Tribe of Creators
Interview with Alex Schaub and Erwian Schuster by Viveka van de Vliet
On the somewhat uninspiring Contactweg, just above the Westerpark, there is a gem that not all creative Amsterdammers are familiar with. It’s a shame, because this unique breeding ground and makerspace functions as a multidisciplinary beehive full of activity, knowledge, and talent. A mini-city, where you’ll find established studios of well-known and lesser-known creatives including OnTour Fashion designers, Lance Legel from 3co with his special 3D scanner for plants, architect Maarten van Kesteren, designer of recycled material Magnus Norup, high-end Swiss furniture label Girsberger, and DeliSouth, importer of organic products such as oil, tea and wine.
Contact Amsterdam – house of creators is a shared makerspace. They themselves also speak of a tribe, an interdisciplinary community of creative entrepreneurs. And not only that. At first, they were aimed purely at their own tenants, but within the new business plan the doors will also be opened to external professionals. They can consult experts and have a prototype or small series made in collaboration. At the 2500-square-meter makerspace, they have all possible machines at their disposal – from a belt sander, 3D printer, and laser cutter, to a CNC milling machine, lathe, and sewing machine. They can laser cut, woodwork, 3D print, or embroider to their heart’s content.
External parties can also rent a meeting room or the acoustic theatre for a presentation, master class, concert, film, video conference, or exhibition. The nearby Media College holds its final exam presentations there, which is where Alex Schaub aka Fabguru of Contact Amsterdam regularly finds trainees.
Breeding grounds – fortunately, the city still has them, including Acta, the Volkshotel, and Xpositron. ‘But they are under pressure and are being squeezed out of the city,’ says director of Contact Amsterdam and entrepreneur Erwin Schuster. ‘Breeding grounds often have temporary accommodation on expensive Amsterdam soil and, therefore, have to make way for housing. The emphasis on internationalisation and creativity attracted many expats to the city, but they also put pressure on the housing market, making houses more expensive. There is a downside to this success: recently graduated young talent is moving to other cities where there is an affordable housing climate. As a result, the creative ‘compost layer’ is disappearing, diversity and growth are stagnating. That is when creativity comes to a standstill. The municipality will have to create affordable places, preserve the frayed edges instead of developing every square inch of the city.’
‘Breeding grounds are important for the city’s creative climate,’ Schaub agrees. In 2005, he was the founder of the first AmsterdamFablab Waag Society and a specialist within the worldwide Fablab network that set up Fablabs from scratch all over the world. Schaub also built its own machines here. With this, they can demonstrate the power of making, which produces creative and valuable products that can make the city, life, and the world a better place. For example, medical devices were manufactured here, but also models for the multi-million Nimeto project, a school in Utrecht, and the listening posts as part of the Elephant Trail project in Artis, both by architect Maarten van Kesteren, Schaub says not without pride. The software developed by programmer Coen Klösters for artist Nick Verstand to control a laser installation, shown at the Dutch Design Week, was also conceived here. Or take Jesse Howard’s interesting ‘OpenStructures’ designs that are included in the exhibition ‘From Thonet to Dutch design’ at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
‘We focus on a combination of digital manufacturing and craftsmanship, because that results in the highest quality products. We also believe in critical making, which means making things from a critical perspective: products that are sustainable, contribute something, improve or solve a problem,’ says Schuster. ‘You don’t come here to make something just to make it, you’re not going to print 3D just because you have that machine at your disposal,’ Schaub says.
Contact Amsterdam is unique, both say. It’s one of the last open makerspaces in the city. Contact Amsterdam wants to put itself even more firmly on the map as an authority during the event. And, as a GLUE visitor, you can spend a whole day here.