Jordi Reynes
Conversation with Director of the Fab Atheneums

Jordi Reynes

ViewPoints: Where does the Fab Atheneums project come from?

Jordi Reynes: The Fab Atheneum project has existed for a year and a half. It includes both public and private elements.
It’s a social project whose final goal is that there are start-ups in various cities, so that economies develop and so on; and at the same time that youngsters get interested when they finish their studies. We encourage an interest in science, mathematics, technology and engineering – because society needs experts in technology and engineers.
In a year I’ve received 65 visits from interested places: Sao Paolo, Puebla, Rennes, Medellin, Cambridge… Sao Paolo recently launched number 12 of the network, which is great news for us. You can see that the experiment is working. I mean, Sao Paolo is like the New York of the South!
The Les Corts Fab Atheneum is housed in an old textile factory, which has become a digital factory and is going to be a library. And inside the library will be the Atheneum. Something like this happened in Chicago, where in 2013 they used a space inside a library.
Fab 10, which was the 10th meeting of all the Fab Labs in the world, took place here in Barcelona from July 2nd -10th 2014. We created about a week of summer activities for teenagers from 12-17; there were five different workshops on technology and digital fabrication. It was a pilot idea and it was a success; we had as many as 60 participants. We ran a different workshop on each of the five days. We wanted it to be for everyone, not only for the elite but also for people who couldn’t afford a summer camp without a grant: the price for the week was only 63€. Our idea was to be able to reproduce the idea in other places, and we are getting there!
The idea of Fab Atheneums comes from the municipal mandate. When democracy arrived in the 1980’s, the industries in Barcelona went broke and we had to orientate the city towards other sectors. We went to the tertiary sector: services, tourism, making the most of the sea … We benefited from the Olympic Games, not only the city itself but also the other 73 towns in Barcelona province. And it was a good decision, I think, on the part of Pascual Maragall and the 10.000 public servants who were working with him. It was and is very productive and it helped us to understand that this city has a great future. Bear in mind that two Universal Exhibitions were held here, in 1888 and in 1929, paid for by the citizens, and this gave the city a lot of publicity. Then 1929 was followed by a social revolution which ended in a Civil War, as you know, and 40 years of dictatorship which we paid for with blood, sweat and tears. Two generations were affected and the following generations have also had hardships, because when we were children here there was a strict dictatorship, which limited things a lot. In the end, we were able to use democracy to move forward, and we are where we are after 20 years, which is not bad. And this city must once more be a city with productive towns around it, with connected people and zero emissions.
This is our mantra: an intelligent and productive city. It’s obvious that only a public company can make it so, because it’s a risk to be playing with so much money. But we are leading the way. We have a clear goal to reach. We started creating a project from nothing, and with a completely useless space. But now it’s a really useful space and it has given us the chance to show both our successes and our failures.
It’s our intention that the Atheneums should be the link between people and intelligent, productive cities. I’m pretty sure that what we have invented is innovation and it can improve people’s quality of life. We also wanted to bring people’s talents together in one place. Talent doesn’t mean having a degree or speaking three languages. This is not a place only for technology freaks, it’s a space for everyone.
We started working with what we had. We knew that there was an amazing technological institute in Massachusetts, set up by the Fab Labs in 2003. There are currently 456 Fab Labs in 71 different countries and we saw that there were also some in our cities, where people could make projects and whatever from the resources they were given. And Barcelona also had a network of social places to boost energy and creativity. So we started thinking about what the network of Atheneums in Barcelona had to be. Our assignment was to create a Fab Lab for machines; but it already existed and in fact the most important thing about the Fab Atheneums is the people.
The name Atheneum comes from Ancient Greek: places where people gathered and learnt and shared what they knew. Moreover, the Atheneum’s philosophy is that you must upload information about your product on the net, so that other people can benefit from it too.
So our main aim was to make digital production more available to citizens as soon as possible. The outreach of 3D is amazing; it can even change markets. But the Atheneum is based on people. There are machines, laboratories where experiments can be made, but it’s people, not technologists, who decide what is to be done.
The initial procedure has been the traditional one: we don’t have huge aims, but they are realistic. The more publicity and knowledge the better, because this is the future. When we started in the 80’s I remember that we played tapes, and TVs were so enormous … and now after 30 years we have cinemas, libraries … So if in 30 years we have made such a lot of progress, I guess with 3D technology it will be even faster. It’s true that at the moment production takes many hours, but who knows …
Our second aim is to support all the projects that come to us, as long as they have some kind of social nature: from projects we can upload on the net to be copied by others, to projects that have something to do with a particular sector, for instance children with disabilities.

VP: So someone from the Les Corts district who has a technological problem can come here and suggest a solution?

JR: Yes, they come and describe the problem, and then we must check whether the project is possible from three points of view: its technical viability, which means we have the apparatus and the staff needed to do such a project; its economic viability, so we must have the money to finance it in case the people interested run out of money and there are no sponsors; and thirdly, its social viability – if the project is only for you, this place is not for you. It must be possible for everybody to benefit from it. A municipal and public project must fulfill these conditions.

VP: So do the Atheneums have only public money, as they are public projects, or are there also private sponsors?

JR: As you know, we are now at the pilot stage with the Atheneum in Les Corts, which has existed for a year. Currently there are 3 other Atheneums: Ciutat Meridiana, Parc Tecnològic and Fàbrica del Sol. The task was the development of the Atheneums, but not just the buildings, the whole project.
The capital expenditure on equipment is 200.000€ a year. So if there are 10 Atheneums in Barcelona we are talking about 2,000,000 a year. This is going to have to come from other places. We are looking for sponsorship. We must look for private sponsors. Obviously if the project works and is successful, everyone will agree that it must be financed with public money, like a library or a school. But it’s true that the country has never had much money … so we have to find other ways to make this project work. And if we are making it work it’s to encourage companies to follow us and get updated, to move into this new world of machinery and innovation. The day other cities of the world copy the Barcelona project, we will have won!

VP: A final message?

JR: These are our final aims: to generate motivation among youngsters to make a social impact, to generate start-ups, companies which can create jobs in the city, and to link all these projects to the citizens.

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