Learning by doing

@Roberto Arribas

Segovian architect Elena Cardiel coordinates the Fab Lab, the space where IE’s Architecture and Design students bring their projects to life.

Elena Cardiel García shifts between 3D printers, laser cutters, and remote-controlled milling machines. This 27-year-old architecture graduate from Segovia is the current coordinator of the manufacturing laboratory, better known as the Fab Lab, where IE’s Architecture and Design students are given the opportunity to bring their projects and prototypes to life.

The Fab Lab is one of the most unique spots at the Santa Cruz la Real campus. It has, without a doubt, one of the biggest student footfalls of all the working spaces at the IE School of Architecture and Design. Here, students build models and do research using different materials and techniques, with the goal of converting their computer designs into physical forms.

The Fab Lab is divided into two complementary, interlinked sections. On the one hand, the modern laboratory is equipped with an area in which students are able to familiarize themselves with traditional tools, get to grips with carpentry, and try out various molding, casting, and cement techniques, among other hands-on skills. On the other hand, the Fab Lab is home to the latest technology in terms of software and equipment, including the famous 3D printers, which enable the manufacturing of architectural models.

Elena makes sure that the laboratory is good to go whenever her students need it. The Segovian architect is highly involved in the digital side of the Fab Lab, although she also deals with the internal organization of the workspace.

Foto by: Roberto Arribas

In addition to having to contact suppliers and ensure all the necessary materials are available and all computers are up-to-date, Elena also offers students advice on issues concerning the creation of their projects. The Fab Lab pretty much never sleeps, there’s always someone making something,” says Elena, who also explains that the laboratory is particularly busy around the time projects are due for submission.

The Fab Lab is also important for group projects. For instance, many of the pieces currently on display at the IE Design students’ exhibition at the Casa de la Moneda in Segovia, were made in the Fab Lab. These objects include sophisticated door handles and stylish wooden chairs. “We’ve made everything from life-size furniture to temporary sports stadiums at the Fab Lab,” says Elena, who underlines the fact that every year seminars are given to students so that they learn how to use the equipment properly and safely, as well as being taught how to correctly prepare their files to enable their ideas to be digitally manufactured.

Foto by: Roberto Arribas

Architect by passion

Elena Cardiel knew from a very early age that she wanted a career in architecture. She found her calling in her very own home. Architectural plans and models were a common sight given that her father is a chartered surveyor.

It also just so happened that the architecture course offered by IE University in Segovia was one of the first in Spain to switch to the Bologna Model.  In 2008, Elena started her degree at the IE University of Architecture and Design. “The idea of doing such an innovative and international course really appealed to me, and what’s more, it was in my home town,” she recalls.

Throughout her five-year degree, the young Segovian was awarded an academic excellence scholarship which covered the costs of her tuition. She also graduated top of her class, in large part due to her talent, but also to the effort and sacrifice she put into her studies. “Architecture is a wonderful degree, but it entails many hours of studying.  You have to be consistent and work hard from the beginning to the end of any project,” she says. She also acknowledges that sharing classes with students from other countries, each with a different architectural vision, not only teaches you a lot but also enriches you professionally.

When Elena finished her degree in brilliant fashion, the professor who was head of the Fab Lab at the time called her to ask for help in the laboratory. These days, Elena is the one in charge of the Fab Lab. “I really like my job because there’s no set routine. Plus, I’m free to use the university’s resources for research purposes, which means I’m always at the forefront of innovation and able to transfer this knowledge to the students that need it.

She emphasizes the fact that the most gratifying part of her job is “discovering new ways for students to bring their projects to life” and adds that “it’s really satisfying to see that what you’ve taught them helps them to put together better projects and mock-ups.