Bringing Olin to the World: Artisan’s Asylum

It can be difficult to transition to the “real world” of 9-5 jobs and corporate life after graduating from Olin, but one alum, Gui Cavalcanti (‘09) found that the real world could just as easily adapt to Olin.

Artisan’s Asylum, in Somerville, MA, is a 40,000 sq ft space dedicated to providing tools, classes, and resources to craftsmen, engineers, artists, and creators of all sorts in the community. With 3D printers, welding stations, ingeniously-decorated 100 sq ft “studio workspaces,” and vending machines stocked with Loctite and drillbits, Artisan’s Asylum feels like a strange cross between an MIT dorm and an industrial machine shop.
According to Gui, “Our mission is to make creative expression a way of life for our members – whether it’s starting a business, pursuing a hobby, or learning new skills.”

march2013_olintoworldArtisan’s Asylum started with a dream. After graduation, Gui went on to work as a roboticist at Boston Dynamics, but wanted to be able to do side projects at home in his free time. Unfortunately, building robots requires big time resources, and he just didn’t have the electronics, machines, or materials to support his hobby.

Thinking back on Olin’s machine shops, and the culture of tool-sharing and 24/7 shop access, he founded Artisan’s Asylum, along with former partner Jen Martinez.
Starting with just a 1000 sq ft space, they quickly outgrew it and moved to a 9,000 sq ft building in Somerville, before settling into their 40,000 sq ft current location, located about a mile and a half from Davis Square, just outside of Cambridge.

According to Gui, about half of the Asylum’s members are professional artists and craftsmen, a quarter are hobbyists, and a quarter are startups and entrepreneurs who may not have cash yet but want to develop a product.
A growing number of these members are also students at local schools, including Olin’s HPV team, who use the CNC router to cut foam more accurately than they could at Olin’s shops.

Tufts University also partners with the Asylum — their engineering students are reimbursed for classes and tool use there, and the university has rented a space for students to use for projects.

“They are using it as a kind launching pad for their mechanical engineering department.” says Gui, “Their students are getting the Olin experience here — hands-on tool use and hands on projects… They don’t have the square footage to install machine shops everywhere and change their curriculum.”

march2013_olintoworld2Other schools are catching on as well. According to Gui, Northeastern and Harvard are also talking about some sort of partnership with the Asylum, while Tufts may be expanding its involvement in the future.

Although Gui took much of his inspiration from the Olin model of machine shops, he says that Olin has a lot of room for improvement in how their shops are run: “Olin has a lot of computer-controlled tools that students don’t have access to. There’s the capability of doing really intricate stuff, but not many people have that ability.”

“What we do is a lot of basic stuff, and some amount of computer-controlled capability. We have a real wood shop, we have lots of duplicates of machine tools, we have lots of welders and things like that. It allows for a much higher throughput.”

He believes that Olin should do a better job of training students earlier on these tools. “In the first two weeks of freshman summer camp, having the students go through shops and get them working with the tools, get them used to the tools… that’s what’s missing.”

Gui says that this mentality has cut down on tool loss and damage tremendously. “We’ve demonstrated here that the tools just don’t have to ‘die.’ Here, we never had any money, there was never a janitor sweeping up the shops. We had to be a community and take care of the tools, or our rates would double.”

Membership at Artisan’s Asylum starts at $60/month. Members can take classes, use tools, rent space, buy materials, and cheaply access everything they need to create professional-grade products. Their location, at 10 Tyler Street in Somerville, is a 20 minute walk, or 5 minute bus ride from Porter Square. Classes, events, and more information can be found on their website at


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