Plug in Melbourne

A workshop to 3D print objects, which plug into and augment the city’s urban infrastructure

with Ryan Pennings

Archigram

Plug in City – Archigram/Peter Cook

In 1964, Architect Peter Cook proposed the now famous Plug in City – which proposes that the city’s infrastructure as a mega-structure which can evolve to house the needs of the inhabitants. Different components ‘plug in’ to the grid, from transport to housing to public services.

In Melbourne, our city infrastructure is designed and built by local industrial designers, urbanists, engineers, architects and commercial developers. Buildings, the spaces between them, footpaths, public squares, benches, street signs, rubbish bins, surveillance cameras, traffic lights and tram tracks are all part of our city grid. Some elements are hacked for other uses. Benches become skateboarding parks, walls are covered with band posters and people turn milk crates upside down to sit on.

A grid similar to Cook’s is apparent in the road layout of the Melbourne CBD. And, on a smaller scale, standardisation has created a suite of public furniture which fits together like Lego. Different components are assembled to produce a ‘melbourne streetscape’. The Melbourne grid and the furniture within it can also be plugged into and re-purposed.

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What is our city missing? What do its inhabitants need?

New forms of manufacturing are bringing the manufacturing process into the hands of the public. 3D printing enables ordinary people to make 3D things at home – which could revolutionise how products are made and distributed. The strength of 3D printing is that it can be endlessly customised, and this leapfrogs other technologies when it is combined with existing components or connects to other systems. Modelling and printing in 3D is also linked with hacking cultures – taking apart and altering an existing product to understand and improve the way it works.

This is how we want to use the city.

In this workshop in SIGNAL youth arts centre, we propose to hack the city by examining its components, then designing and 3D-printing objects to enhance it. Participants could make hooks for public furniture, new fixings for alternative street signs, clips for joining milk crates, symbols and hidden caches for games through the city or playful enhancements of everyday life. We will ask participants to combine the existing city infrastructure and their desire for new uses, to create mini interventions in public space. It will be their ideas which drive the project, and are ultimately translated into physical objects.

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We believe that hacking is an important ideology in our product saturated world. As designers, we reckon it’s important for users to reclaim their ownership over objects according to the hackers creed: ‘if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.’ In combination with 3D printing, this enables everyone to bring ideas to reality for how the city could be different.

Graffiti can be an artistic outlet, practiced in alleyways throughout Melbourne city, but we want to try something more directly useful – hence the term ‘functional graffiti’. Others with practical minds will also relish the opportunity to bring their cheeky ideas from sketches to reality in public.

Plug in Melbourne will be on at SIGNAL in May 2015. Join us here!