To find Melbourne’s smallest creative space, head down the warren of back lanes in Abbotsford, make a turn at the giant shoe and look for a plain wooden door. There’s no “eat me” or “drink me” instructions, but you will find the portal to the inspired imaginings of a young architect.
Frustrated by the lack of open space afforded by inner city living and itching to build something after years of university theory, Dave Brodziak has turned an old doorway alcove in Mayfield Street into a pint-sized place to call home away from home.
Even those who manage not to blink and miss the door still find themselves a little bemused when they do see the space. According to Dave, it’s not uncommon for people on their first visit to “oooh” politely when their expressions say otherwise. Measuring just 2.1 metres high, 1.6 metres wide and 1.14 metres deep, the ‘streetbox’ does resemble a rustic Swedish sauna that took a wrong turn somewhere.
But this is the TARDIS (it’s bigger on the inside) of creative spaces, with a kitchenette, miniature TV, radio, icebox, bench, fold-down table and bookshelves all slotted together inside. It’s also a testament to Brodziak’s love of 60s-style built-in design.
“I’ve got a particular like for the built-in aesthetic, whether it’s kitchens or living spaces. The function of objects is determined by the human body,” he says.
Brodziak started work on the streetbox in 2010 after he noticed the doorway alcove across the laneway from his Abbotsford apartment. It was slapped on the backside of a light industrial building, where a copper and enamel business has been lacquering up goods since 1944, including babies’ shoes (light bulb moment: ah, the shoe!). The unused entrance had long been the dwelling of dirt, drugs and drags, but Brodziak believed that less could be so much more. He sought and gained permission from the company to build in it.
He quickly garnered a lot of interest from passersby and neighbours, both while building the box and while using the finished space to enjoy the afternoon sun, read the paper or entertain friends. He has other plans for it, too.
“It’s quite social. People walking past engage more than they would,” he says. “I always thought you could project from it, or do a very small play. But it depends on people’s willingness to engage with it. I think it would be quite fun to have an event there and for people to not know about it and just arrive there – for it to be a bit odd.”
Engagement has been a central theme for Brodziak, whose room with a view has become one with a vision that extends beyond this little corner of Melbourne. He believes there are many more small spaces in the city that could be put to good use.
“Once I started to think about identifying these types of spaces and seeing the potential occupational use in each of them, I started seeing them everywhere – little nooks that were very small or slightly bigger,” he says.
In November 2011, he took the City of Melbourne’s planning scheme, which rates the CBD’s laneways according to potential, and focused on the underdogs. He identified around 63 small spaces in 50 of the council’s ‘worst’ laneways, highlighting seven case studies. The spaces range from two square metres to 15 square metres, and proposed uses include a series of workspaces, a bookstore, a sleeping shelter, an elevated garden platform and a series of art exhibition spaces. He wants to draw all of these spaces into what he calls The Metropolitan Small Space Register.
“It’s about bringing together all the spaces that potentially could be used and making them available. It would be a database that anyone could access and then people could come up with proposals for how they want to use the space. Whether it’s short or medium or long term. Whether it’s a little commercial venture or just a work space or for display.”
Brodziak and his architectural company, Insider Outsider, plan to promote the register to the City of Melbourne.
“I really wanted to encourage people to inhabit the [laneway] space,” he says. “Evidence of people occupying space is what gives character, memory and knowability to the city.”