Photo by Julie Wolfson

Behold, the Central Library’s Christmas Tree

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The staff of the Octavia Lab makerspace spent six months creating 3D-printed ornaments for their glorious 15-foot tree — and they can help you make your own.

Earlier this year, the Central Library opened its Octavia Lab makerspace named after science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. Helmed by librarian Vi Ha, the Octavia Lab became the headquarters for this year’s innovative Christmas tree design.

“As a creative community that lives the ethos of Octavia E. Butler, we believe in the importance of learning, research and persistence toward creating and making to benefit our communities,” Ha says. The lab is open to all and provides equipment that ranges from sewing machines to high-tech 3D-printing equipment, laser cutters, green screens and lighting equipment.

Each year the library staff installs a Christmas tree in the middle of the Central Library’s majestic rotunda. This year, the tree takes on a new life with custom ornaments made at the library.

The historic rotunda, in some ways, represents the library’s resilience. In 1986, the Central Library suffered a devastating fire that destroyed much of the structure and thousands of books. Architects had to assess what parts of the building could be saved and how to rebuild. The west side of the structure, with its historic rotunda featuring murals by Dean Cornwell, survived the fire and was restored to its original glory when the building reopened in 1993.

Each year the library staff installs a Christmas tree in the middle of the Central Library’s rotunda. The staff turned to the Octavia Lab makerspace for help in designing and creating a collection of 3D-printed and laser-cut ornaments. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

The grand scale of the rotunda serves as the awe-inspiring setting for the yearly Christmas tree. For many years, the tree had been decorated with a growing collection of large ornaments. In recent years, Ha along with her Christmas tree collaborator, librarian Kari Afschar, began developing more involved tree designs, crafting Mexican-style tissue paper flowers and Scandinavian stars.

“Each December, we face a design challenge of decorating a 15-foot noble fir tree,” Ha says. “With the Octavia Lab being the Central Library’s first DIY AV and makerspace, the goal became how to use our new equipment to make ornaments.”

At the start of their six-month endeavor, Ha and Afschar, along with Octavia Lab staff and volunteers, sketched out ideas. Volunteer Francis Fayard, a mechanical designer from France, shared his expertise to help develop the designs and implement production.

Using a laser cutter, the team created intricate, lacey designs for their Christmas ornaments referencing the art on the rotunda ceiling as well as the LAPL logo. Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Fayard originally came to the library in pursuit of an English class and a makerspace. Once the Octavia Lab staff discovered the extent of his knowledge, they were happy to have his guidance. Using a Universal Laser System VLS23, they set out to transform 12-inch square pieces of unpainted birchwood into delicate ornaments.

Extensive research led them to hypotrochoid shapes similar to those produced by spirographs. Some shapes were inspired by artist Julian Garnsey’s design on the rotunda ceiling. A 10-pointed star reflects a similar shape found on the carpet in the Children’s Literature Department. Another ornament was inspired by the oculus in the old Philharmonic Auditorium nearby. A few others feature the round LAPL logo showing a book flipping open.

The next step was to figure out what kind of ornaments could be made with their Maker Bot Replicator 3D printers. Fayard calculated a way to design spherical shapes without supports to maximize the print time and use as little of the filament material as possible. After many prototypes, he created three spherical shapes. Each design took about two-and-a-half hours to four hours to print.

One of the spherical ornament designs created by Francis Fayard, an Octavia Lab volunteer and mechanical designer. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

In addition to making the spheres, 3D-printing technology was employed to create the tree topper. Since the machine can only make 6-inch sized objects, they developed a star in the shape of a dodecahedron made from modular parts — similar to Devin Montes’ Polypanels.

The tree topper was carefully designed so that it could be assembled from smaller pieces. Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

To decorate the tree, Ha and librarian Tina Princenthal layered large metallic holiday ornaments and shimmery, jeweled branches from the Los Angeles Flower Market with their laser-cut and 3D-printed creations. They carefully wired each one into place and topped the tree with the lacy modular star that points up to the massive globe light fixture hanging from the rotunda ceiling.

For the final results, Ha wanted to make sure the tree represented both technology and festive holiday cheer. “For me, it has to be beautiful,” she says. “I can not sell you on the math if it is not beautiful.”

After six months of research and trial and error, LAPL librarians and the Octavia Lab staff and volunteers hung their creations on the 15-foot Christmas tree at the Central Library’s rotunda. Top: Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. Bottom: Photos by Julie Wolfson.

As the team put the final touches in place, Fayard walked into the rotunda alongside the students from the English class he takes at the library. The huge smile on his face spoke volumes. “Without really realizing it, being part of this project became more than I could hope for,” Fayard says. “I’m feeling very proud of what I did.”


Library-goers are invited to make their own 3D ornaments in the Octavia Lab. Call (213) 228-7150 to reserve a computer, equipment or studio. Email [email protected] for more information.

Los Angeles Central Library

630 W. 5th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071

Los Angeleno