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Informal Urban Practices

Nick Rebstadt

Searching For Informalism perhaps made an improvement on the existing conditions of a space to – rather than make a statement about something – simply make life easier.

This aspect of the studio (for me) could be divided into two areas – actively seeking Informal Urban Practices in a physical context – of which Williamstown was the victim, and research into Informal Urbanism. Both of these were valuable in the development of my knowledge within the context of the studio.

Communal Garden, Williamstown

Whilst the research offered possibilities of what Informal Urban Practices could be by highlighting the extremes of what were going on – guerrilla knitting groups and Banksy’s work are to name some of the practices that had influenced my research – the first hand documentation of informal urbanism in Williamstown opened a new perspective to my understanding. Williamstown offered a wide variety of subtle Informal Urban Practices that were tailored to the lifestyle of the people living there. Honestly, in retrospect this seems so stupid to have escaped me but nevertheless this was one of the biggest discoveries in the research process in the studio. Williamstown suggested that Informal Urbanism need not be over-the-top and against the law, it showed that Informal Urbanism could be a form of ‘organic’ design. A design that was out of the prescribed function of the spaces around it, that

From this research I became interested in the muddy boundaries between what could be considered ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ Banksy in particular plays with this notion of articulating into a capitalist system (Art World) whilst still appearing to be separate from it (Street Art). The following is a selection of images and text from the earlier stages of the project that informed my thinking.

Knitta Please, New York (Image: Google) I particularly enjoy the way that Guerrilla Knitting is an “accessible� street art medium.

Banksy, Balloon Girl, West Bank (Image: Google)

Banksy, Balloon Girl, West Bank (Film Still: Google) The politics around the location of this work is the part that interested me the most.

Placed Furniture, Williamstown

Pet Drinking Water, Williamstown

CCTV Stencil, Williamstown

Informally Suggestive to the posters. There were three posters in total. “Going Up?” Was written on the first and placed in the lift; “Draw Here” was placed on a poster board in Bowen Lane and “Write Here” was situated at the State Library.

Research is followed by practice. Perhaps that is naïve because in this case practice was research.

Poster Occupation Experiment

From Williamstown, I developed a selection of Informal Urban practices that could be inserted into the community that were related to what I discovered in Williamstown itself. In this sense, the suggestions are site-specific and look at the subtle ways in which the locals of Williamstown had themselves customised their own spaces. The sketches that I created as a response to the Williamstown community are proposals for Informal Urban Practices that are from what (I recognize as my brief involvement with the community) and what I believe are responses appropriate to the Williamstown area. They involve the opportunistic use of public space and groups – such as an exchange table, and the creation of ‘talking areas’ with found furniture in open spaces – through to examining current activities undertaken by locals – a pet café to compliment the café culture of Williamstown Main st. The second project featured in this section entailed the use of a more interactive method. The first of a series of occupations involved our group placing three blank posters with pens attached to them in public with the intention of the public adding

‘Postering’ is an Informal Practice in itself and as such it was interesting to invite the public in the process of adding to the piece. Typically, the public are on the receiving end of the practice that is often involved with advertising. Instead of passively consuming messages they had the opportunity to create a message and a response in public. To me, this was the beauty in the experiment. It was when this experiment was undertaken I noticed the extent and influence of what I would describe as ‘codes’ within public space. This was possibly the most evident in the lift site. There are certain behaviours that are considered to be appropriate and inappropriate in public. Some of these are logical, whilst most of them are arbitrary. The lift is itself a public space that is heavily influenced by the dogmatic norms of politeness. To me it was interesting to tempt individuals to break these rules. The results of the experiment were interesting. We mainly got small drawings and responses to the initial text. After people began writing the thing snowballed and then passers by added responses to other responses. This snowball effect was something that I felt was important to any future experiment. Site and opportunity also appeared as major influences in the fabrication of future experiments.

Communal Chair Placement: Placing reclaimed furniture in public spaces to encourage conversation and unprescribed uses. In this example, the carpark has been reclaimed as a public space.

Going Up?

What I liked about this exercise was the freedom that individuals had to respond. In many ways, it was not what they respond with, simply the fact that they have ‘responded’ that is the most interesting part.

