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MIT Hobby Shop Welcomes Hayami Arakawa and Coby Unger

Coby Unger and Hayami Arakawa

February 08, 2017

The MIT Hobby Shop began during the 1937-38 academic year. Vannevar Bush, then vice president of MIT, granted a group of sixteen students permission to use a room in the basement of Building 2 as a woodworking and metal shop. They set up the area with tools and equipment they found around the Institute. By 1963, the Hobby Shop had expanded several times until it eventually moved to its current location in the basement of W31. Though the Hobby Shop was originally intended as a space for students to practice techniques and skills unrelated to their school work, it has grown into a place where all are welcome. The Hobby Shop currently offers memberships to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and their spouses. A multitude of courses are offered by the staff and an orientation is mandatory to assure the safety of everyone.

In the seventy-nine years since the Hobby Shop opened its doors, there have been just five shop masters. Many of the current thousand-plus members grew very fond of Ken Stone ’72, an MIT alumnus who headed the Hobby Shop for 25 years and retired earlier in 2016. Before Stone, George Pishenin served as the leader from 1972 until 1991. Prior to Pishenin, Bob McCadden headed the organization for the better part of three decades, after taking over in 1946 from Joe McAlister in 1946. McAlister was the first non-student chief, taking the role in the early 1940s.

Now, the fifth shop master has arrived. Though new to the role, Hayami Arakawa is not new to MIT. Arakawa has been an instructor at the Hobby Shop since 2006. Born and raised in California, he majored in furniture and industrial design at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts). After college, he and his wife moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he pursued his MFA and MA in 3-D Studies at the University of Wisconsin. He has also been a Professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Since being at MIT, Arakawa says he continues to be impressed by the fresh ideas students bring each year. Some of the most impressive projects include working prototypes developed by students partnering with businesses, a new type of router with an essentially infinite canvas called the Shaper Tool, and a handful of functional violins. 

As director, Arakawa brings knowledge of the latest technology and hopes to connect students with local Boston startups who could benefit from their ideas. What makes the Hobby Shop different from a shop at an art school is what the students are interested in making. “Art students and MIT students, I find, are actually wired very similarly,” said Arakawa. “When they have a project, they push themselves to explore solutions, find interesting ways to be successful, and will obsess over the details. The difference with the MIT Hobby Shop is that the goals are different. Craft and design is not these students’ main focus, they are engineers or physics majors. They use the Hobby Shop to build and explore, to work with their hands, and often to operate their business.”

MIT students are often pushed to have an entrepreneurial mindset. It is not unusual for students to utilize the Hobby Shop as a manufacturing space. This impressed the newest Hobby Shop instructor, Coby Unger. Unger remembers being at a design show a few years ago, awed by a handheld programmable router—the very Shaper Tool that was designed at the Hobby Shop. 

Unger attended the University of Philadelphia, where he majored in industrial design. He has worked as an artist-in-residence at Instructables, a DIY project website, and lived in India for two years. There, he worked for design software company Autodesk, spent time as an industrial designer at appliance design company Prakti, and also held membership at Maker's Asylum in Mumbai. He participated in Autodesk University, where he helped to turn an auto rickshaw into a mobile makerspace complete with a CNC machine and 3-D printer. Unger enjoys helping MIT students execute their ideas. “Cutting boards are pretty common and one girl just wanted to build a box, but people really like to use the wood lathe,” said Unger as he sanded wooden salt and pepper shakers in the Hobby Shop. “Chairs and benches are ambitious, but I've already seen a few made and am currently working on one of my own.” He is also working on an innovative bike rack where bikes would hang instead of lean to solve the issue of them falling over on the streets. 

Both Arakawa and Unger encourage anyone interested in the Hobby Shop to stop by and talk to them about their ideas. They are happy to help even the newest beginners bring their project to life. The Hobby Shop offers different memberships to maximize individuals’ needs. Mandatory orientations are held weekly at the beginning of each term.

For more information, visit the Hobby Shop website or just stop by to say hi!

Written by Brenna Morrissey.

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