How Makerspaces and Fab Labs can accelerate the transition to circular cities

People-centered pilots for circular practices

How Makerspaces and Fab Labs can accelerate the transition to circular cities


Pop-Machina is a Horizon 2020 project that highlights and reinforces the links between the Maker Movement and the circular economy. It is funded in the same call as REFLOW in the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union and therefore offers alternative and complementary approaches to demonstrating systemic urban development for circular and regenerative cities.


People-centered pilots for circular practices

The Pop-Machina and REFLOW projects share an innovation action approach to mobilize citizens in active participation in their local resource economies. Both projects see great potential for sustainable development based on citizen-driven curricular practices and use this approach in support of EU level initiatives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.

The Pop-Machina project consortium comprises 23 organizations across 8 countries covering research, including local governments and SMEs. The project aims to illustrate the potential of the Maker Movement to instigate collaborative production in seven pilot cities: Istanbul, Kaunas, Leuven, Piraeus, Santander, Thessaloniki, and Venlo.


Capacity building

The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, represented by Fab Lab Barcelona, is part of the consortium of both REFLOW and Pop-Machina projects. This allows the team to create connections between the two projects. Fab Lab Barcelona (at IAAC) is well-situated to advance potential synergies between the Maker Movement and circular economies towards shifting to circular cities.

Two specific capacity building actions are being tested – the Circular Maker Academy and the Circular Maker Space Manifesto & Repository.


The Pop-Machina Academy

Pop-Machina Academy is a circular making and innovation training programme which trains and guides local champions within the seven pilots to set up a local circular maker space and establish a community around it, while also building their capacity as resilient makers. The vision is to establish a circular maker space in each of the pilot cities with programming dedicated to specific topics such as reuse of plastic, recycling wood, or using food waste. These spaces aim to play a role in the neighborhood ecosystem, working in collaboration with diverse local actors. Currently, each city is assessing their local context, through a range of workshops in order to define their goals, the space, machines, and the team. Ultimately, the Pop-Machina Academy aims to build capacity to facilitate the transition to a circular maker movement (cities, communities, citizens).


Pop-Machina aims to develop a makerspace with circular economy principles at the forefront.


‘Train the trainer’ – following a STEAM approach

The learning journey is designed from a STEAM approach, under maker education principles, and follows a learning-by-doing methodology. Using this methodology, champions must interact with their local environment in order to adapt and learn key concepts around circularity and the circular economy – such as recycling, repairing and reusing. Notions engaging in experiential learning and hands-on activities, problem-solving, collaboration, and creative processes are embraced in the learning content.

The STEAM approach aims to guide the champion’s inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking through Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics as access points for learning and developing skills and key competencies for Industry 4.0. The STEAM approach allows trainees to investigate, read, and understand trends and tendencies, including in the fields of ecology, media, and technology.

Key concepts of the circular economy include recycle, repair and reuse.

Networked learning

The aim of the training is to empower and build capacity for local champions (trainers) on key concepts of circular economy within the maker movement. The process is based on an instructional handbook, with facilitation guides, a sequence of activities, and assessment tools to be applied in the local context. The expected result is to develop skills and competences on the participants and in their local communities, supporting a system transition and the empowerment of ‘circular citizens’. The Academy’s pedagogical method of training envisions to facilitate the change of paradigm from teaching based on the transmission of information, to networked learning.

Academy format

The format of the Academy follows three phases: Instructional, Guided, and Autonomous. In the instructional phase, the Academy encourages the participants to ADOPT our proposal and follow it step by step. In the guided phase, trainees are able to make small changes to the proposed didactic, to ADAPT it to their interests and those of their local context. Finally, in the third phase, the participants are expected to have enough autonomy to CREATE and share their own projects. This ‘train the trainer’ approach enables Fab Lab Barcelona to accompany the trainers, creating a supportive environment for them to explore this process of methodological change. The Circular Maker Academy covers all stages that a maker space goes through to develop as a learning community. The Academy unfolds in two main training strategies: on the other hand, the Framework for the Academy offers an extensive list of workshops, active learning experiences, online content, and challenges for community building, such as circular maker clubs, and problem-solving support. The Academy provides a complete set of guidelines and best practices, and a common inventory, which together, facilitates the share of knowledge and the constitution of an extended circular maker academy network.

Pop-Machina’s capacity building methodology.


Circular maker space manifesto & repository

A circular maker space serves as a scene where circular and innovative solutions to complex problems can develop, mature, and scale. By actively prioritizing the creation of positive social and environmental impacts, the space, its makers, and their innovations strive to re-define how society has operated for generations since the industrial revolution. For this purpose, Circular Maker Spaces collect, learn, and create global knowledge resilient to local solutions.

The approach for the circular maker space follows the same concepts as the Pop-Machina Academy. To effectively break from the industrial paradigm and to exist as a thriving, living ecosystem a Circular Maker Spaces embraces other fundamentals. These essentials include the learning by doing concept and the STEAM methodology as well as re-think, reuse, remake and recycle principles.

Makers and the circular maker space are not different – they are only as capable and resilient as the ecosystem(s) they participate in. This means actively acknowledging and accepting that the activities and work capable of being done by individual makers or in the space itself are limited. Cultivating community, not just within the Circular Maker Space, but also beyond it, enables interdisciplinary thinking, which is essential to acquire, create and test materials and projects but also to make an ideology that can be sustained.


Join our community!

We invite you to follow up with Pop-Machina initiatives and send us suggestions. If you’d like to get more general information about the project, access

To learn more about the Fab Lab Barcelona work with the Circular Maker Academy, contact Alessandra or Xavi.

Guest post by Alessandra, Jessica, Xavi & Sally.

Kate Armstrong

Communications Lead for Fab Lab Barcelona

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