Marstal MotorFabrik

There is a small town called Marstal on an unpronounceable island, Ærø. Oh sure, it’s pronounceable by the danes, but for anyone else, it’s a tongue twister.

This tiny town on this tiny island, has a world wide connection as an international port, and through the determined actions of three energetic, fabulous women, the old Marstal Motor Factory has been brought back to life. For 20 years, it’s sat dormant, and these three daughters of Ærø banded together to bring to life a place of culture, community, and creation. They describe it in many ways, as a maker space, as a community gathering space, “a space where active minds, experiences, and good ideas are born in a unique cultural framework”. <-Translated from Danish. Not well, but read it here if you’re danish reading:

(Video of the visit below)

They imagine it as a workspace, a cafe, a concert and conference hall, and a place where the people of the community who used to work there can shine, helping others to gain some of the extensive knowledge they have about motors and the sea.

“Motorfabrikken skal være en bygning, der rummer
 nutid og fortid. Unge og gamle. Ærø og verden”.
(The Marstal Motor Factory should be a building housing the past and the present. The young and the old. Ærø and the world.”
So with that lengthy introduction, let me explain why I’m even talking about this. My dear, wicked-smart, ambitious and beautiful friend Nina (who is as you may have guessed, one of the three women) invited myself and my partner, Dzl (check out his work here and here) to join 13 others in a weekend at Marstal Motorfabrik to imagine what the future could be there. We were combined with entrepreneurs, architects, TV producers, and creatives from all walks of life. Together, we envisioned what it might be in the future, and had many lively agreeable disagreements along the way. We (my partner and I) imagined a maker space, a community gathering where people could build and display art, work on projects, host artists in residence. Some of the more architecturally inclined imagined a beautiful space with flow, where people could be creative and gather, working or brainstorming. Others imagined a cafe, an artist space, a marketplace. There were hundreds of ideas. You can read about the weekend here (translated).
During this workshop, I came to reflect often on the concept of meaningfulness and what it means in this context. A place with a strong history, and with people who were part of that history who are now part of it’s new identity. I came to some … I wouldn’t call them conclusions, let’s say ponderings:
  • Meaningfulness might live within community. In designing for “The past and the present. The young and the old. Ærø and the world” they essentially encompass everyone, but their message is clear and strong: include those who have been before and rely on, and respect their knowledge. Engage those who are just arriving, and capitalize on their energy and fresh perspectives. Have a global perspective, how does it matter to other cultures, peoples, traditions, and histories? When designing for meaningfulness, maybe it’s important to just start here. Many times I see products (or to-be-products) trying to do something for ‘the first time’ (aka: “The world’s first smart water bottle” Sigh.) So how can these companies not only do market research and find a niche, but also look to the past, to those who know, to users who have been frustrated with a situation, and what they’ve done about it, and gathering people who are (maybe) young, or just having a fresh perspective, and also looking to see how the world and other cultures handles things. Maybe this is just design thinking 101 and I’m simply relying on that as a crutch. It’s entirely possible. Somehow though I feel like the ‘meaningfulness’ aspect comes from the human connections present in this past paragraph. Community. Knowledge people meeting beginners. Small towns meeting the world. And vice versa.
  • Nostalgia exists for a reason. The factory was filled with old beautiful machinery. Not everyone might call it beautiful, but I come from illutron, remember, where we play with old, rusty things and find the beauty in them. Finding this beauty, the craftsmanship behind these giant, reliable, well built machines, finding the patina of where they’ve groaned and moved 1000 times carving out a propeller… somehow there’s a hint of meaningfulness here. Maybe it just comes down to not designing shiny silicon incased i-things and focusing instead on the raw materials, what makes them beautiful, what makes them age, what makes us realize their worth and why they matter to us.
  • A sense of pride in one’s work somehow equals a meaningful experience. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of making something tangible. Or knowing you made something that someone will use and appreciate and that will last. Or just making a thing. There’s something about the way we operate today. I can write this blog post, publish it, feel a warm glow of adding to the world, but it doesn’t compare to the feeling of actually carving something, machining something, seeing something emerge from raw materials and stand before you and then be used by someone else who depends on it. That’s an entirely different feeling.
  • Finally the connection to nature. It was a cold weekend, but nothing felt better than being on the ocean, in a small boat, powered by a Marstal Motor. We took a short trip to a small peninsula, and had snacks and drinks with the wind blowing in our hair, the waves lapping around us and the smell of the ocean filling us. It was powerful, and there’s something to be said about not just human to human or human to self connection, but also human to nature. Can we design to invoke that sense of wonder, of calm, of peacefulness and appreciation?
So that was the weekend at Marstal Motorfabrik. They have a great Facebook page you can follow, here. Thanks Nina, Julie, Lone, and all the participants for an incredible weekend.

Originally published at Meaningful Devices.