A tour of the workshops with Andrew Weatherhead

After taking a tour of the Design workshops with Senior Workshop Tutor Andrew Weatherhead, it’s easy to understand why students tell me about how much they love this space. It’s filled with a sense of wonder and innovation, and Andrew Weatherhead’s enthusiasm about the tools and technology available is contagious.

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“The workshops reflect the interdisciplinary nature and creative critical practice of the programmes themselves”, he says. Unlike other universities, where students are specifically taught furniture design, for example, here they can and are encouraged to try their hands at a bit of everything. Whatever your material of choice, you’ll find some tools to help you experiment: there’s a room for heavy metals, one for woodwork, one for clay and other soft materials (where we found some tiles of green ceramic freshly out of the kiln, made by a student from the soil of her homeland), a room for textiles (where 3rd year student Hefin was busy putting together a woolen space suit for his final project) and, of course, the student favourite- the digital lab.

While all this looks quite intimidating to the untrained eye, the students get the catch of everything fairly quick, after an induction at the beginning of year 1, and soon they’re able to use the sandblaster, the saws and all the other machinery without fear, on materials supplied by the college (and included in the yearly materials fee) or on objects they bring themselves. They’re encouraged to play: “the workshop activity is like a sketchbook. It’s another place for experimenting”. There’s also a room where larger, more dangerous tools are being kept to be used only under staff supervision, and I casually remark that they look like the arsenal of a cinematic villain. I must have watched too many Bond movies.

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And speaking of Bond: lasers! I’m told that the laser cutter is by far the tool that draws the most attention- and sure enough, even though it’s a quiet day in the rest of the workshops, the laser cutter is surrounded by students. I am offered a demonstration of its fine engraving abilities. “What do you know about 3d printers?” Andrew Weatherhead asks me. I don’t know much, just that they’re magical mysterious technology that is starting to become more widespread. Andrew Weatherhead patiently explains to me how a 3d printer works. The Design workshops have three such machines- one of them is based on older technology that creates the printed object from layer after layer of powder. The most modern one can print objects with articulated parts or made out of materials of different textures, as well as separate pieces that fit together with millimetric precision. 3d printing will change the entire paradigm of shopping, says Andrew Weatherhead. Instead of having something delivered to you, you will buy the model and print it yourself! Don’t let the technological revolution catch you off-guard- the workshops are a place where students can become familiar with it before it becomes omnipresent. The cheapest, smallest 3d printer available at Goldsmiths costs only 2000 pounds and its output is less precise and made out of a stringy plastic, but the students are free to play and experiment with it as much as they want. Technology like this shouldn’t be reserved to the select few and chosen, everybody should get to try it and understand it, and the workshop practice aims to play a role in that.

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It’s not often you hear people talking about how happy they are to spend time in school, but the wish to have more hours in the workshops was a running theme of the conversation I recently had with some 1st year students about their experience, and, surely enough, the students I found at work there felt the same. How much time do you spend here? I ask Monika Patel from year 3. “A day?” she replies. Monika is in the workshops these days for at least three days a week and sees them as the most valuable resource the course has to offer. She’s not sure if all her classmates take maximum advantage of it, but they definitely should. Her final project involves putting together “grieving kits” to help people cope with the loss of their loved ones- but we’ll all see more clearly what it’s about when it will be ready. In the meantime I watched her work on it: cutting a pattern into a piece of wood with a CNC router (and enjoyed her confidence in working with what looked like a big and scary machine to a heathen like me). In the past, when I said “designer”, I always imagined someone putting their ideas to paper in a notebook, but visiting the workshops means immersing yourself in the actual making, in hands-on innovation and hard work.

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