Limerick city model an example of Fab Lab’s potential

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

'A culture of accessibility': Professor Merritt Bucholz (centre) and Michael McLaughlin, Fab Lab co-ordinator (right) launching the City Model in the Rutland Street space recently. The model is on permanent display. Picture: Dave Gaynor
A HUGE scaled architectural model of the city has been unveiled at the Fab Lab space on Rutland Street.

A HUGE scaled architectural model of the city has been unveiled at the Fab Lab space on Rutland Street.

The City Model was funded by City of Culture and was produced using digital fabrication technologies.

An initiative of the School of Architecture in UL, the space opened in April of this year and is home to working graduates. It is intended as a resource for the city, as is the model itself.

“There are many cities that have models and they put them in a glass box and they get left there and get old, whereas we want our model to be a tool for use within the city,” says Fab Lab coordinator Michael McLaughlin, one of three SAUL graduates who worked on the model, along with Ger Walsh and Sean Collins.

“As people come up with ideas for parts of the city or if people want to work on the city, they can use or model as a tool - it is for developers, for architects, artists, the general public.

“The whole model is adjustable, everything is flexible so it can be used as a development tool or a planning tool for the city,” he added.

Eight months of work went into the project, from conception to detailed photographic surveys of every building, to 3D modelling and finally, fabrication.

As well as creating a tangible, visual and physical model, there is also the three dimensional, digital version, explains SAUL head of school Professor Merritt Bucholz.

“The hard work is creating the data and making the 3D model, the easy part is printing it out,” he explains.

“The interesting thing is that once the 3D data for the city is there, any kind of changes or modifications can be done quite easily, one building or a block. You can swap them really quickly, so it is a really flexible tool.

“There hasn’t been one of these created for Limerick before. It is unique in that sense.”

The massive project was conceived, coordinated and manufactured by graduates, demonstrating “the huge potential of UL graduates when they engage with Limerick city and want to be part of its future,” argues Javier Burón, direct of the Fab Lab.

But the model, significant as it undoubtedly is, remains just one example of what the Fab Lab can do, both for the city and for graduates from third level.

The machines - routers, laser cutters and printers - were all constructed in SAUL, meaning that the graduates and students themselves understand both how to fix them and to get the software and the hardware to talk to each other.

Crucially, it represents a first step from the University into the city, providing direct employment for graduates.

“Fab Lab is a place that is really built from the bottom up, where you can learn a lot from the people that are there,” says Merritt.

“That is a very important aspect of Fab Lab; building a culture of accessibility, of transparency, of opening up the usage of this stuff to pretty much anybody who is interested.

“We wanted to locate in the city centre, in a shop front, so that open door would help to break down any barriers or phobias that people might have, but also that people who are just curious or want to know about fabrication can.

“The guys want to stay. It is a bottom up process that is quite effective. UL is employing people in there and it is important to have a base and some kind of stability and from that you can really go and do some great things.

“It is a pretty important beachhead and also pretty important in the ways in which the University can work that are not necessarily institutional.”

The cultural programme running in the Fab Lab has been backed by City of Culture, with the use of the building - owned by City Council - given over for a nominal rent.

The Fab Lab team want those barriers to be broken down, for people to come in and see what they do and to look at the machines, while there are plans afoot to open a cafe, running on a donation basis.

For the recent Culture Night, they welcomed huge numbers of kids through the door to roll up their sleeves and create models, becoming perhaps the architects and designers of the future.

“We are fully public, anyone can come in and see what we are up to. We run courses every week and everybody is welcome to attend those,” says Mike.

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