Exchange Table: Opening up the idea of leaving unwanted objects at an ‘Exchange’ Table/Kiosk where the rubbish has a chance of being upcycled over that of simply being dumped and ruined.

The Cupcake Occupation

Occupying public space is hard if you are an individual and easier if you are in a group. With either one your concept and ideas need to be ‘strong’ in order for it to work, along with correct context and the perfect weather (that’s a lot more important that anyone would at first think).

Me With Cupcakes On High Street, Preston.

The Cupcake Occupation was the result of a desire for our group to both occupy a space but also collect knowledge from the locals about Preston. The cupcakes came about because the day before, the other half of pur group did a similar occupation without ‘bribes’, and we wanted to gauge the difference. This project was different from the other projects because we were actively engaging with public space for the first time over that of observing. What our group did was occupy the front of a vacant shop on the Main street in Preston with the goal of asking: “How Has Your Day Been?” “Would you like a Cupcake?” We gave cupcakes in return for conversation.

Most people were suspicious of what our motives were (many thought we were selling something) which was understandable given the context of the main street shops. Many were also reluctant to take food from us but were still willing to talk. And even more reluctant to have photographs taken. Once again we found ourselves screwed over by the influence of salespeople. This is slightly disappointing but there was nothing that we could really do to avoid the situation. It must be noted here that many people were reluctant to have their photographs taken. This led to a change in the way that we documented our projects in the future. Most individuals were surprised by the innocent intentions of our occupation. After all, what random stranger asks you how your day was and really means it?

“Down the street changing coins to buy cigarettes, after coming form my girlfriends house in Frankston.” “Thought you where a charity for RSPCA.”

“I’m down the street getting a key cut with her husband.” “Yes, I live in Preston.” “I would like to see more a more vibrant culture on the streets of Preston, like music, dance. and art”

“Can I have another cupcake?” “I don’t want to smile for you, I have gap-teeth.”

“I’m from Thailand, and I live in Preston and work as a kitchen hand.” “I was just taking my son for a walk and to get cake and coffee.” “I think there should be more people become involved in community activities.” “I recently had my bike stolen.” “Do you have your RMIT student cards with you?”

“I just woke up, I live in Thomastown.” “Just Looking for work today.” “I suppose I’d like to see a kind of safety patrol in the area, I think Preston needs that.”

So, Colour Space Behaviour Hey? markers at the stall, place them in a space that was important to them and post a photo on a blog that was set up so that others that participated in the project could view them. The idea behind this was that the virtual ‘public’ space of the Internet would eventually forge a community through the execution of the activity.

Mid-semester Trading Market, Degraves Subway Session

The theoretical ideas of Marc Augé’s ‘supermodernity’ became a backing for my thinking moving into the mid-semester. Augé’s descriptions of ‘place’ and ‘non-place’ ‘place’ being a space where an individual identifies with as an individual as opposed to ‘non-places’, being spaces where the individual loses their individual identity (basically explained). Augé describes the relationship between what a ‘place’ and non-place’ as a ‘world thus surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral”1 in this world places and non-places become unclear and take on each other’s characteristics. I wanted my project to explore these ideas. I constructed a scenario that would allow me to initially explore these ideas of finding ‘place’ in space and the role that Informal Urban Practices might play in doing so. This led to my proposing a design that gave individuals the opportunity to ‘place space’ via the placing of markers that were created at a market stall that travelled around the city. Essentially, the scenario was that the public would come and make 1 Augé, M. Non-Places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. Verso, London: 1995. p.78

As Colour Space Behaviour progressed, my attitudes and outlooks changed. I became interested in the idea of what a community was and what it could be in the 21st century (as clichéd as that sounds) wether a community could be sitespecific or nomadic, temporal or disjointed and what role Informal Urbanism with the Urban fabric played in relation to these ideas.

MID SEMESTER TRADING MARKET Above: Market Gift; Right: Trading Cards; Below: Market Site At Hosier Lane; Opposite Page: Colour Space Behaviour!

