NB. MATERIAL ASSOCIATED WITH THIS CTP IS FOR INTERNAL TRANSIT USE ONLY.
This CTP describes the intentional strategies of the organisation’s founders to name and present this SII – prior to its existence in any material form – in such a way that would make it legible to higher education institutions who could host it. The co-founders had met through a common interest in materials, education, and interdisciplinary learning: “It wasn’t about discipline, it was about stuff”. The pair decided to build a materials library as a project which allowed them to combine their existing collections of ‘stuff’, collect materials for any discipline that wanted to learn about them, and also “have excuses to go for lunch more”. When the co-founders completed their respective PhDs in 2009 they decided to transform the library into a larger, more permanent project, which would be housed within a higher education institute. The project itself was complex, and the founders anticipated that it would comprise both workshop space, research projects, and a wider educational stream. In order to make it both legible and desirable to higher education institutes, the co-founders decided to call it an Institute, rather than a hackspace, makerspace, or Fablab. “We’re in the university space, they [universities] understand the word ‘Institute’, but we can play with it”. The co-founders then set up a website with the new name in early 2010.
This CTP was sparked by the period in which both co-founders completed their respective PhDs – 2008-2009 – and had to make a decision about what to do with the nascent materials library that they had both developed since 2005. The library was an active project in its own right, combining materials, public domain work, and research which the pair had folded into their own doctoral research:
“You can’t extrapolate materials from process. I’d define making as a relationship between materials and process – it’s impossible to talk about materials without talking about process. With the materials library, we would make things, and part of my PhD became, what are the fundamental qualities of a material, and how can you express part of its nature though the object itself? The sharpness of a knife changes with what materials it’s made off – the material speaks through the object itself. We started making things that…spoke to fundamental processes – tuning forks, spoons, all made of different materials; what happens when you make them out of wax?”
Through this early instantiation, the co-founders started to develop an idea of what the ‘ideal version’ of the library would be; and, once they’d finished their PhDs, asked themselves “Can we turn this into more than just a project we’re enjoying? Can we turn it into a springboard for something bigger?” In order to offer the scale and resources to be effective – “to talk about material on a bigger scale” - the co-founders decided to shape the organization into a form which would be legible and attractive to a higher education institute, as something which could be housed with it. “The dream was to have a workshop and a materials library, as you need to have both together”.
This CTP was also shaped by changing circumstances around the housing of the organization. The original materials library was housed and affiliated with the university department where the co-founders had conducted their PhDs; however, this department was shut down, formally closing in July 2013. As the co-founders explored possibilities for other locations, one was offered a job at the Institute’s current home and negotiated his conditions by demanding to bring the Institute with him.
Events that helped evoke the CTP: Completion of co-founders’ PhDs. Closure of original university department.
There was little contestation or opposition around this decision. Instead it emerged from a collaborative decision between the organisation’s co-founders. The decision was gestated and borne of the politics to make the organization legible to higher education institutes who could host it in the future.
The co-founders had anticipated the end of their PhD programs marking a sea-change in the identity of the nascent materials library, and the amount of time and energy that they would now be able to invest into it. They also anticipated the importance of naming something to usher it into being: “It was one of those things that if you make it, [they] will come”; thus, this CTP was recognized as being critical for the development of the organization.
The time period around this CTP was characterized by uncertainty – about the housing of the institute, and the career prospects and directions of the co-founders. It is difficult to identify how the absence of the CTP would have affected the organisation’s subsequent trajectory, given the presence of all other forms of flux. The following events were both expected and unexpected – the co-founders were uncertain where the Institute would finally find a home, but it had been so named in order to summon in the exact circumstances which followed, ie. Housing the Institute within a sponsor university.
As described in ‘Learning’, leveraging the Institute to another higher education institute was more of a leap in the dark than the naming of the Institute itself (and indeed, renaming the Institute would have been comparatively easy if the co-founders decided to change their minds at any point).
This CTP created legibility for the organization at a time when its purpose, and housing, was in flux; and permitted network formation inasmuch as it was instrumental in instantiating the institute in its current home. When co-founder M was offered an academic position in engineering at the organisation’s current home, he was able to point to the Institute, both as the current materials library and as the website, in negotiating his job position and how the Institute could be leveraged as part of that:
“[The university] had offered him a job, and we were like great, maybe he leaves, maybe I stay at [our current home], but how can we make this work? M said [to the university]: but I’ve got this Institute, so if you give me a job, you’ll have to give me a space. It was a punt”.
As S describes here, the leverage of the Institute was itself a gamble, but one that felt necessary in the context of what could be achieved. Demarcating the Institute as such was bound up in the educational and transformative aims of the organization, notably around education, interdisciplinarity, and an adjunct to existing university infrastructures; and the naming was so informed by the co-founders own extensive experience within higher education through their doctoral program and research.
The achievements of housing the institute within its current home were not simply the result of this CTP but a combination of other factors detailed in other CTPs including the difficulties of finding a suitable, insurance-worthy space, and the closure of KCL’s engineering school. However, the naming permitted the co-founders to bundle up the complexity of their aims for the institution. As one described: “To say we run a materials library – oh, and we do research projects; oh, and we make things, and we do this and we do that: it was too difficult for people to get their heads around.”
One unexpected aspect of this CTP was how the naming implied a plurality of Institutes, not simply the one which the two co-founders had set up. As S recalled, when UCL found out about the Institute, they asked “Well, what is this Institute? We’d quite like one” – insinuating that, as with FabLabs, this was a replicable model rather than a single instantiation.
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