Designing a Maker Space – Part 1 of Making Lakeland Catapult 2.0
From the Editor: This is the first of what will be a series of articles detailing the process of developing the downtown Lakeland Catapult’s new Maker Space from the ground up. Please follow along with us over the course of the next year as this maker space progresses from a concept to a fully functioning workspace. In designing a maker space like the Lakeland Catapult, the city hopes to help people develop their ideas and follow their dreams.
Designing a Maker Space from the Beginning
As with all good stories, it is probably best to start at the beginning. Catapult was created by the Lakeland Economic Development Council in 2014 to provide office and culinary incubation space for startup businesses to develop and grow. Currently located in the basement of the Bank of America building on South Florida Ave, Catapult occupies approximately 10,000 square feet of private office, co-working, and meeting space as well as a small commissary kitchen for incubating food based businesses.
While there were initially no expectations regarding its growth potential, Lakeland Catapult became so successful that plans were soon in the works to expand its capacity and services. Plans were also made to venture into prototype manufacturing. After a lot of careful research, deliberation, and input from the community at large, it was decided that a new facility was needed. The ideal solution would serve as both an anchor resource to small businesses as well as a visible beacon of the thriving entrepreneurial spirit in the downtown area.
Reusing Old Spaces
Catapult’s new home will be in the former Lakeland Cash Feed building on Lake Mirror. That building, originally constructed in 1924, served as the home for the Lakeland Citrus Growers Association’s citrus exchange. It later became Lakeland Cash Feed, which is how most people in the area remember it. The building was vacated in 2014 and then purchased by the LEDC in 2015. The assistance of a generous grant from the GiveWell Community Foundation made this possible. Its development into an entrepreneurial center comes with a number of new and interesting challenges. The architects and engineers will incorporate a larger Catapult coworking space, a 5000 square foot commissary kitchen, and a state of the art maker space into the almost 100-year-old building.
Focus of Lakeland Catapult 2.0
Designing a maker space requires a clear direction. In this case, the primary focus of the Lakeland Catapult Maker Space will be to assist startup businesses and inventors. We aim to assist them in prototyping and developing their products and ideas in a safe and collaborative environment. The goal would be that they could launch out as a successful business. With success, they can then contribute to the Lakeland economy. In order to facilitate that mission efficiently, we developed a number of guidelines and criteria to assist us in the design of the space and equipment selection. This process of determining the scope, focus, and strategy of the Maker Space took six months. We’ll call that time well spent as it will provide a strong point of reference for future architectural and capital equipment decisions.
The Design Criteria
The Maker Space component of the new Lakeland Catapult 2.0 building will encompass approximately 9,000 square feet on the ground floor. It will ultimately provide resources for up to 200 Catapult members on an annual basis. We envision this to be a one-stop facility for all aspects of product design and development for budding entrepreneurs, students, and inventors.
Our first criteria in the design process was to develop a space that had multiple individual areas dedicated to specific types of design & fabrication. To that end we divided the maker space into four distinct areas:
- Multi-function crafts and rapid prototyping space
- Electronics, computer, and media area
The second criteria we put forth ensured each workspace emulated the best professional practices. This includes utilizing commercial quality equipment. It also involves taking advantage of the most up-to-date technology and software. The spaces would need to be efficiently designed, professional in appearance, and highly functional for the end users. We plan to use technology such as access cards, networked equipment, and scheduling & dashboarding software to enhance our members’ abilities to track their time, material, and machine usage. The system also facilitates the efficient scheduling of equipment for both use and ongoing maintenance.
The third (and arguably the most important) criteria we identified involved creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness and creativity. We want the Maker Space to feel welcoming to anyone, regardless of their experience level. Whether they’re a veteran woodworker or don’t know which end of a hammer to hold; when they walk through the doors of the Catapult maker space, in our eyes, they are a “Maker.” We want to be a place where we embrace our members’ ideas. In designing a maker space we want to work hard to advocate, educate, and empower them in their pursuits.
Lakeland Catapult Maker Space Challenges
- Working with the physical constraints of the original building structure, which is designated historically significant, but in poor condition structurally.
- The ability to incorporate industrial manufacturing processes alongside business and culinary activities under one roof. This must be done while meeting the applicable building, fire, and safety codes.
- Retaining the historic and signature aesthetic of the building while adding a fresh and progressive face to the structure.
- Incorporating all the logistical infrastructure. This includes parking, dust collection, compressed air, adequate electrical power, etc. All are needed in order for each area to function at a high level.
- Keeping everything within the budget and on time.
Among the many advantages we had in our favor was a strong network of local businesses, industry professionals, and individuals. All of them strongly believed in the concept and backed the project with their resources of knowledge, time, and financial support. When designing a maker space you can’t have too many connections. An unprecedented partnership of three local architecture firms: Wallace-Murphey-Boyington, The Lunz Group, and KCMH Architects teamed up to tackle the design of the building and surrounding grounds. Chastain Skillman undertook the role of engineering the project. Marcobay Construction will oversee the construction management.
Designing a maker space isn’t easy or quick. The planning phase is nearly complete as I write this, and our hope is to be moving earth and beginning construction of Lakeland Catapult 2.0 in the next couple of months. In the next article we will be exploring the nuts and bolts of renovating a historic building. That process will take this historic structure and give it a new life as a maker space and entrepreneurial center. Please follow along with us as we embark on the next phase of this exciting journey.