What’s your Favourite Colour? from an interest in engaging with the Internet as a public place. Each one was successful in its own way and each one aided to our conclusion of colour is something that connected with a memory of object. Most individuals enjoyed the colour not because it was the colour itself, rather because it reminded them of somewhere or something that they enjoy or relate to. This was the first project of the Colour Space Behaviour group. The goal with this was to get to know what colours people identified with. For me, this was in the process of understanding how something like colour could gather or divide. Why Colour? Because it is something that is universally appealing and infinitely subjective. No matter who you are – you can relate in some way to colour. (or lack of colour)

Colour Post-It note Response

The experiment took on three stages the first being a poster experiment where we posted up posters with sharpies attached – each one different – but each poster was open in how individuals could engage with them. We wanted un-prescribed responses, and what we got was exactly that. The second part of the experiment was to ask random people that we came into contact with to pick their favourite coloured post-it note and write a reason as to why it was their favourite. Once again, in search of subjective responses – as we wanted to know not only people’s favourite colour, but why it was their favourite colour. The third was a facebook experiment where we collected friends responses online. This came

From this exercise, we drew the conclusion that the three favourite colours of people interviewed were: Orange Blue Green. This informed the rest of the project, both in terms of colour and how I would pursue (qualitative) responses from individuals.

Make a Badge With Us?

The objective of this project in terms of my research was to facilitate a creation of a community by not only having people interact at the stall but also through the making of the badge, that would become a signifier of that community to others. In this sense, the object was the catalyst that created the community.

Badge-making stall, Carlton Gardens

The badge-making stall had varying degrees of success depending on the site that the activity was held. We chose three different sites for the stall to be held. The first being the RMIT food court (due initially to the rain) the second being the Carlton Gardens and the third Bourke St Mall. The most successful of the three sites was the Carlton Gardens. We found this to be site-specific. The community was formed over the conversation between the groups that were participating and the fact that the badges were a physical signifier of the fact that they had taken part in the stall. Therefore, in this sense, the stall worked as it was intended. The least effective result was the Bourke Street site with nobody participating in the stall’s activities at all despite our best efforts in attempting to coax them to participate. We found that the public in

this space were generally in a shopping mind-set – something which dictates behaviour that is the complete opposite of the Carlton Gardens site. As designers or peers facilitating the badge stall, were seen by the passers by as subservient to their needs. In other words, were treated as if we were selling something – which was clearly the opposite of what we were doing. Conversation was minimal and was based around what we were offering, not how they could participate in the process, so the stall in terms of it being a functioning success failed.

“This is a great idea. Do you guys want a sandwich?”

Dad: “This is what you guys do at kinder hey?” Girl: “No! I don’t do THIS at kinder!”

I can’t make a badge, I’m all thumbs”

“Geez, I love what you’re doing!”

“Would you like to make a badge?”

Bourke Street Site: What was interesting about this site is that the public engaged with us as if we were selling something, even though this was not the case at all. We were treated as if we were shop assistants or charity workers.

“Here, Have 80 cents, It’s all I have!”

“I’m in a rush. Sorry!”

“No thanks, I’m just looking.”

The Natural Gallery of Victoria

Natural Gallery of Victoria Site, Melbourne Museum.

they should be shown. We as the organizers of the activity were inadvertently communicating with individuals on behalf of the others that had previously talked to us. In this way, a community based on the arbitrary organisation of leaves formed.

This project was conceived of the idea of creating a site-specific occupation. The Natural Gallery of Victoria came about due to the nature of the Carlton Gardens as a site. We decided to look at aspects of exhibition design and curatorship and the levels of informality that occur in these designs, along with the politics associated with the categorisation and organization of objects. We were politically subversive (by not directly referencing the name of the Museum in our occupation) instead choosing Natural Gallery of Victoria – which was both a reference to the objects that we were curating and the way in which we were curating them. Our occupation took on the aesthetic of a political protest without actually meaning to do so. Many individuals mistook us for environmental protesters. What was interesting about the experiment was the way that the public interacted with our occupation. Individuals were not afraid at all to give their opinion about how the leaves should be organised. As we took the opinions of others we organised the leaves according to how they told us they should be. As others saw us organising them in that way they ‘corrected’ us as to how

In many ways the fact that we were organising leaves was irrelevant, the idea that individuals were both engaging in something that they would not normally do and investing meaning into an essentially meaningless activity were perhaps the most valuable outcomes of the whole experiment.

