There’s a hot-pink car wash in the NGV Gardens. It’s called Haven’t you always wanted to run through all that foam at the car lovers? And now, you can.

The lurid car wash is inspired by the architecture of Melbourne’s outer suburbs and, in particular, one car wash in Blackburn. It’s the second design to win the NGV’s 2016 Architecture Commission (the first was a canopy of polypropylene fuchsia blooms by John Wardle), and will be open to the public for free from now until May 7, 2017.

Interestingly, this is the first “built” project by M@ STUDIO, which mostly conducts architectural research through RMIT. The group’s three principals – Dean Boothroyd, Vivian Mitsogianni and Mark Jacques – worked closely with RMIT students to conceive and execute this competition-winning piece. “We’re not an orthodox practice,” says Boothroyd, laughing.

M@ STUDIO wanted to explore using ordinary objects in radically unfamiliar ways. In this world they’ve created, roads are paved with Astroturf, grass is pink and climbable ropes descend from the sky.

There’s a square area filled with hanging red PVC strips that’s reminiscent of walking through a fish-and-chip-shop door. It opens up in the centre to what Mitsogianni describes, laughing but serious, as “the selfie grotto”.

The design transforms a familiar site into something egalitarian and interactive. As I chat with Mitsogianni a toddler plays with a set of toy cars he’s smuggled in, contentedly racing them down one of the cartoonishly-large Astroturf speed bumps. He is right at home in this joyful rendition of public space, while I feel, gleefully, like I have stepped into the imagination of someone his age.

Although the five “lanes” that make up the car wash are devoid of actual cars and foam (there is mist, though), walking through the project gives you the feeling of walking through a McDonald’s Drive-Thru: adventurous and vaguely rebellious. But unlike McDonalds, Haven’t you always wanted …? doesn’t make you want to get in and out as quickly as possible.

Haven’t you always wanted to run through all that foam at the car lovers? is in NGV’s Grollo Equiset Garden and is open to the public for free from October 14, 2016, to May 7, 2017.

This article was updated on April 18, 2017.