Makerspace for Urban Innovators – What does a sustainable, self sufficient city of tomorrow look like? The only way to find out is to wander around its premises on Kop Java Island in Amsterdam. It’s a trip into the future, a down to earth and viable one. Homemade, locally grown, developed an created by real people.

The walk or ride across the bridge spanning the IJ river makes you feel like you are about to enter a new world. Which you are, once you pass through the impressive entrance, built from containers. White flags everywhere symbolise the blank pages of our future, which is being written in FabCity.

Written, or better yet, 3D printed if it was up to some of the participants, like BAM, producing parts for Jan Jaap Ruijsenaars Landscape House with their 3D concrete printer. Or the people from MX3D, who are working on a steel bridge for the centre of Amsterdam. Welding lights spark in their container, where they print parts for the bridge and research the impact of weather and other forces on the joints of the structure. High tech and just as impressive is the massive machine occupying a nearby hangar, where elements for the Wikkelhouse are being fabricated. If you’re in luck, you can see the actual wrapping of cardboard around an enormous mould – the most spectacular part of the production of these sustainable buildings. In the end, these technological innovations are not so different from what their neighbours are doing – Flo.Co is hammering and screwing together a mobile home on the spot, completely made out of waste materials: steel beams and wooden bars all obtained from demolished properties.

You can find tiny, sustainable houses all over FabCity. The Wikkelhouses – occupied by students and start-ups and Porta Palace – developed by woonpionier Jelte Glas. Their neighbour is Sustainer Homes – totally self-sufficient and showcasing sustainable accessories – with in its ‘backyard’ the four sturdy looking blocks of Finch Buildings and the luxuriously furnished Heijmans One. This apartment could easily house two and has a multi coloured, glow-in-the-dark terrace, made out of old Nike trainers. The charming Tiny Tim – finished with purposely burnt wood – looks much more modest, but boasts the first wall to recycle water through plants, cleaning it to drinking water standards. Inside or around the houses – all connected with each other via network company Alliander’s smart energy grid – you can find their proud owners or inventors, who will gladly tell you the story of their creation.

The small houses give you an idea of an alternative way of living – off grid, flexible, environmentally friendly, mobile, and affordable. But the makers will tell you that there are some struggles, of course. Legislation has not kept up with the developments – rules around the Tiny House are still unclear or even non-existent. Now, most of the buildings are in demand as holiday houses, like the house made of hemp – which not only demonstrates hemp as a building material but also offers a platform for all manufacturers of new hemp products like clothing, tasty snacks, teas, and medicine. The Hemp Collective is one of the participants promoting alternative building materials. Although hemp might be new to some of FabCity’s visitors, it was used centuries ago. Something that cannot be said about the other popular new building material: recycled plastic. The Pretty Plastic Plant shows you in easy steps how used plastic packaging can be turned into a raw material. No rocket science here – it is a matter of shredding, pressing and colour-sorting the plastic. It looks like a fun thing to do, in the same way the creatives at Makerversity are going about their business – inventing useful, but also simply entertaining things. An example is a computerised marble run, made out of thick copper wire by a happy professional, who in his daily life solves computer problems and here rekindles his love for crafts.

That is what FabCity is about – making and creating seemingly simple solutions, which appeal to a wide audience because of their feasibility. It brings a better world almost literally to people’s doorstep. Rainproof’s basic container, which on one side is decorated with a colourful garden wall, shows how easy it can be to prepare our cities for the climate changes that are already happening. You can look at open tiles and a water collecting-and-distributing-system on the roof, accessible via a staircase built of reused pallets, what else? The temporary vegetable and herb garden next door are irrigated by the Water Tower, an attractive wooden structure, based on the simple ideas of height and pressure. But here looks deceive again, as it is designed as an easy to assemble and transport device, which can be used for water storage and supply in remote areas or at any off-grid festival.

