Openlab Taipei: Connecting the Maker Community

Explore how pioneers of Taiwan’s maker movement are connecting makers, hackers, and artists across the globe.

Yahsin Huang
Oct 1, 2015 · 6 min read
Hung-chi Cheng(鄭鴻旗), co-founder of Openlab Taipei. Photography by Yahsin Huang.

Openlab Taipei is the first and the smallest makerspace in Taiwan. This tiny studio space has always been filled with tools and recycled components since it was founded in 2009. The founders were a group of new media artists who are enthusiastic about FLOSS+Art — that is, creating art projects with Free, Libre and Open Source software(FLOSS). Openlab has exhibited numerous creative projects, from the 2013 Taipei Children’s Art Festival “108 little monsters” installation, to an interactive LED installation in 2014. Founding members Hung-Chi Cheng(鄭鴻旗), Chun Lee(李駿), Sheng-Po Shen(沈聖博) and many young creative professionals are always seeking better and better ways to build the maker community.

Openlab Taipei member Wong-Quan Xie(謝翁銓)’s electronic version of a flying dragon boat was created in August 2013 for the Taipei Children’s Art Festival. Photography by Quan-Tai Zhan.
Openlab Taipei key members with one of its largest creative project LED interactive installation April 2014. Photography by Yahsin Huang.

The Rise of Taiwan’s Maker Movement

In 2012, Make Taiwan magazine held the first Maker Faire Taipei in Taipei city, Taiwan. Since then, Taiwan has experienced a rapid rise of maker culture. The number of Taiwan’s maker communities has been multiplying at a phenomenal rate! The public hears of new makerspaces opening every month. Openlab Taipei, Fablab Taipei, Taipei Hackerspace, MakerBar Taipei, FutureWard, and FabCafe Taipei are the first Taiwanese makerspaces; they opened from 2009 to 2013. Other makerspaces started popping up in cities like Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung from 2013 to 2015.

Today, you see makerspaces everywhere from public middle schools to artists’ residences. Particularly in big cities, the public high schools, college campuses, coffee shops, and shopping malls have begun to feature makerspace equipment such as 3D printers. Just in Taipei alone, at least 20 makerspaces are offering DIY maker classes, 3D printing services, and digital tool rental services. This number does not include new makerspaces that are on their way. Based on my investigations, I caustiously estimate that there are approximately 50 makerspaces in Taiwan. It could be a lot more.

What is even more remarkable is the growing proportion of people who become interested in making and hacking things. Openlab Taipei’s Facebook group has over 5000 members. Their regular weekly meet-up attracts 30 to 50 people every Wednesday night. Picture a tiny studio space packed with people.

The recent explosion of interest is largely due to the media’s spotlight on 3D printing technologies. Unprecedented media coverage of 3D printing technologies has amazed the public, and maker education has received public’s attention. Public discussions of maker education are prompting a wave of fresh thinking about how to teach science, art, critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to lead.

Building a New Learning Culture

It’s fantastic to see how Taiwan’s government officials are taking this. Over the past decades, our education system has over-emphasized the importance of getting good grades. The more teachers talk about taking tests, studying, and getting good grades, the less students think about the meaning of learning. Educators, teachers, parents, and even young people (like students themselves) no longer value hands-on projects. The idea of learning by making is our long-lost friend. Taiwan’s people have long been waiting for this radical shift in our conception of what and why we teach; now that maker movement has arrived, Taiwan’s people are riding on it.

Justin Arenstein from Code for Africa and David Eads from NPR visuals team visited Openlab Taipei in August 2015.

Makers are almost always excellent promoters. They are open and willing to share. I first became interested in maker culture June 2013, when in my early twenties, as I was leaving a psychology research lab (Language, Culture, and Cognition Lab) in June 2013. Hung-chi Cheng(鄭鴻旗), co-founder of Openlab Taipei, was the first person I had conversed with in my tech reporting career. I have many vivid memories of how I was struck by his willingness to share. Hung-chi literally poured on everything he knew about makers, hackers, and FLOSS+Art artists. He showed me piles of printed documents, books, and research projects that the Openlab Taipei had been working on — not to mention all of the creative projects, hacking toys, and DIY robots.

A Place of Inspiration

In the summer of 2013, I found that I kept going back to Openlab Taipei. I was fascinated by the creative projects they made and couldn’t wait to find out more about the projects that they were brainstorming at the time. Everyone I met at their cozy studio shared same kind of personalty traits. They shared their ideas with passion and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you like to get excited about the projects that you’ve been working on, Openlab Taipei is the place you go. It’s where you get to hang out with people who are genuinely excited about making things.

“Openlab Taipei is a great place to share knowledge and learn from each other’s experience, whether it is technology, electronics, information, software, art. We want to play together, figure things out together,” said Wong-Quan Xie(謝翁銓), key member of Openlab Taipei. “I spotted the happy smile of a teacher from Denmark last night at our regular Wednesday night meet-up. I hope she can bring back the happy memories at Taipei’s makerspaces to Europe. Openlab is a wonderland where you find fulfillment and joy. ”

“It’s where people have a little fun experimenting with things. We cooperate and coordinate so that everyone can contribute and everyone can benefit. We do it together” co-founder Hung-Chi Cheng(鄭鴻旗) said. “The maker community has been generous in supporting Openlab Taipei. People initiate fun projects and give away valuable tools, materials, basically all that they can offer. We’re very grateful for that.”

It’s the collective strength and a culture of sharing that makes the place an inspiration for many.

This blog post is intended to stimulate thoughts and discussions on maker movement, maker culture, and maker education on how to educate our children, how to organize our institutions, and what we really need for our society. Although I don’t consider myself a maker (I’m terrible at making and assembly things!), I do wish to know everything about maker culture and what it means to our society. What is it? Why is it important? What does it mean? Where is it taking us?

I have just shown a fleeting glimpse of maker culture in Taiwan because I myself haven’t experienced very much of the maker lifestyle. This post is meant to encourage readers get to know the makerspaces in their neighborhoods. If you can’t find makers in your area, visit Openlab Taipei’s cosy makerspace at No.8, Aly. 37, Ln. 230, Sec. 3, Tingzhou Rd., Zhongzheng Dist., Taipei City, Taiwan in Treasure Hill Artists’ Village. Treasure Hill Artists’ Village is 15 minutes walking distance from National Taiwan University’s main campus.

Drop me an email at yahsinhuangtw@gmail.com if you have any thoughts and/or if you’re looking for recommendations on Taiwan’s makerspaces. I’d be thrilled to chat.

Yahsin Huang(黃雅信) is a contributing writer for MAKE Taiwan magazine(MAKE國際中文版雜誌), TechLife magazine(科技生活雜誌), and Event Platform magazine(活動平台雜誌). She has been covering tech trends, maker movement, and new media art since June 2013. Her last story for MAKE Taiwan was “Making Assistive Technology,” in Jan/Feb 2015.

Yahsin Huang

Written by

Yahsin Huang is a tech writer in Taipei.

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