The Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop is a wondershop

Typography by Elizabeth Caldwell
Date:20 August 2014 Tags:, ,

There’s a place where artists can create whatever they want, using the most advanced equipment on the planet. It’s in San Francisco (of course). In a warehouse (of course). And it’s inspiring. Introducing the Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop… By David Agrell

The warehouse doesn’t look like much. It is a greying building on San Francisco’s Pier 9. Low-slung, narrow. But inside, there is magic taking place. Metalsmiths and furniture makers, Burning Man veterans, chefs and genetic tinkerers spin out creations on R1 million-plus machines that parade out over the bay, bolt by blade.

These artists in residence have made 3D-printed cameras, topographic-map carpets, Heath Robinson-style machines, recipes using insect flour and plywood that folds like paper. They can do this because, three years ago, Autodesk – a leader in computer-aided design software – bought Instructables, a Web site where members share plans for their DIY projects.

Eric Wilhelm, a young MIT mechanical engineering PhD and kite surfer, is the founder of Instructables. One thing he wanted from the Autodesk deal was a test lab for innovation. “We invite artists who have never touched these machines before,” he says. “We train them, but they’re going to break the machines in creative and productive ways.”

The facility ostensibly helps Autodesk develop user-friendly software tools, but it’s easy to detect a secret agenda. The revamped warehouse hosts the Instructables staff as well as the artist-in-residence program – and Wilhelm’s desk, from which he schemes to encourage the world to create, is just steps away from his dream workshop.

Read more in PM’s September 2014 issue – on sale 18 August.

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