Above: Initial Grid Organization; Right: Circular Layout Initially we organised the leaves in terms of the site, by following the grid pattern on the ground, however, we were told soon enough that we were completely wrong.

A Selection of Arrangements We began with Arranging the leaves in a grid pattern that flowed through the site.

Someone thought a line form would be more adequate to grab peoples attention.

A Computer Scientist stopped thinking that we were Environmental Protesters, and suggested that the leaves were too ordered and should be arranged in natural, organic patterns as they are natural, organic things.

Someone then suggested that an arrangement of leaf-types would be interesting.

A woman stopped by seeing us do this and then said that she would like to see more of a circular, radial pattern emerge.

Finally, some students helped us make a face.

Take Me. from writers, students through to “professional” street artists. I feel that the most successful part of this project was making the exclusive (and arguably formalised) street art scene into something that was accessible, fun and got people to talk to one another.

Take Me was the final experiment of the Colour Space Behaviour project. Essentially, Take Me was a public street art workshop that was held in a laneway site in Melbourne.

Take Me Colour Kit.

The method was simple: passers by found a ‘colour kit’ that we had deposited in random places nearby the site. In the colour kit there was a map and an assortment of coloured objects that we had collected over the project period. The kits played on individuals’ curiosity in the sense that we never demanded or asked that they come, or even tell them what was going on, they were simply told where we would be and that we had food. The more people that came, the more people felt comfortable with participating. Individuals were set up next to people that they did not necessarily know wand as such began talking and chatting amongst themselves. It was not the quality of the work that mattered. Rather, the production of the work that became important. Once again, individuals were doing something in public space that they would not normally do and that was the exciting part of the experiment. The types of people that we had participated varied

The first person to take part. She was a photographer and told us of the nature of people when they are being photographed.

An Animation Student. He stood there watching for a while and I invited him to join in. We spoke about After Effects and how much he loves it and I, well don’t love it so much.

A Quantum Physics Masters Student. He drew a ‘Death Cell’ or something. Anyway it had something to do with Cancer.

The second person to take part. He pinned-up a portrait of his mother. We laughed and he mocked offence. He had a great sense of humour.

One of my favourite posters. This girl described herself as a writer and requested that the words remain there for others to see. This workshop was like a therapy for her. The poster was torn down the next day.

On The Nature Of Communities

The archetype of ‘community’ suggests a link to a physical place or thing in some way, wether that be a suburb, workplace or perhaps a language or cultural background – which are often still tied down to a ‘physical’ region. However, in the current contemporary climate, things that constitute a community become much more fluid. Communities are no longer restrained by the common localities or physical space, they are much more adaptable and disjointed in the sense of how people are brought together. Spatial Design that involves community cannot simply consider space in the sense of a physical site, as often, community is siteless. Internet networks such as Facebook and Tumblr online communities are formed around common interests, with little or no ‘physical’ (or often interaction) site at all. Lack of physical grounding allows for the rapid fluctuation and change of the contemporary community, thus temporality of the community becomes a more potent factor. Such communities are not entirely subject to the influences of archetypal communities would be. As there is not the same In his work Turkish Jokes, artist Jens Haaning formed an instant, temporal community by

using a megaphone to voice jokes in Turkish in a Copenhagen city square. Under situations such as Haaning’s, communities are where momentary groupings occur1. The common ground was there – the ability to speak Turkish – and a community was formed temporarily by the artist’s actions.

of Haaning. The ‘community’ existed for a short while. Informal Urban Practices have the potential to bring together individuals to make community out of common needs and desires. The fact that they are un-prescribed allows communities to organically form and disperse.

These are two examples on the nature of communities in the contemporary urban fabric. They both show the tendencies for small communities formed in different ways by what are essentially ‘informal’ means of communication, interaction and intervention.

