I was in Denton, Texas last week for four days. James Thurman invited me to visit and to lecture on my work to a Design course and a Digital Fabrication course, and give a third lecture on the development of the DCRL and associated projects to a group of UNT and non-UNT professors that are a part of Digital Fabrication group. In addition to giving the lectures, I met with graduate students and discussed their work with them. In between all of this, I was able to speak with Harlan Butt, Ana Lopez, and Deanna Ooley all of which teach at UNT. Denann was my guide for the first day and then James gave me a grand tour of Fort Worth on the second day. One of our first stops at UNT was in the Digital Fabrication Lab. The lab is split between two areas. The FDM printers are on the 3rd floor in a 2D print lab, but the rest of the lab is is in a large area on the first level between Sculpture and Metalsmithing. They are well equipped with large laser cutters. I was able to ask the technicians about the large Boss laser (as I have been looking at these), but they reported back that they were not as pleased with it. Their large Epilog's are "to die for". There was a backroom with a Torchmate CNC Plasma cutter and a Shopbot. I'm not sure I would want these two machines next to each other, but they did comment that they are not able to run them at the same time due to dust/flame issues. The layout of the lab looked fairly straight forward and things were well equipped.
I am beginning to realize how most schools choose to keep actual work space out of these labs; folks at UNT commented that they had to get stools so they could show demos during tours of the space. After seeing more and more spaces like this, I know that whatever I do at Boone, I will mimic the DCRL in Milwaukee and we'll have tools and studio workspaces fully integrated. I am fully against the service bureau model; it just creates a barrier between making, responding, and full integration into what we already do as makers. Not to mention students don't get firsthand experience running machinery and rather the labs become playgrounds for professors and technicians to use the equipment for their own work rather than the focus being on student learning. They kind of become novelty trophy rooms to show off things to administrators and parents of prospective parents. Wonder how long it will take for "the new" to rub off? At some point people will want to start seeing things that are not just "processed production" that all looks the same due to the tools and processes being used. I had a GREAT conversation on my final day's visit about this topic and where digital processes belong in curriculum with my great friend Natalie Macellaio (who teaches at Brookhaven College) and Colby Parsons (who teaches at Texas Women's University). I don't mean to sound critical of UNT or Digital Fabrication in any way, as I had a great visit and our conversations were great. I just feel like my thought process on digital fabrication, traditional processes, teaching, making, etc is evolving (something that I've been discussing with Chad and Bryan over the phone/hangout sessions). That's why these visits are so important. I felt honored to have so many great conversations, with James, Ana, Harlan, Deanna, Natalie, Colby, Peter, and many of students at UNT. I had such a great time!