Eighteen months ago, a chapter of the Auckland Linux Users group was faced with rain on the day of its annual Christmas barbecue.
So, like any group of Kiwi blokes, they headed to the pub instead. There they had a discussion that would result in the opening of Tangleball a year later, in a warehouse just off Auckland’s K Road.
Tangleball is the latest addition to the growing worldwide trend of DIY makerspaces, also known as hackerspaces. It’s a concept born of a desire to get offline, and to start creating tangible objects while sharing knowledge in a community-oriented way.
The idea for such a space, says Robin Paulson—part of the pub conversation that Christmas—has floated around Auckland for several years in various forms. “I think I might have said something like, ‘Why doesn’t someone do it? Why doesn’t someone start it?’” So the group agreed to stop talking and start acting.
The term hackerspace isn’t so much a rigid definition as it is an ethos; one that encompasses DIY, information-sharing, open community, disruptive technology and a dash of anti-authoritarian attitude. Yet Tangleball has expanded the concept past the purely technological and opened its doors to artists and creatives of all kinds. As Paulson puts it, there’s a lot of collaborative possibility between the two communities—techies and artists—but they just don’t tend to mix much naturally otherwise.
While paid-up members use the tools and space for anything from brewing beer to fixing bikes, one of the coolest projects so far is the RepRap, a self-replicating 3D printer built from scratch by Tangleball member Gary Tolley based on open-source designs and information. Tolley intends to keep the completed RepRap available for use at Tangleball because, he says, there’s “nothing worse than an idle machine”.
Other makerspaces exist in New Zealand, and while they’re not on the same scale as Tangleball they all tap into the DIY spirit to subvert the mass-produced mainstream.
Alphabet City, which opened in June, intends to be a community space and gallery for book and word arts—for people to come and “make things with words”.
Owners Moira Clunie and Erin Fae have long histories in collaborative communities. Clunie started Small Print, Auckland’s first zine fest, and a distribution network that New Yorker Fae says was famous among Stateside zinesters.
Whatever you call them, these creative spaces aren’t going away soon. Hackerspaces.org hosts a non-comprehensive list of over 400 worldwide hackerspaces, twice that of two years ago.
Paulson emphasises that the idea didn’t start with any one hackerspace. “It’s a continuum. Before us, there were hackerspaces in Germany, America, Wellington, Australia,” he says. “There wasn’t really a starting point. It’s societal.”