Inflato Dumpster, designed by John H. Locke and Joaquin Reyes / Paul Laster

Inflato Dumpster is an inflatable classroom installed inside a dumpster. Designed by architect John H. Locke and industrial engineer Joaquin Reyes through their organization the Department of Urban Betterment, the structure serves as an interactive installation for community workshops, film screenings, and performances.

The mobile learning laboratory was initially constructed from funds collected through a Kickstarter campaign in 2013, which raised the goal of $3700 from the support of 24 backers. Supporters who contributed $250 or more received a private dinner and movie screening in the structure; contributors of $100 or more got an exclusive film screening; pledges of $50 or more designated donors as featured partners on a visible banner during events; and givers of $35 or more obtained a mini Inflato model.

The first installation of the project—what the designers call the beta version—was realized in the fall of 2014 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Over a three-day period it attracted more than 500 visitors. For the exhibition, Jamaica Flux: Workspaces and Windows 2016, Locke and Reyes have reactivated Inflato Dumpster at street level on the 165th Street Mall in Jamaica, Queens.

The innovative structure has 165 square feet of enclosed space that’s canvassed with an inflatable membrane made by TW2M, a Brooklyn-based company founded by twin brothers Bassem and Wassim Shaaban. The covering consists of two lightweight materials: clear polyethylene, a biodegradable plastic material that allows viewing from the inside and outside, and Mylar, which is used for emergency blankets and on spacecraft to illuminate the interior surroundings.

The designers used the silver side of the Mylar on the outside to reflect the sun and keep the interior cool and gold surface on the inside to enhance the natural light and create an inviting ambiance. The exterior appearance of the structure—looking like a spaceship perched on an urban dumpster—and the vibe emanating from its temple like interior are key elements of the Inflato Dumpster. Without that physical attraction and mental reward, no one would enter and remain inside.

The other part of the mental reward is what takes place in the interior space. It’s more than a bit ironic that one would go inside a dumpster to learn something new, but that’s just what the designers and organizers hope will happen. Programming it with inspiring activities might lead to that “aha moment,” when a child makes something with paper mache and decides that he or she wants to become an artist or a teen takes a 3D modeling workshop and makes digital designing a lifetime pursuit.

Another community-based project, Phone Booth/Book Share, which Locke also created on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 2013, has resonance here. Consisting of donated books on painted plywood shelves that surrounded a pay phone in a street structure, the project turned an overlooked urban space into a learning center. Like that concern, Inflato Dumpster makes us look at our local environment with fresh eyes—eyes that are seeking space that can be reclaimed and repurposed for the betterment of the community.

Paul Laster

Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist, and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and ArtBahrain. He is a frequent contributor to New York Observer, Time Out New York, Modern Painters and ArtPulse.