In the late 18th century a small group of remarkable friends met at a house outside Birmingham, UK, got blind drunk and applied themselves to the problems of the age. Between the writers, intellectuals, scientists and industrialists they discovered oxygen, harnessed steam power, pioneered the theory of evolution and launched the Industrial Revolution. Then they staggered home following the light of each full moon. Manufacturer Matthew Boulton, engineer James Watt, scientist Joseph Priestly and physician Erasmus Darwin were at the core of what was known as the Lunar Society.

Taking its lead from that impressive circle, today another group is consciously joining forces to shape a decent life for everyone. In the hills just 20-minutes from Barcelona’s centre, in a 12th century house in Valldaura, a group of experts, professors, makers, mentors, postgrad students and philosophers are asking themselves how science and technology can serve society. It’s a lab, but not as you know it.

Coordinator Jonathan Minchin takes big inspiration from the Lunar Society, sharing knowledge and grand ideas over a beer or two. His mission is to be able to “make or grow (almost) anything” as part of a network – and all from within the pines of the world’s largest metropolitan park. At 8000-hectares, Catalonia’s Collserola Natural Park is 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park.

Useful as well as beautiful, within its Green Fab Lab is a research centre that fuses digital fabrication with the idea of self-sufficiency, connecting ancestral knowledge with the most advanced technologies. The underground fabrication laboratory houses all the tools of ‘additive manufacturing’ – 3D printers, laser cutters and format machines to cut small electronics or wood. But it’s the ideas that are important, not the machines.

 As part of the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalunya, which currently educates 150 Masters students from 47 different countries, it is here that the next generation of architects “who intend to use their hands for good” are trained. As Jonathan puts it: “No ivory tower for these architects, controlling the orchestra.” These bright new minds come together to spur on what has become known as the third industrial revolution – the digitalisaton of the way things are made. And not only on a full moon.

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Valldaura in the 1940s

Read more more about the WikiHouse being built there. The digital construction system aspires to make it simpler to design, ‘print’ and build beautiful, affordable, sustainable homes. For more about Valldaura projects, such as Intelligent Beehives, or workshops, go to the IAAC website.