Makers’ Mark

J .R. Logan has seen a lot of broken drones in his day.

The makerspace Logan co-founded, MakeHaven, opened its doors in early 2012, and by 2015 a small band of drone enthusiasts had arrived, embarking on a long process of designing, crashing, re-designing and re-crashing the remote-controlled fliers. One successful creation was lost in high grasses, but instead of searching by foot or cutting their losses, they built a second machine, this time with a camera installed, to fly over the grasses and search for its fallen comrade.

The lost drone was never found, but that, according to Logan, is hardly the point. “It gave them a mission that accelerated their learning. They had a mission design and they used a GPS tracker to figure out the route that they needed to cover… Working through problems is fun.”

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MakeHaven is a place where you can present yourself with endless problems and learn your way to solutions. The modestly sized space, which often hosts workshops, has a surprisingly wide array of machines and crafting aids available to its 130 members, ranging from the more traditional—sewing machines, soldering irons, woodworking tools—to the edgier—3D printers, laser cutters, computers smaller than sugar cubes. 50 bucks a month gets you unlimited use of the facilities, which become more diverse as people with varied interests join up.

Fittingly, the non-profit organization “got started in a lot of places.” Logan and his friends were first inspired by crafting and hacking videos they saw on YouTube, as well as the founding of Resistor, a hacker collective in Brooklyn. “We wanted something like that for New Haven,” Logan says.

So MakeHaven began assembling itself. At first, it was just a group of people contributing 50 dollars a month to save up for the current space on State Street. The first formal workshop there, as Logan remembers it, was a soldering class with just “a couple of sawhorses and some doors.” Now, the space is filled with machines and the objects people have made with them. 3D-printed buildings, plaid aprons, elfin-looking drones and silkscreened images nearly fill the space to the brim.

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The relatively close quarters of MakeHaven’s current location offer the benefit of what Logan calls “cross-pollination” between different creative media. “Many people come into MakeHaven with a project in mind, but it meanders as you meet people and learn things,” he says.

Indeed, last Tuesday night people were drawn away from their sewing, woodworking and laser cutting to watch a chair caning demonstration. The sense that all craft is connected, regardless of whether you’re using a hacksaw or a microchip, permeates MakeHaven. Logan, who himself has a natural affinity for computer-based work, appreciates the importance of that which came before. “If you’ve ever looked at a sewing machine, it’s an incredible piece of equipment, incredibly complex and it takes a lot to understand and operate it. It would be foolish to dismiss,” he says.

“There’s also a lot of power at the intersection of ideas,” he says. “You do woodworking, and then you laser cut. Or maybe you do electronics and embed it into your sewing project.” This type of work results in interdisciplinary innovations like “wearable” technology: clothing that can connect to Wi-Fi, respond to changes in temperature or react to the presence of other people, and can be made at MakeHaven.

Beyond the accessibility MakeHaven offers to these machines, there’s an increase in approachability. If you feel more comfortable making a raspberry pie than you do using Raspberry Pi, a miniature computer, MakeHaven is a place where you can do the one while getting comfortable with the other. To help, there are a handful of “animators”—craftspeople across multiple disciplines that “bring action and activity to the community,” Logan says—who rotate through MakeHaven. In exchange for a membership, they create inspiring projects and assist people who are experimenting with burgeoning skill sets.

MakeHaven’s largest event yet, the New Haven Hackathon, will be held this weekend, mostly at Union Station. From Friday to Sunday, it’s 71 hours long, with groups of people coming together to design prototypes that—what else?—“solve problems.” One of the potential ideas that Logan and his fellow brainstormers have come up with is a program that allows for an augmented reality experience in the train station, making it possible for you to see the ghosts of historically significant figures float through Union Station.

An unhaunted train station doesn’t seem like a problem that needs solving. But for Logan and other members of MakeHaven, it seems the definition of the word has expanded, so that anything that might lead to a novel outcome is embraced as a challenge worth tackling—which, with any luck, will lead to new, even more exciting problems.

266 State St, New Haven (map)
For members: 24-hour access.
For non-members: Open House every Tuesday at 7pm.
(203) 936-9830

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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