Postcard from: The place beyond the pines

In the late 18th century a small group of remarkable friends met at a house outside Birmingham, UK, got blind drunk and applied themselves to the problems of the age. Between the writers, intellectuals, scientists and industrialists they discovered oxygen, harnessed steam power, pioneered the theory of evolution and launched the Industrial Revolution. Then they staggered home following the light of each full moon. Manufacturer Matthew Boulton, engineer James Watt, scientist Joseph Priestly and physician Erasmus Darwin were at the core of what was known as the Lunar Society.

Taking their lead from that impressive circle, today another group is consciously joining forces to shape a decent life for everyone. In the hills just 20-minutes from Barcelona’s centre, in a 12th century house in Valldaura, a group of experts, professors, makers, mentors, postgrad students and philosophers are asking themselves how science and technology can serve society.

Coordinator Jonanthan Minchin takes big inspiration from the Lunar Society, sharing knowledge and grand ideas over a beer or two. His mission is to be able to “make or grow (almost) anything” as part of a network – and all from within the pines of the world’s largest metropolitan park. At 8000-hectares, Catalonia’s Collserola Natural Park is 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park.

Useful as well as beautiful, within its Green Fab Lab is a research centre that fuses digital fabrication with the idea of self-sufficiency, connecting ancestral knowledge with the most advanced technologies. The underground fabrication laboratory houses all the tools of ‘additive manufacturing’ – 3D printers, laser cutters and format machines to cut small electronics or wood. But it’s the ideas that are important, not the machines.

As part of the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalunya, which currently educates 150 Masters students from 47 different countries, it is here that the next generation of architects “who intend to use their hands for good” are trained. As Jonathan puts it: “No ivory tower for these architects, controlling the orchestra.” These bright new minds come together to spur on what has become known as the third industrial revolution – the digitalisaton of the way things are made. And not only on a full moon.

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The kernel for a new civilisation is being planted in this mountain lab

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“It’s not a forest. It’s a material and biotic library – physics in motion.”
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Lots of chin-stroking as Jonathan explains what makes up a Fab Lab
Green Fab Lab aims for zero waste, storing and recycling wood
Green Fab Lab aims for zero waste, storing and recycling wood
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The makerspace is for editing, assembling and coding
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Tools ready for the next industrial revolution in housing
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Valldaura resident Martin shows how to make a digital construction system
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Atlas researcher Lauren gets excited by plywood
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WikiHouse sustainable homes = “plygood”
A chicken’s-eye view of Valldaura
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Valldaura through a lens in the 1940s

I’m Editor in Chief of Atlas of the Future.

Read more more about WikiHouse, the digital construction system that aspires to make it simpler to design, ‘print’ and build beautiful, affordable, sustainable homes here.

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