FabLab Israel (FabLabIL) is situated in the heart of the impoverished Jesse Cohen neighborhood of Holon, south of Tel Aviv. The neighborhood is marked by extremely low socioeconomic status and crime, and is also home to a large immigrant Ethiopian population with extended families struggling to survive. The goal of the first Israeli FabLab was to be an innovative and community-oriented fabrication lab, a collaboration between the Design School at the College of Management (COMAS) and the Israeli Center for Digital Art. FabLab Israel undertakes real-life projects that involve and help the surrounding neighborhood while incorporating the PBL methodologies designed together with, and utilized by, the Design School at COMAS.
Next door to the Lab, the Lazarus Community Center serves as an important nucleus for young children in the area, providing them with a safe haven to keep them off the streets and away from petty crime and violence. The center offers after-school activities and provides jobs for at-risk youth not involved in any extra-curricular programs. Within the center was a playroom for children aged 5-12 where they could study, do their homework, and play. The room was in poor condition -- a gloomy, uninviting space without proper furniture or equipment.
Part of the COMAS and FabLab Israel curriculum, with the support of the Israeli Center for Digital Art, is a social design course, which brings together diverse groups of people who otherwise would rarely encounter one another, to collaborate on projects which have a positive impact on the community. Spanish architects Arch. Patricia Muñiz and Arch. Luciano Alfaya (Estudio MMASA), experts in such work, and Arch. Ohad Meyuhas, Director and Co-founder of FabLab Israel, and the visionary of the Israeli FabLab network, with extensive expertise in teaching design and digital fabrication using low-budget material to create functional furniture, conceived and executed a project which identified the children's needs for a special space in the community center where they would want to spend their afternoons, and also get help with homework. The team had a time frame of 7 weeks and a budget of 2000 euros.
This space was then fabricated by the entire FabLab community -- the children, the students, the architects.
Besides designing the best space possible to meet the children's needs, the challenge was also to design and make furniture that had to serve not only as functional furniture, but also as educational tools. Material was re-used in non-traditional ways. The children themselves, as well as the neighborhood youth, were involved in the project from A to Z -- criticizing the design, offering suggestions which were incorporated into the end product, and working to build the space, using the FabLab digital fabrication tools -- a space that they could eventually truly call their own. Not only did this exercise reinforce the ties between the community and the FabLab, it also empowered many of the children who had rarely had any arena in which to achieve -- and thrive -- before.
These combined efforts led to an "Extreme Makeover." A VERY extreme makeover! The not-to-be-underestimated positive spirit, the participation of the entire community, the FabLab machines working non-stop at full capacity -- producing all kinds of items for the room (including the vinyl floor!) -- lasted 5 full days --without sleep! Most importantly, the makeover changed the mindset of the children. It gave them a dream which, in turn, gave them hope. When the room re-opened, and the children were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, all of them answered that they wanted to be designers and "makers"! Now, more than a half year later, the “Extreme Makeover" room at Lazarus Community Center runs at full capacity and is used by the children of the Jesse Cohen neighborhood for homework and for play. Understandably, the children take great pride in this space because they themselves created it. And therefore they take care of it with diligence and responsibility.
FabLabs make a difference. They give hope -- and promise.
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