of Greater Paris to build a factory of raw earth bricks, which in France are produced either in the western region or in Grenoble. It was this project that won the promoter Quartus, one of our Summit partners, the competition Démonstrateurs industriels pour la ville durable, in association with the City of Sevran, Grand Paris Aménagement, labs (Craterre, Amàco…) and the architecture firm Joly&Loiret. “Cycle Terre” also won the European call for bids Urban Innovative Actions in the circular economy category. Their vision is to get something started. This means that near Paris there will be a place for manufacturing bricks from raw earth. Besides Réinventons nos places, there is also 6b [in Saint-Denis, near Paris], where Julien Beller is leading a very Fab City initiative, again with Quartus.

F.C.: Then there’s the project In My BackYard [a tiny house that can be installed in your garden to host a homeless person], where local manufacturing is applied to solve a social problem. The Fabcity Store will be located on campus, led by DDMP (Distributed Design Market Platform), a project for distributed local research and design that recalls Makers Market by Aruna Ratnayake, a pop-up store launched in 2016, which offered design objects from six Paris fablabs. The project didn’t find a viable business model. We hope that being associated with other cities through the Fab City Summit will launch this perfect example of local production and dematerialized fabcity.

The tiny house of In My BackYard, a project by the Quatorze collective, in which owners hosts guests in 20m2 houses built in their garden. © Quatorze

How does relocating industry make the city more resilient? If you produce in the city, you make noise, you pollute, you sell at a higher price to compensate for location…

M.M.N.: It’s about being aware of what it means to make an object. Valuing labor. At Woma, for example, a table costs less if you make it yourself than if we do everything from A to Z.

F.G.: Consumers should know what it means to consume. When you know how things are made, you have a completely different approach. Yes, a fablab is dirty, yes, when you cook in the foodlab, you need to clean up afterwards, yes, it makes noise, yes, it makes transitory things! We’re led to believe that producing is just something functional in order to consume. But producing and making are themselves values, the value of creating! Growing your own tomatoes has value. You have an emotional relationship with the chair you made yourself or the dish that you cooked. In our space, we intuitively re-learned what value is. The environmental issue is the easiest to understand, it’s the simplest argument—and the least interesting. There’s much more to it! For our teaser, we quoted Tomás Diez, who says that all current production systems leave ecological, social and cultural traces. Making also has a spiritual value.

Fab City Summit Paris 2018, trailer:

What role does digital fabrication play in the fabcity? Makery visited Unto This Last, a pioneer in London of ultralocal artisanal and digital fabrication. With 15 years of experience, Unto This Last says it is focusing on the “human scale” by putting machines aside. What do you think?

M.M.N.: We can’t rely on automated processes. We also met the founder of Unto This Last, who showed us his software that identifies all the mistakes and takes photos but that nobody is using—either you’ve already identified the mistake and integrated it into the process, or you don’t make the effort to go look at the software. You can have a low-tech and hi-tech vision at the same time. In our space, what came out of our 6-axis robot was experiments and research and development. We don’t automate everything, it’s fundamental that people work together. In the future, automating waste processing will lower costs in terms of reusing.

We can easily see the ecological and economic aspects of the fabcity model. What about the social dimension?

M.M.N.: Besides In My BackYard, there is the example of the fablab in Irbid, Jordan, located about 15km south of the Syrian border, which is welcoming refugees. The lab helps them to develop entrepreneurial projects. People who fled their country and had no work are now starting companies based on ideas developed in a fablab. The lab is applying to be a fabcity, not just a fablab. This extreme response to an extreme situation will certainly be presented at the Fab City Summit.

Refugees and entrepreneurs at the fablab in Irbid:

The Fab City Summit, of which Makery is a partner, takes place in Paris on July 11-14: July 11 at Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), July 12 at Grande Halle de la Villette, July 13 at Cité des sciences, July 14 in Parc de la Villette

Published July 3d, 2018, in Makeky.info.

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