Architect has dreams of turning van into 'maker space'

Maya Bird-Murphy wants to retrofit step van for mobile design, construction workshops for West Side students

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By Michael Romain


A suburban woman is a step closer to her goal of retrofitting a used Workhorse P500 step van into a mobile "maker space," where young people from the West Side and the suburbs can learn all kinds of problem-solving skills in areas like design, construction and architecture. 

Maya Bird-Murphy, 26, of Oak Park, said in an interview last week that she recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $10,000 — the minimum she believes it will cost to transform a van roughly the size of a UPS delivery truck into a space for conducting more advanced versions of the workshops she currently offers to area students. 

Bird-Murphy is the program coordinator for Architecture Adventure, which offers hands-on workshops in construction and design to elementary and middle school students throughout Chicago. Last year, she started a nonprofit, Chicago Mobile Makers, with the goal of offering the educational workshops in a van and eventually a permanent space. 

"We just connected with a contractor, Formed Space, and they jump-started this idea again," said Bird-Murphy, who works at an architectural firm in Chicago. "We bought the truck in April and I was thinking we wouldn't be able to start, because we didn't have the funds. But Formed Space made the project seem more possible." 

Bird-Murphy said that the retrofitted van will allow her organization to offer more advanced youth workshops. 

"We can start offering levels of classes, like 3-D printing 101, and you'd be able to take classes that get more and more advanced and that allow you to build your skills," she said. "The van will have power tools, a 3-D printer and a laser cutter, and will be run on a generator. It will have everything you need for a project." 

According to the Indiegogo site, Mobile Maker's mission "is to engage and empower youth through making and skill building, train and support future public interest architects, designers, and makers, and to advocate for social, economic, gender and racial diversity in the architecture and broader design fields. So far we've held programs in Bronzeville, Garfield Ridge, Irving Park, East Garfield Park, Austin, Englewood, the Near North Side, and Oak Park."

To donate to the Indiegogo campaign, visit:


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