Although FabCity can be easily explored on foot, cyclists are more than welcome. CycleSpace, who is trying to transform cities all over the world, created some cycle paths around this particular innovative city. Not just for getting from A to B, but to examine the physical
and psychological impact of different kinds of surfaces for cyclists. You can take a brand new electric bike for a spin, or gaze at inventive systems for storing bicycles. CycleSpace is not the only participant promoting urban cycling. Luud Schimmelpennink came up with a bicycle and car sharing system in the seventies. It didn’t quite work as well as he hoped, but decades later, his ideas have materialised in cities all over the world and Amsterdam might be ready for his shared cars and bicycles. The aged Provo can be found in the vicinity of the eye-catching steel structures, which are to mark underground storage of his car sharing system in Dutch cities in the near future.

Other key elements on FabCity might be easier to overlook, such as the floating solar panels of SunFloat, which are hidden behind Flo.Co’s open air workshop. These dapper floaters are the result of a co-operation built on a shared love for the water or, to be more specific, sailing it. The two owners of SunFloat met on a sailing boat and are now ready to cover the Dutch wetlands with their floating panels. It is easy to share their enthusiasm for the invention. The product is easy to make, weatherproof and highly efficient, without the begrudged side effect of horizon pollution – which is an often used argument by opponents of windmills. An argument which cannot be used against the cute windmill on top of Hans Kalliwodo’s Future Pollination Lab, a mysterious and colourful tent, hiding his self-sufficient art project. It is meant to be used for collecting and telling stories, like the innovative stage / stand of theatre collective Wunderbaum. The enormous round arena, which on warm days also serves as a huge bench and look out for wandering visitors, shows the Holland Festival production The Coming of Xia. And Over het IJ Festival is shipping its sea container programme (a creative incubator for theatre talent) to FabCity – the high level of innovation and creativity will definitely find fertile grounds.

At the edge of FabCity, you can find a tiny, mobile home. Its attraction lies not in innovative accessories or smart technology. It is the pied a terre of the Java Island locals and FabCity supporters of the first hour. Bringing together people from all kinds of disciplines and backgrounds, contaminating each other with curiosity, ideas, positivity and creativity, some of the main principles of FabCity. This is exactly what is happening on the Kop van Java Island. Not only between the participants who are meeting each other naturally, even thought they were a little bit shy at first, eying up each other’s innovations or borrowing some tools or organic herbs. The Meet the Locals community members gather around a homemade bowl of soup, make music, debate, inform and invite their temporary neighbours, all in the spirit of FabCity. And in the Learning Lab, you can find students collaborating with each other on solving both very real, existing problems in Amsterdam areas and universal issues that need urgent solutions all over the world. Students, makers, creatives, professionals, and artists all find each other at a certain point at the FabCafe, run by OnsEten, or in the greenhouse, which of course serves dishes from locally grown ingredients. Laptops are covering the wooden tables – the work never stops. In front of the cafe, the trailer of Gewildgroei – promoting edible and useful weeds, which spontaneously grows in our city – adds a nice touch of urban wildness.

To see more of FabCity, visit europebypeople.nl/fabcity


On April 20, the first FabCity Summit took place in Pakhuis de Zwijger and at Kop van Java. As part of the Amsterdam EU2016 Arts & Design programme Europe by People, representatives from Barcelona (initiator Fab City Network), Cambridge, London, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Bologna, Shenzhen, and
Amsterdam came together to co-develop the Fab City Manifesto, a roadmap to self-sufficient cities, locallyproductive and globally connected. After a day of hard work the Summit ended with a festive touch, officially connecting Amsterdam as the ninth city to the globalnetwork of Fab Cities.

For more Information visit fab.city und fabcity.cc

Europe by People

The Netherlands will preside over the Council of the European Union for six months, starting January 1st 2016. 25 thousand politicians and civil workers will swarm the Dutch capital. But it won’t be all about politics. For over six months Amsterdam will be a cultural capital and inspiring example for city development. The program Europe by People, The Future of Everyday Living will look into contemporary social issues through arts and design.

The article is written by Nicole Santé, editor of Europe by People

This article first appeared in New Amsterdam #9, an in-depth extension of the online platforms stedenintransitie.nl and citiesintransition.eu, where City Makers gather and connect. They are the heart of the stories about new initiatives, testing grounds, city labs and creative breeding grounds in cities all over the world and in the programmes of Pakhuis de Zwijger.

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