Making the Future: MIT’s Maker Culture and the Metropolitan Warehouse Makerspace

RUNTIME 03:12

“Making at MIT is the foundation of how we solve problems. It is the kinetic relationship between our mind imagining what can be and our hands making what needs to be.”

—Charlie Garcia ’19, student maker

A prototype of a medical device; a sign for an MIT campus garden; a 3-D-printed adjustable spoon; a motorized skateboard—these are just a few examples of what MIT students and community members are creating in MIT makerspaces. What else to expect from a place whose motto is “mens et manus” (“mind and hand”)? Here, theory and knowledge are transformed into practical experience, problem-solving skills, and potentially world-changing products. The spirit of making is central to MIT’s residential education and critical to the Institute’s innovation ecosystem, which supports the creation of practical solutions that have a positive, real-world impact. MIT data show that men and women seek opportunities to use makerspace resources in equal numbers. MIT launched Project Manus in 2015 to give students—many of whom were making things in their dorms or off campus—access to state-of-the-art facilities for like-minded people to come together to work on projects and solutions across different disciplines. Makerspaces are also included in many student residences by popular demand; the new Vassar Street residence, slated to open in 2020, will also include a maker yard for even more experimental space.

“Making is very powerful. You learn all these theoretical concepts that are useful in the classroom, but until you make something, there is so much you don’t know.”
—Weixun He ’19

“I discovered through makerspaces and a lot of the more hands-on classes I took over the year that I really like making things. MIT gives you access to pretty intense machinery. There aren’t many barriers. You can go through an orientation, go through training, and get going.”
—Sabrina Hare ’22

“MIT students see opportunity and we can’t just let that go away. Making can introduce people to a whole new medium of culture and art they might have not been able to experience.”
—Juan Carlos Garcia '20

Making at the Met

“Our goal is to create a makerspace that will set the gold standard for the next generation. It will cultivate our students’ deep passion for learning, inventing, tinkering, and creating.”

—Martin A. Schmidt SM ’83, PhD ’88, Provost

The Metropolitan Storage Warehouse—better known as the Met Warehouse or the Met—has been a formidable presence at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street in Cambridge for more than a century. The distinctive fortress-like building has been owned by MIT since 1966. MIT’s vision is that it will begin its new life as the Institute’s “design hub” in 2022.

An approximately 17,000-square-foot community makerspace—the Met makerspace—will be the central feature of the first floor of the Met, becoming the largest academic makerspace of its kind in existence and the first makerspace at MIT dedicated to making all resources in the space 100% accessible now and in the future.

~17,000 square feet, doubling the area of makerspace accessible to the entire MIT community; 2022 projectedbuilding occupancy

The Met makerspace will be a game changer for making at MIT. This centralized, free-form innovation nexus will be a destination for students, alumni, faculty, and staff of all departmental and school affiliations. While the Met Warehouse will also be the new home of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, the makerspace, which will be operated by Project Manus and student workers, will not be tied to a particular department and will function more like a library or a gym than a classroom. Whether visitors are working on projects related to research, class work, entrepreneurship, or just for fun, the Met makerspace is open.

Through multiple initiatives, Project Manus is fostering a broader maker community and inspiring making beyond MIT through collaborations with peer universities, industry, and governments, and the Met makerspace will be a key part of that endeavor. For example, through telecommunication technology, the Met makerspace will link to the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node, a collaborative space that aims to connect the MIT community with unique resources—including advanced fabrication capabilities—and other opportunities in Hong Kong and the neighboring Pearl River Delta.

The Met makerspace will vastly increase MIT students’ access to the resources required to iterate and drive world-changing ideas toward realization and adoption by the marketplace. It will also be a low-stakes environment for students to let their creativity run free. No matter what a visitor’s goal may be, the Met makerspace will have the tools and resources they need to reach it.

The Makers

People—students, faculty, alumni, and staff—are the driving force behind MIT’s vibrant maker culture and community. Time and again, it is clear how makerspaces foster student success by supporting the development of confidence, perseverance, collaboration, and imagination—not to mention students’ useful, quirky, and innovative projects.

For that reason, it is important to foster and strengthen the maker community across campus. Hands-on education changes the way students learn and transforms the way they think, particularly in today’s innovation-driven world.

Meet the Makers

MIT’s Makersystem

The “maker renaissance” at MIT has led to the creation of many new makerspaces—some specialized, some general. Machine shops specialize in training, mentoring, and making that’s related to the creation of complex systems and finely detailed components, supervised by skilled machinist educators. Project makerspaces primarily support class projects and contain resources such as meeting space to facilitate collaboration. Community makerspaces prioritize unrestricted making, stewarded by community members who educate new users in safe making practices.

MIT has long been a leading example of how to integrate “making” on campus. Maintaining this leadership requires adaptation of new technology, tools, training, and means of improving access for students. As the maker ecosystem continues to grow, MIT must continue to innovate its makerspaces to best facilitate the ingenuity and creativity that these spaces foster. We must work to enhance the overall maker experience so the MIT community is better prepared with the skills needed to make a real impact on the world.

“Making at MIT is part of our DNA, and the Met makerspace will be the big community space for the Institute. When makers and entrepreneurs mix together from all disciplines, the result is fantastic and amazing solutions. We don’t have a nexus right now where that can happen. The Met makerspace will be the place where the MIT maker community can come together and learn to collaborate and form connections, and that’s going to be a hugely powerful thing.”

—Martin Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Maker Czar

Huang-Hobbs BioMaker SpaceThe DeepHobby ShopMakerWorkshopMITERSProtoWorksDepartment of Architecture woodshopTheater Arts Building
Students and advisors experience the new Huang-Hobbs BioMaker Space, which provides biological and chemical tools for students to carry out independent projects in the life sciences.
Sabrina Hare ’22 and Martin Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00, professor of mechanical engineering and MIT’s maker czar, collaborate in The Deep, a 1,239-square-foot makerspace that features a variety of tools accessible to the MIT community.
Emily Skilling ’21 and Hayami Arakawa work in the Hobby Shop, a fully equipped wood and metal shop led by Arakawa. The popular space has been serving the MIT community for nearly 80 years.
Mechanical engineering PhD candidate Phillip Daniel ’13, SM ’15 utilizes the MakerWorkshop, a student-run makerspace at MIT where students, faculty, and staff can work on projects ranging from class-based research to personal hobbies.
Sofia Leon ’22 builds an electric scooter in MITERS, a popular student-member-run project space and machine shop focused on electronics and metalworking.
Mechanical engineer and entrepreneur Weixun He ’19 and mathematics and computer science major Thérèse Mills ’21 join forces in ProtoWorks, a makerspace at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.
Effie Jia ’20, an architecture major, works in the Department of Architecture woodshop under the watchful eye of technical instructor and woodshop manager Christopher Dewart.
Architecture student Daniel Landez ’21 tinkers with set design in the Theater Arts Building, the dedicated home for MIT’s burgeoning theater program.

Learn More

To learn more about the new makerspace in the Met Warehouse, contact Catherine Shi at qshi@mit.edu or 617.324.8611.