Inflato Dumpster

Meet the Inflato Dumpster, New York's next great public space(s).

Inflato Dumpster

The Department of Urban Development (DUB) hopes to transform the city's many dumpsters into portable public spaces-cum-incubators.

Inflato Dumpster

The scheme is simple: Take an empty, temporarily parked dumpster and fill it with an inflatable dome. The DUB has launched a Kickstarter to help turn the novel concept into reality.

Inflato Dumpster

The Inflato is designed for neighborhood use, with each pop-up hosting events geared toward specific areas of the city.

Inflato Dumpster

Inside, the space is ideal for hosting hack-a-thons, urban demonstrations, and film screenings, according to John H. Locke, one of the project's architects.

Inflato Dumpster

A diagram showing different stages of inflation, and the various shapes the Inflato may take, depending on the program.

Inflato Dumpster

The dumpster, Locke says, "allows us to find and exploit street occupancy rules, without actually disturbing or occluding street activity."

Inflato Dumpster

The tent material is made from inexpensive, biodegradable mylar with a silvery sheen on the exterior.

Inflato Dumpster

If the Kickstarter is successful, Locke and DUB hope to build and install their first Inflato for a cool $3,700. They hope grassroots activism will follow.

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Architect Wants To Reclaim Public Space, One Dumpster At A Time

How to grow a generation of proactive urbanites much like one would grow mushrooms: in a dumpster.

Decades of rampant privatization have left New York’s public spaces endangered. The backlash frothed and bubbled with the OWS protests of two years ago, but has since quieted. There were many lessons to be learned, and for designers, these included seeing that incremental change is possible in spontaneous bursts that work to subvert zoning codes or property boundaries. Their efforts most frequently took the form of informal installations that could literally pop up anywhere in the city and scuttle away before the authorities came knocking.

Designer John H. Locke sympathizes with these aims. But where others attempt to hijack a park or crowded sidewalk, his latest project goes where none have dared. Locke and his collaborators at the Department of Urban Betterment (DUB) literally went dumpster diving for a pop-up prototype that they say could deliver social and cultural benefits to New York neighborhoods.

The idea behind the fittingly named Inflato Dumpster is simple, and more important, feasible, Locke says. He points to the tent's $3,700 price tag, which DUB hopes to pay with funds from the project's Kickstarter. The parti consists of an inflatable, tent-like structure made of cheap, biodegradable mylar and, of course, an empty dumpster. The former is inflated inside the dumpster, taking advantage of a footprint roughly eight feet wide by 23 feet long. The tent roof then peaks at 25 feet, creating an airy and generous interior space amenable to hack-a-thons, urban strategy demos, workshops, and film exhibitions. The whole thing can be easily deflated, so by the time street cleaners or the trash collectors have swept through, not a trace is left of the inner-dumpster guerrilla activities.

Locke heralds the lowly dumpster as "the solid base of the intervention." That key piece of urban infrastructure is what differentiates DUB’s from similarly minded pop-ups. The Inflato Dumpster forms a small, self-contained world of its own within the confines of the trash receptacle. It's of the street and separate from it, which, Locke tells Co.Design, "allows us to find and exploit street occupancy rules," without actually disturbing or occluding street activity. At the same time, the inflatable quality "lets us quickly deploy inhabitable space as a backdrop for activities that are naturally suited to these same questions of public space."

It’s a nuanced solution that nudges against city legislation, and ad hoc urban design is an area in which Locke has some experience. His Phone Booth Book Share, which used New York payphone kiosks to stock libraries, was an Internet sensation (though a pragmatic failure). Even so, the experience inspired his serial experiments with neglected articles of city space. A dumpster, "something typically associated with waste and discarded materials," says Locke, is impermanent, and it frames an immersive environment that's partially concealed, leaving its interior somewhat of a mystery to passers-by.

Exactly what happens inside the Inflato is to be determined, but Locke envisions constructive and entertaining programs that engage nearby residents. The idea, he says, is to equip locals with the tools they’ll need to "become more engaged members of public space." Long after the Inflato has come and gone, he hopes that the experience will trigger "a ripple of aftereffects that will germinate practical ideas and actions that are more inclusionary and empowering for the neighborhood."

Perhaps his is a plan that inflates the role of the individual citizen—blasé urbanite one day, public space activist the next.

Help support the Inflato Dumpster at the project's Kickstarter page, here.

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  • spqrxxi

    The first sentence of this very aggressive article "Decades of rampant privatization have left New York’s public spaces endangered." is very strange. Most New Yorkers who use the City's vibrant public spaces would argue exactly the opposite: thanks in part to the City's public private partnerships, the public spaces of the City have never looked so good nor attracted as many people.

    Ideology is fun and all, but let's keep some perspective on facts please. That said, once the mumbo jumbo is removed from the above, the project seems very interesting!