A South of South design and fabrication facility is helping innovators to advance their ideas.
Evan Malone admires those whose artistic or scientific sensitivities inspire their desires to thrive.
Since Jan. 17, the founder and president of NextFab 2 Studio, 2025 Washington Ave., has welcomed such ambitious figures to his 21,000-square-foot facility, fraternizing with artists, designers, engineers and inventors aiming to promote their visions.
“We celebrate the geek here,” the Center City resident said Monday at the South of South location, inspecting a few of the machines that have given established and novice creators feasible means to start, tinker with or complete projects. “The simple, complicated and exotic all come to life here.”
A descendant of University City Science Center, which Malone opened in 2009, had incorporated the following year and now lauds as the Department of Making and Doing, the one-month-old spot teemed with activity on the rainy afternoon as many of the combined sites’ 180 members diligently plotted various innovations. First-year constituent Kurt Swanson is working on a refrigeration alteration and fondly recalled learning about NextFab 2.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this place really exists,’” the Old City dweller said from the space’s second floor, an area where attendees perform most of their mental endeavors before heading to the equipment-heavy first floor. “It’s really a great destination for deliberation and action.”
Like his fellow enthusiasts, Swanson has had opportunities to take classes to further his cognition and creativity, with numerous membership options to guide their level of interest, availability and commitment.
“We’re not in the business of rushing ingenuity,” Malone, a University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University alumnus, said after a waterjet cutter designed a NextFab identification badge. “We’re warming up the engines to have people feel comfortable about tackling whatever they come to us with.”
His venue, which formerly housed the Salini Bros. Ornamental Ironworks and underwent a $4-million renovation to accommodate the apparatuses, hosts individuals who have acquired expertise on their own or through its workshops and accepts assignments from assorted parties. Industrial employers soon will work with NextFab 2 to facilitate their operations through a partnership with the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center and other entities.
“That’s a slow process, too, but we’ve been able to give small businesses offices where they can ponder their marketing and advertising materials,” Malone said. “We essentially have solutions that fit any budget and are here to transform ideas into product prototypes and more and really bring about a sense of confidence to anyone who walks through our doors, especially those with visions they have doubted they have the time and/or ability to finalize.”
When looking for a second spot to complement the University City Science Center, Malone, who, along with wife Jill Weber, runs a South of South wine establishment and a neighboring restaurant, sought somewhere that could easily yield inspiration. Because of Washington Avenue West’s surplus of home construction and modification businesses, he picked the NextFab 2 site as a result of its likely ability to join the thoroughfare’s other locales as havens for problem-solvers and do-it-yourselfers.
“It’s really been a convenient area for us, and being among companies so embedded in the neighborhood has been a plus, too,” he said.
Malone and his nearly two dozen employees have greeted purposeful minds from many states and with many aims. Scientifically-inclined individuals have frequented the framework in droves, calling on such amenities as lasers, 3-D printers, computer-controlled plasma cutters and a chemistry lab to show off their ingenuity, but brainiacs are not the only ones who could benefit from an excursion or membership.
“We’re not highfalutin,” Malone said. “Anyone with a desire to improve accessories, design promotional materials for whatever endeavor or show off an affinity for crafts can find friends here. There can be a bit of an intimidation factor at first among participants, but once people come here, the integration becomes pretty relaxing.”
The aforementioned tools have come to top NextFab 2’s offerings list, but someone also can use, among other treats, an industrial sewing machine, a photography studio, soldering stations and a wood shop, with raw materials sales also occurring on the premises. Children can become members, too, with Malone et al seeing the opportunity to guide young, analytical figures as a major reward.
“We have a great relationship with [Center City-based] Philadelphia Futures to try to get more kids interested in the wonderful world of knowledge and discovery that science and its applications can afford them,” Malone said.
Through the original location, he has developed partnerships to encourage such curiosity, with the Sea Perch Robotics Team, composed of School District of Philadelphia high schoolers, winning trophies at two recent Drexel University-held competitions for remotely operated vehicles.
“I just enjoy the calm atmosphere and the opportunity to mingle with other people with novel ideas or with difference approaches to everyday situations,” Roxborough’s Sam Finney, a two-year member who is working on bringing commercial agricultural techniques to home gardens, said.
Such people will gather Saturday for a show and tell event, where they will give and receive feedback for their concepts. On Feb. 21, Malone will welcome members for NextFab 2’s first social, another occasion to see how fluidly their creative juices are flowing.
“Science can be a bit of a conundrum because it appears to many people to be too intensive, even though most of it strives to simplify life,” Malone, who mentioned his site’s help in improving technology for breast cancer and glaucoma screenings and management as proof, said of his field. “We’re looking to be that support for those with drive.”
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