Welcome to Build LAB

I’d like to introduce myself and the Build LAB by way of this initial post. I am David Goldsmith, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech.

The Build LAB is part of the 2013 renovations and enrichment of Bishop-Favrao Hall, home of the Department of Building Construction and the Myers-Lawson School of Building Construction. The story of the LAB begins when I arrived at Virginia Tech in 2012 and was shown the existing Construction and Concrete Lab occupying the South end of the ground floor. The existing space was utilized for class related projects and research related experiments but was under equipped and under used. I was asked what we could do with the lab space, what would be impactful, what would be innovative.

I consider myself a craftsman, working mainly in wood and composites, and my first inclination was to build out the lab as a furniture focused woodworking shop. That was what I was most familiar with but all it had going for it was that it was in my comfort zone of expertise. Recognizing that wouldn’t cut it, I began to benchmark the Media Lab at MIT and the d.School at Stanford. Studying those successful programs was a great way to understand how the academy can foster innovation using design, materials, and technology.

One of the hallmarks of our benchmark programs, as well as the current trends in ‘Fab Labs’, digital production, and technologies like CNC routers and 3D printers is a major digital component and capabilities that would reduce as much as possible barriers to working to bringing things from ideas to physical objects. That observation meant moving away from traditional skill-based craftsmanship and toward knowledge and information based manufacturing and prototyping techniques. While the LAB features a compliment of traditional and essential machinery and equipment, skills using them is not a barrier to making things, though training and skill-building is a part of the LAB’s mission. I’m certainly happy to support traditional and modern craft woodworking but I don’t want users to be intimidated by dangerous and esoteric industrial machinery. I think I can say with confidence that the tool most familiar, most comfortable, and most ubiquitous for the Virginia Tech community is the computer. Our digital production equipment is the link between what is on the screen and what is in the real world.

A guiding principle throughout the development of the LAB is that the fewer steps, skills, and other types of barriers there are between user and product, the more things of all sorts will happen. In specifying equipment we look first and foremost at ease and transparency in use, power and capability are secondary. The best way to put the LAB to use is through doing rather than training, to engage users as quickly as possible in an iterative process of making rather than a procedural process of training and operating.

The Build LAB is itself an experiment at all levels. We’re trying to understand how users relate to machinery and equipment, to materials, and to each other. At the same time the things made and the techniques developed by said users are what will make the LAB a productive space, one that uses its resources to the fullest extent. In our first year we are very pleased to be working with the Center for Innovation and Learning (CIL) at Virginia Tech to support our work and help us refine our process and measure our results.

This website will serve as part of the LAB’s digital resources. It will serve the Virginia Tech community as well as be our link to the wider world, a place where we can share our work and communicate with others.