Shanghai CNC Story

On a corner of the Bridge 8 creative cluster in central Shanghai, nested among companies like IDEO, Herman Miller and a range of architectural and media agencies, a new digital makerspace named “UNI_lab” has just popped up.

What makes this makerspace special is that it’s designed to be a “one stop shop” for designers to work on their digital designs in a co-working space, create prototypes and products in the lab, as well as sell their products in the adjacent cafe to get instant market validation.

What makes it special for the Opendesk community is that they have a full size CNC machine as part for their kit and provide regular training workshops. It’s the only publicly accessible CNC machine in Shanghai, suitable to cut Opendesk designs. So we went to check it out.
Co-founder Lyla Wu, architect and and part-time lecturer on digital fabrication at Tongji University, explained how UNI_lab got started.

“We found that there was no place for designers to bring their own product ideas to life and develop hands-on digitals skills. The maker movement in China is fairly dominated by electronics and this is exciting, but for small scale creations there wasn’t really anywhere to go. But apart from facilitating design & fabrication, UNI_lab is a place where designers can interact with other designers and exchange views & skills, as well as get very fast market validation of their products.” The makerspace “lab” and hardware is run by co-founder James H. Jones, a trained sculptor and architect with years of pro maker experience under his belt; he is passionate about making as well as teaching digital fabrication and runs trainings and workshops most evenings of the week.

The ground floor consists of a café open to the general public and the “lab”, divided in a ‘clean lab’ for 3D printing and electronics, and a ‘dirty lab’ with the CNC router, a laser cutter and a few general pieces of kit like a belt sander. They will also be able to do large size digital prints.

The CNC machine is placed in front of a large bay window facing the main street, so there are often crowds of people watching (and hearing!) designs being cut out of plywood.

The second floor of the building is set up as a co-working space, which UNI_lab fittingly kitted out with Opendesk furniture. According to Lyla “not only do we love the furniture but it is also a great showcase for our members how a designer could develop a business based on digital design and manufacturing”. Opendesk also signed up as a member, and Opendesk’s local Shanghai partners (“Included”) have taken up residence in the co-working space.

As we haven’t had many opportunities to connect with the local design community in this part of the world, we’re planning to run a number of workshops on CNC furniture design & manufacturing.

The first two workshops are scheduled for 19th and 20th March (and are fully booked unfortunately) but if you’re in Shanghai and are interested, send us an email to and we’ll get you booked onto the next one - or email us if you have any further questions about Opendesk in China.