Foundries of the Future

Cities of Making, “explores the future of urban based manufacturing in European cities in terms of technology, resources, place and application.” Their multidisciplinary team based in Brussels, London, and Rotterdam came out with the Foundries of the Future book, detailing their research in the field, and it could hardly be more in our FabCity “wheelhouse.”

Urban manufacturing is helping cities to be more innovative, circular, inclusive and resilient. Recently, with increasing interest in the circular economy, with cleaner and more compact technology, with more progressive building codes for mixed use, with increasing awareness of the impacts of social inequality and with a clearer understanding of the value chains between the trade of material and immaterial goods, cities across the world are realising that manufacturing has an important place in the 21st century urban economy.

Manufacturers bring a ‘material intelligence’ which, when linked to that of designers, engineers and scientists, can be leveraged to build new products to solve local problems. Manufacturing is highly competitive and risk taking, which offers a context for innovation. Secondly, urban manufacturing often involves a vast number of SMEs that are highly integrated into the local economy.

Cities have long been centers of manufacturing but with changing technologies and globalization making manufacturing very mobile, a lot of them have lost most of their manufactures, the group’s research focuses on a return to a smaller-scale yet vital form; ”urban manufacturing also refers to manufacturing that fits into the urban fabric in terms of scale, logistics, impact on the context and so forth.”

The first part of the book covers an abridged history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and how the initial harnessing of manufacturing unfolded in Europe. It also covers why manufacturing in cities matter, and the four needs connecting cities & manufacturing: Sustaining a thriving economy; stimulating innovation, addressing climate change and environmental impacts; providing economic and social inclusion.

Services may remain the main employer in the foreseeable future. However, this narrative fails to recognise the true value of manufacturing which takes place in cities, and how these activities are embedded into the local economy. Scratch beneath the surface and it is evident that the demand for urban manufacturing still runs deep into city economies.

Inclusive community oriented organisations are emerging to help sustain city focused manufacturing. Social enterprise, cooperatives and communities of makers are examples of organisations utilising ‘making’ to equitably and inclusively connect communities.

The second part covers pathways to support such a return, a pattern language to facilitate its implementation (each helpfully related to other patterns, pathways, and given a scale of implementation), applications of the language, and finally a manifesto. One of the great details of the books is that the second part can be read in different ways depending on who’s reading and their needs, the authors even suggest various re-orderings of the chapters according to the needs of politicians, public authority or public agency, planners and designers, researchers, and finally community groups and business sector organisations.

The research presented looks back at the past to inform their thinking but is very much forward looking, integrating in their thinking and recommendations important issues such as climate change, the circular economy, inequality, inclusion, innovation, emerging technologies, the impact of globalized competition, the importance of localizing some production, of autonomy, and sustainability. A recommended read.