2013 – Fab Lab

Community and context

A Fab Lab (or Fabrications Laboratory), is a concept originally dreamt up by Neil Gershenfeld at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT). A Fab Lab is a facility (building) that houses the basic machinery required to make (in Gershenfeld’s words) “just about anything”. It is Gershenfeld’s belief that personal fabrication is on the rise, and soon enough, the world technologically enabled (anyone with a computer) will be able to download and print their own personal 3-dimensional objects. These may include the latest i-phone, running shoes, and at some stage, even a car. Personal fabrication therefore encompasses the design, prototyping and three-dimensional printing of one’s ideas. The South African government has realised the potential of this, and as a result, has installed Fab Labs all around the country. The closest lab is situated in Thokosa, a township situated south of Johannesburg. Local Fab Labs are expected to facilitate local and innovative technology development in an open source fashion. This means that a person who designs and fabricates their idea is required to leave behind a set of instructions that teaches other people how to re-make or recreate the technology in turn for using the facilities, knowledge and material that are provided for free by the Labs. The problem, however, is that the Lab in Thokosa does not have a vast database of instruction materials from which to make or learn about the process of fabrication. One of the other problems with the lab is that users do not use the provided machinery in combination in order to realise the full potential of the facilities (which is… to make just about anything). As a result, users leave the labs with a limited understanding about the potential of the labs, and do not use it to maximum benefit.


The design interventions

Students resolve a specific need of the community, and address this need by creating a tool or item that is able to be manufactured by using the Fab Lab facilities. This empowers the Thokosa community by allowing the users of the lab to recreate these artifacts, which in the process of making, allows them to evolve the item or create spin offs, as well as understand what the potential of the Fab Lab facilities. The artefacts designed in 2013 included the following.

Sus Chair and Multipurpose Chair

After analysing the community, two group of students found that there was a need for equipment/furniture in educational institutions, particularly seating, and set out to create a functional yet sustainable piece of equipment/furniture that can be portable but also be put out of the way when it is not needed. And so the Sus Chair and the Portable chair were born. Both chairs were design to be ergonomic, easy to store and multifunctional.


Portable desk and Laplet

Two groups work on designing multifunctional and portable desks for students who do not have access to desks in their educational environment.  Both designs aimed to be ergonomic, easily to manufacture, multifunctional, and recyclable. The Laplet design was chosen as the delegate’s carry-bag for the GDC Cumulus Conference in 2014, which also resulted in X desks being donated to a local disadvantaged school.


This group decided to create an electronic puzzle that has a variety of different games that can be played. This puzzle has games such as spelling, mathematical, and could possibly be used as a scrabble game. Students focused on the spelling game for this stage of the project, aiming the prototype at children under the age of 16 who suffer from dyslexia