The fact is that in the twenty-first century, the traditional notions of what a community are cannot exist because the way that we live has changed. Informal Urbanism is a way of dealing with that change and adapting to the urban context. Over the course of the semester this has become clear to me. Communities are no longer only tied down to site. The nature of how we live in the urban context has become much more fluid, disjointed and relational. If the Interior Designer is to adapt to the changing ideas of space, community and design, then they need to take on the role of a facilitator – as we did in many of our designs – to enable the community to form, engage and disperse naturally. “Public Space” appears to be becoming something else and so is the Interior Designer.

*** The experiments conducted by Colour Space Behavior took these ideas on what a community could be and created designed responses exploring these ideas. The colour association project was attempting to explore what it was that individuals identified with and why in an attempt to bring them together. The badge making and bartering exercises allowed the public to come together and create a physical object or signifier that they were part of a particular activity or had experienced something together – in both of these projects, the “community” was still relatively tied to a physical object, like colour or a badge. In the following two projects, the Natural Gallery of Victoria and Take Me, there was a move away from the physical signifiers of what a community could be, or how you could be represented as part of one towards a more temporal understanding of what community was – much like in the work 1 Bourraiud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Les Presses du Réel, Paris: 2002. P17

A Series of Informally Crafted Objects

Colour Space Behaviour was a largely relational project. The technology used throughout the project takes the form of back-up infrastructure to aid our activities. Essentially, the main technology components that engaged with were mainly ‘up-cycling’ found objects and giving them new uses, as fit with the the aesthetic theme of the project.. All of the materials that we used in our project were secondhand or reclaimed from the street. As such, the use of technology in the project is ‘informal’.

Rhino Workshop With Jess The Rhino Intensive Workshop with Jess In gave me the opportunity to begin experimenting with modifying the existing. I decided to learn Rhino by creating a ‘rocking milk crate’. I modelled and laser-cut some rails that could snap on to existing milk crates. The idea behind the design was that whole laneways could be ‘fit-out’ in a short period of time, therefore transforming the space. Although as all milk crates have different structural ribbing the design is most suited to the green or orange ones. Below are images of the cutting file and the prototype.

The Sandwich Board was my second attempt at laser-cutting for the project (the first had failed and the experiment was aborted because it was seen as irrelevant anyway). Pretty simple design: plywood, rope, and hinges. It was important because it offered us an accessible way to look ‘kind of professional.’

“Nesting Boxes” as we came to call them came about as a way of collecting and storing coloured material. We used a bird-box design with an acetate lid because it fit in with our foreging and collecting ‘nest’ theme that ran with our approach to the project.

The Boxes were placed at door of building 8 with the hope that people ‘donate’ their unwanted coloured rubbish to the boxes so we could recycle it.

We had varying results.

The nesting boxes were also used in the Take Me occupation as rumble-bins of materials for people to take from and add to their ‘colour kits.’

PALLET ‘Reclaimed from the street. It was in relatively good condition so there was little in terms of sanding and other prep work that needed to be done.

FOAM The foam was bought second-hand from a kind of recycle-junk shop in Ringwood (Reverse Art Truck) There were various densities collected.

UPHOLSTERY FABRIC Collected from Reverse Art Truck again, the fabric was chosen mainly because it fit into our colour ‘theme’ of Orange, Green and Blue.

The assorted objects were placed together to see what we could come up with in terms of efficiency of material and how we were going to produce the designs.

The Trapezoidal shapes of the foam allowed for interlocking forms to be created easily.

We then got a sewing machine and sewed the foam inside a fabric sausage, which we then were going to staple onto the pallet. We found this problematic as the sewing matching didn’t really ‘agree’ with the three-dimensional sausage shape. This step was eliminated in the making of the second pallet stool.

The foam sausage was then placed on the pallet and the excess fabric was then cut off.

We then used a staple gun to attach the foam to the pallet. It took us a while to get used to doing that. AN EXCITING VIDEO OF US DOING THIS has been posted on the Informal Urban Practices Blog (Under Group 5) [ informalurbanpractices]

The edges were then tucked away underneath the pallet to neaten it up.

Informal Urban Practices

Nick Rebstadt

Colour Space Behaviour Folio (Nick)  
Colour Space Behaviour Folio (Nick)  

Final Portfolio