Public Workshop


APRIL 14, 2015

Troy Taylor, Building Hero

Last Spring, after several afternoons of watching the Bell sisters toil relentlessly at building rolling hang-out pods at their high school, Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber (SLA-Beeber), Troy Taylor and his friends finally decided they should help out.  Public Workshop’s Alex Gilliam gave them some guidance and told them to figure out what they needed to do to help build.  It was hard, but they got to work, and before long, Gilliam told Troy about The Department of Making +Doing, and Troy started coming to DM+D to take part in the Building Hero Project.

An avid skateboarder, Troy spent a lot of time skating at Public Workshop’s Pop-Up Skate Park project in Camden last summer.  When he was nine, Troy got his first skateboard from Toys ‘R Us, although he didn’t really skate with it—he and his brother found that it was great for rolling around on their stomachs.  When he was twelve, he upgraded to a better skateboard, but it wasn’t until a year later, when he traded in his Xbox 360 to get what he calls his “first real skateboard,” that he started practicing tricks and spent afternoons and weekends skating.

We caught up with Troy in between tricks to find out what keeps him coming back to DM+D.



I want to start making [ear]plugs. Eric, Ryan and I are working on getting a lathe so that we can make plugs for the Building Hero Etsy shop. Besides that, I’ve been working on fabricating desk organizers for the shop. I’ve gotten my Building Hero certification on a number of the tools here at DM+D, but I’m still working on a few of them.


DM+D inspires me because there are always people here to push me. If I say I want to do a project for school, someone will help me with it.  I just had a geometry project, and I said, “Hey, Max, I want to do this,” and he said, “Do you have a model, do you have a Sketch-up, et cetera?” and I said “No,” and he said, “Well, start with that.”  People here are always pushing you to do better because you can do better. The people here who have that mindset are inspiring.


I was ten-ish, and my mom got a shoe rack and told me she needed it made, so I assembled it for her. (My dad wasn’t home at the time.)  Then whenever we needed something new—like a shower caddy or something—I’d be the one to put it together.  I became the person in my house who builds stuff.   Most recently, we got a new living room coffee table and side table, and I put it together.


If there is one person here who’s had the most influence on me, definitely without a doubt it’d be Max Lawrence.  When I first started coming to DM+D, he was always here in the background cracking jokes, and I was like, who is this guy?  He told me a while ago, “You’re me when I was your age if I was black.”  He used to just have fun being a kid…doing things that kids do.  My mom knows that he’ll put me in check if I’m not doing what I should be doing.  He’s kind of a mentor.


Can I tell you my least favorite part?  My least favorite part is thinking I did something really well and having to redo it because it wasn’t good enough.  But my favorite part might be the outcome.  It’s when you worked really really hard on something and had to do it a billion times to get that thing that you’re really proud of.  It’s like mastering a trick in skateboarding, and the feeling is amazing.  That’s how it feels when you create something you’re really proud of.

Troy on skateboard

Building Heroes Launch Etsy Shop

FEBRUARY 10, 2015

Building Hero ProfilesOn Monday and Friday afternoons at DM+D, you’ll find a small but dedicated group of young adults, ages 16 and up, working tirelessly on designing and making products.  They are the Building Heroes, and they’re part of Public Workshop’s Building Hero Project, a young adult community design leadership program.

Building Heroes come in all shapes and sizes—high-schoolers, college design students, 20-something skateboarders, professional designers and carpenters.   What they all have in common is that they’ve participated in at least one of Public Workshop’s community improvement projects, like the PEC Community Message Board we wrote about in November, and they want to continue to hone their design, fabrication and leadership skills beyond that single project.  So they come to DM+D twice a week to design, build, and learn from one another.

“It serves as that place that people can come together and become great builders and leaders at the same time,” says Public Workshop Director Alex Gilliam. “There are really not opportunities to do these sorts of things for high schoolers outside of a trade program. For college students, there really aren’t opportunities to design ‘with’ and not ‘for.’”

Wynn Geary, a senior at Science Leadership Academy (and Building Hero) concurs, “As a high school student, it’s really great to have this network of the Building Heroes to help you learn because I don’t have a design class at school.  This is place I can go to and get help and learn how to design.”

Late last Fall, the team launched a Building Hero Project shop on Etsy with ten initial products.  From the very beginning, the elegantly simple wooden iPod speaker and the modular desk organizer were big hits.  Within two weeks, sales reached almost $2,000, making it obvious that the shop could be a great way to help the Building Hero Project fund itself and to provide income to the young adults building the products.

iPod Speakers - Building Heroes

The cleverly-designed iPod speaker is a top-seller on Etsy.

Building Hero Desk Organizer

The desk organizer is also a popular item in the Etsy shop.


It also teaches them the value of producing quality products that meet a need, as the marketplace ultimately decides what is and isn’t desirable through what buyers purchase. Every product in the store responds to a need identified by a Building Hero in his or her personal life or community.  Gilliam says that what distinguishes the Etsy shop from other grant-funded programs similar to the Building Hero Project is that the bar for quality of the products is set much higher.   “It has to succeed because it’s good,” says Gilliam, “not because someone is supporting your mission.”

Building Heroes also have to grapple with logistical issues, such as packaging, fulfilling orders, responding to customers, and tracking their time spent on all aspects of the store.  Through the process, they’re learning about the nuts and bolts of running a business from beginning to end in a very hands-on way.

“The Etsy project is something that we’re designing and making and funding ourselves,” says Building Hero KC Shoot. “It’s a very egalitarian environment, and I really like that.”

Ultimately, the Etsy store is a way for the Building Hero Project to grow without having to rely completely on grant funding to sustain it.  They’ve already added new products to the original ten, and every Monday and Friday presents another opportunity to add to the store’s growing line-up of thoughtfully designed and quality-crafted products that are #madeatDMD.

Interested in having a Building Hero product for your own?  Check out the Building Hero Project Etsy shop online.

Building Hero Multi-tool

The Building Hero Multi-Tool includes a pencil holster, pencil sharpener, ruler and speed square.