The biggest DIY Bio lab in Europe is in a squat and costs absolutely nothing to use.
La Paillasse is France’s first and only DIY Bio lab, situated in the outskirts of Paris in an abandoned building owned by the national trains network. It just so happens that the train company is the biggest consumer of electricity in the country, so it doesn’t notice the small amount used by mixture of scientists and hobbyists that inhabit the squat.
It all started 3 years ago when Thomas Landrain noticed the DIY Bio movement growing in the US. “I was bored with academia, there was only one type of person and I wanted to meet more diverse, interdisciplinary people, and find a better way to share what I was doing. DIY Bio was the perfect solution. I looked on the website for local people interested but found nothing, so I left my information and waited to be contacted. Then I searched for hacking in Paris and found a hackerspace called TmpLab. I was amazed by the space and the spirit of the people. They opened up their community and their values to me, and I was incubated in their space. That’s how La Paillasse was born.”
Unlike its international equivalents, La Paillasse is 100% free. All the water, electricity and rent is covered by the fact that it’s in a squat, and every piece of equipment is donated by other labs. “We got a huge amount of materials for free because other labs throw them away. The machines aren’t necessarily up-to-date but they work just fine. It’s so well equipped that I could do my PhD there. The fact that I was already in the academic world meant that labs trusted me with their old equipment.”
Landrain wants to replicate this all over the country. “We want to contact all the labs in France and ask for their old equipment, and also for places to store it. Basically we want a national organisation for the recycling of lab equipment.”
The building being used for La Paillasse at the moment has a history of being used by artists and hackers. It’s a good deal for the company as they know the building is being looked after, so while technically illegal it is a win-win situation for everyone. The plan, however, is to move the lab to the center of Paris. The move will take the lab from a 20m2 space in someone else’s squat to a 500m2 lab funded by the council. It will still be free, and will be open 24/7. The layout will include wet labs, hardware labs, fab labs, computer clusters with a variety of software, meeting rooms, and even a place to sleep!
After finishing his PhD, Landrain plans to concentrate on developing La Paillasse and helping other labs to develop around the country following the same model. By making the labs free, the hacker ethos of inclusivity and democratization is truly realised.
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