Inflato Dumpster

John Locke, AIA

Inflatodumpster is a mobile, inflatable community space located inside of a dumpster.

This is an inflatable classroom installed inside of a dumpster. The project includes 165 square feet of enclosed space with maximum dimensions at 17' height by 12'-6" wide and 24' long. The project has been activated numerous times, in both Manhattan and Jamaica, Queens. A number of events and workshops have been held including: musical performances, documentary screenings and a 3D printing and modeling work session. The total project budget was $4,200 (including equipment rental)" the majority of said budget was funded via Kickstarter, a process we are deeply skeptical of in regards to urban projects, but used nonetheless. The intention is for the project to continue to periodically activate and further explore how it fits within this neighborhood.

The main element is an inflatable membrane containing 2,000 cubic feet of volume. This inflato is made from a combination of two lightweight materials. The first is a clear polyethylene. This is an inexpensive, common and biodegradable plastic material that will allow views both from and out to the street. The second material is a mylar film used in both emergency hiking blankets and spacecraft. Dual-sided, silver and gold, the inflato presents a subdued silver, semi-reflective surface on the exterior with a gold, brightly gilded interior. The street side is more opaque, while the sidewalk side is more open allowing views and a surface to project images onto. The transparent side also allows light to filter down through the canopy of the sidewalk maple tree from above. There is a strong evocation of being under a shaded tree.

"Go inside a dumpster?!?!" An understandable response given by roughly a quarter of people when told they were welcome to go inside. I think the dumpster helped because it kept the project in the realm of the recognizable, and fed into the transgressive feeling of being inside of an off-limits space. Connotations of trash aside, there's a shared awareness of the spatial interior dimensions of a dumpster, unlike, say, "an inflatable classroom" or, even worse, "a new paradigm of public space," which could be just about anything. Or maybe it just lowered the bar so much, that when people stepped not into a rusted metal box, but rather a glowing vaulted space, they couldn't help but feel like they had been transported. There were also pragmatic reasons for using the dumpster. It gave us a solid structure to anchor the inflatable, and to resist any uplifting wind loads.

There's certainly an interest in transforming existing banal street structures, but also being drawn to the idea of turning something typically associated with waste and discarded materials into a space for something exciting and new. This, in turn, led to exploring the invisible lightness of the inflatable in relation to the hard steel of the dumpster and the heavy demolition work of machines and tools. This juxtaposition of heavy/light and new/used became a key hot-air-balloon-like diagram of the solid base paired with the weightless membrane.

Image credits


John Locke, AIA