Around this time last year, Oak Park and River Forest High School alum and architect Maya Bird-Murphy was attempting to raise funds to turn a retired USPS delivery van into a mobile maker space that would allow her to provide free and low-cost workshops in areas like architecture, construction and digital fabrication to area young people.
Now, roughly $21,000 and countless man hours later, Bird-Murphy, 27, is ready to take her 108-square-foot retrofitted van on the road.
In 2017, Bird-Murphy founded Chicago Mobile Makers, a nonprofit that creates programs designed to encourage young people “to become advocates and change-makers in their own communities through design-focused skill-building workshops,” according to a statement the organization recently released.
Since its founding, Chicago Mobile Makers has held more than 150 workshops for young people in 11 Chicago neighborhoods.
Bird-Murphy said that COVID-19 has put programming on pause since March, but the brief respite allowed her construction team to focus on finishing the van.
“That was the positive part about this,” she said on Monday, adding that while she was lead designer during the process of retrofitting the van, she had major help from a variety of firms and individuals.
Midwest Start performed the technical and electrical work, Building Brown Workshop provided the woodworking and M Fabrication Inc. performed the metalwork while Bird-Murphy tapped Formed Space to be the project’s contractor and Lorin Jackson to do interior design.
The newly retrofitted van features four solar panels on the roof, a wind-powered ventilator and marmoleum flooring. The van’s airy, clean, modern and minimal design was featured in Dwell magazine last month.
And although COVID-19 has put the brakes on her nonprofit programming, Bird-Murphy said she’s looking to gradually resume activities this summer, starting with a few pop-up workshops.
“If we’re able to, we’ll do something like a community garden project, where kids design a garden and get to build it with their own hands,” Bird-Murphy said. “So, if we can, we’ll be doing that later in the summer.”
She said that she’d love to park the truck and do some programs somewhere in her hometown of Oak Park if it’s possible.
In the meantime, she’s still looking to add equipment like power tools and a laser cutter to the truck and honing in on a message she says predates COVID-19 and will also outlive the pandemic — we humans will always need to know how to do things with our hands.
“For some reason, [skills in trades] are kind of looked down upon,” Bird-Murphy said. “I hope this shifts some mindsets and shows that working with your hands is always really valuable. It will always be important to know how to make things.”